Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes & More About Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Happy Thursday! You know what's funny? That very greeting always makes me laugh at myself, but yet I can't help but write it -- "Happy Thursday!" It's so enthusiastic and peppy, yet, truthfully, when I'm composing these posts, 99% of the time it's late at night, once the girls are asleep, and I'm often exhausted and feeling not even a wee bit exclamation mark-ish. Somehow, though, my inner enthusiast manages to get that out and keep it there. And not once, but twice: I had actually deleted it a few seconds after writing it, but then there it is again! Oh, and yet another. It's a condition, I'm certain.
Before I get started with tonight's post, I'm excited to announce the winner of this gorgeous print of the original painting "Violetta and the Tiny Tea Set" by Vanessa Valencia, (the incredible talent behind A Fanciful Twist) . This prize is courtesy of Vanessa, as a sweet gesture to one of my readers who visited and commented on my last post, "Ruffles & Roses: A Mad(ish) Tea Party." I was the lucky honorary guest this year to Vanessa's popular virtual Mad Tea Party, and I had so much fun stepping even one pink-painted toe into her magical world. She is so unbelievably talented, and I adore her. So, the winner is...
#25 Bourbonnatrix: "Oh Rosie, what a pretty tea party! Love LOVE your cakes and sweets. Absolutely beautiful, and the rain, on some pics made it that much more special :) Great post!"
Congratulations, Bourbonnatrix (and thank you for the sweet words)!
So, tonight I want to chat about this fun cupcake version of my Inside-Out Neapolitan Cakes (truly, one of my favourites), and I also want to talk more about Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Would you believe that I get more emails with Swiss Meringue Buttercream related questions than anything else? Many readers write to tell me how it's changed their lives, and they adore it with all of their being, and others write perplexed and filled with questions about troubleshooting, or just general concerns, etc. I thought it may be helpful to shed more light on the topic of the beloved Swiss Meringue Buttercream tonight, based on your questions and experiences.
I'll quickly talk about these yummy cupcakes, which are, incidentally, filled with 3 flavours of Swiss Meringue Buttercream. A few months back I decided to turn a few of my favourite cake recipes/combinations into cupcakes, and it was a lot of fun and kind of a refreshing change from lofty layer cakes. After posting about the Campfire Delight Cupcakes, followed by the Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Buttercream Cupcakes, this was my third cake-into-cupcake experience, and they were as flavourful and moist as the mama version, but definitely a simpler alternative for those who don't feel like embarking upon the layer cake process. If you do make the layer cake (and I do urge you to; it's a crowd pleaser!), the cupcakes are a great addition to it -- you can bake a quick batch of the cupcakes and then use your remaining Swiss Meringue Buttercream trio and fill the cupcakes. Who wouldn't love their own little layered Neapolitan cupcake?
So here is the original Inside-Out Neapolitan Cake: 3 layers of a southern take on Devil's Food Cake, including some rich and decadent ingredients such as mayonnaise, butter, and, of course, my favourite cocoa powder, (Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder - Extra Dark), which makes every chocolate cake rich and incredibly chocolaty, in my opinion, and filled with a layer of each Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I particularly love the contrast of the cloud-like buttercream and the rich chocolate cake, and when the Neapolitan flavour combination comes from the filling and not the cake itself, it adds an interesting (and delicious) dynamic to Neapolitan cake.
For the layered cupcake effect, I simply baked the cupcakes as muffins (in greased and floured muffin tins with no cupcake liners), and then, once cooled, sliced each one into 3, then piped each flavour of Swiss Meringue Buttercream between and on top, then added some chocolate sprinkles. I was happy with the cake-to-buttercream ratio in the end, after worrying it would be too much buttercream. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream is not overpowering, so is the perfect pairing to these cupcakes, and the dark, rich, southern Devil's Food Cake can definitely hold its own surrounded by all three flavours. If you'd like to try these, I've included the recipe below. In the meanwhile, I want to chat more about making, using, eating, and storing Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream, or SMB, or SMBC as most call it can be an intimidating endeavour, but, honestly, once you get the hang of it, you may never look back. Let's just get it all out in the open right now. Truly, let's just stay up all night talking it through until we've run the gamut of emotions and can, finally, share a group hug and skip off into the horizon, armed with our whisks and unwavering confidence to make it, use it, and decorate with it. Since this post comes as an answer to your emails and questions following my previous post, Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystifyed, I'll put it in point form and Q&A format, and hopefully I cover it all. So, let us talk Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB):
*If you would simply like to read the cupcake and buttercream recipe, they are at the bottom of this post.A few quick facts about my deep and meaningful relationship with Swiss Meringue Buttercream: 1. No, I didn't invent SMB, but I love its not-too-sweet taste and satiny texture, and I use it for all of my wedding cakes, gourmet cakes, and even many casual cakes and cupcakes. I'm not an SMB expert, but I make it often, love it, and was taught how to make it by professionals at Bonnie Gordon Confectionary College in Toronto. 2. The first time I tried SMB, I was used to sugary confectioners' sugar-based , and I didn't like the taste of SMB at all; I felt it tasted oily and too buttery. I didn't think there was hope for my converting to an SMB lover, or even liker. 3. I still love sugary frostings from time to time (as you will see some of my other posts), but once I acquired a taste for it, SMB quickly became my favourite frosting (after a few tries). 4. The first few times I made SMB, I used a lower grade butter, and it would not hold my batch together; it wasn't creamy, or satiny, but rather almost separated. It wasn't until I was advised to try a better quality butter, that I figured out how to make the ultimate batch of SMB. I now use only premium butter, with my favourite being Lactancia. 5. One of my favourite treats in the entire world, and out of everything I've ever made, is a dark chocolate cake frosted with vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It's just that good. Now, onto the questions and answers: Q: My SMB was coming along fine, but then, once I added all of the butter, it was still too runny. What did I do wrong, and is there hope at this stage? A:Yes, there is hope! Actually, there's nothing hopeless about this situation, but rather just an extra step involved. If you added your butter and the SMB is still runny, then 1 of 2 things (or both) has likely happened, in my opinion: 1. Your butter was much too soft (should be cool, but not cold, which is about 20 minutes out of fridge for me) when you added it to your meringue. 2. Your meringue was still too warm when you started adding the butter. Be patient, because I know it takes seemingly forever for the bottom of the mixing bowl to feel neutral before you add the butter, but it needs to be, or, as you can imagine, the butter essentially melts when you add it. As for repairing this runny batch, you can take the entire mixing bowl, cover it, and place it in the fridge until it chills up a bit, say 30 minutes or so (or even in the freezer for 15 or so), and then re whip. It's not an exact science, as far as how many minutes, or how cold, etc, but I can tell you this: in my experience, it is practically impossible to ruin a batch of SMB to the point of no repair. If your meringue has whipped up nicely, then you can get away with a lot from that point on, and it's most often fixable. I promise, promise, promise! Q: My SMB suddenly curdled, and looked like scrambled eggs in the bowl. Why did it do this, and is it ruined? A: It often does hit this "scrambled egg" stage, and this happens to my batches occasionally as well. Basically, from what I can tell, this happens when the meringue is a little "shocked" by butter that is too cold, but after mixing for a few more moments, the butter blends in nicely, and it magically becomes smooth and satiny. Is it ruined? Never! Q: I had no problem making my SMB, and it looked so beautiful and satiny, but when I tasted it, it tasted like pure butter. What did I do wrong? A:You did nothing wrong, and I have a feeling you did everything right! Here's the thing about SMB: It tastes much like butter and not a lot like sugary sugar, which to many is the draw, but if you are used to sugary frostings, chances are your palate hasn't developed the tastebuds for SMB yet, and you simply aren't used to it. There is also a chance that you just don't like it -- as with any food, it's not for everyone. If you're making it for fun, for your own friends and family, you may want to stick with the frostings you love, and revisit it at a later time, or not at all. If you're aspiring to make wedding cakes and gourmet cakes, you will likely need to continue making it, in which case, trust me, you will probably find yourself licking the bowl and spatula clean, begging for more, a few batches down the road. Don't say I didn't warn you. Q: Why do I have to use pure vanilla extract in my SMB when I have imitation vanilla extract on hand? Will anyone taste the difference? A:If we're being honest, then yes, they will. And so will you, I imagine. You have to keep in mind that sugary frosting (those made with icing sugar/confectioners' sugar) are dominated by the taste of sugar, and the vanilla can be a little overpowered by the intense sweetness. With SMB, the sugar takes a backseat (albeit delightfully sweet, it's still subtle), and the flavours, let it be simply vanilla, or others, shine through. That's why it's such a great base for almost any flavour you can dream of: coffee, liqueur, citrus, chocolate, berries, and more. It's also important to add that pinch of salt, particularly when opting for vanilla flavoured SMB, because no, it doesn't result in a salty flavoured frosting, but it really pulls the true flavours out -- kind of crazy, but true. Q: I refrigerated my SMB, then thawed it on the counter overnight, as suggested, but when I went to use it on my cake, it wasn't satiny or smooth anymore, but rather airy and thick. What can I do to fix it? A: The great thing about SMB is that it can be made in big batches and frozen, or refrigerated for up to a week. The only thing is you need to take a moment to reconstitute it back to its glorious satiny texture when you're ready to use it. If it's frozen or refrigerated, you need to thaw it at room temperature; this can take overnight if it's frozen, and several hours if it's refrigerated. There are a few ways you can revive it, but I do 1 of 2 things: 1. I take the thawed (but sometimes still cool) SMB in a microwavable container, and I warm it up for about 10 seconds, then remove container from microwave and stir it aggressively with a rubber spatula in kind of a back and forth motion, repeatedly until it's smooth. If I think I need to warm it up a bit more, I microwave again but am careful not to melt it. I mix it really well with the spatula, to remove the air bubbles. 2. I take about 1/3 of the SMB I thawed and I warm it up by the above method, and put the remaining 2/3 in the electric mixer bowl. I add the 1/3 warmed SMB to the 2/3 cool SMB and mix on medium or medium-high speed with the paddle attachment (flat beater) until smooth and satiny. Q: After I make my SMB, and add gel food colour to it, the SMB seems to "reject" the colour. What am I doing wrong? A:I've been asked this question many times, and I hate to do this, I really do, but it's seemingly the truth: In my experience, using Wilton brand colours are the culprit here. I know this can be an issue as far as availability goes, because sometimes the premium colour brands such as Sugarflair, Americolor, and Ateco colours are difficult to get, particularly outside of North America, but if you find you will be doing this kind of work often, I personally feel it would be worth it to get your hands on these colours. Q: Is SMB stable enough to pipe such things as flowers, basketweave, etc.? A:Yes! SMB is what you will see Martha Stewart uses for all of these techniques, and for good reason: it's so light and fluffy yet super stable and resilient. Kind of perfection, really. Q: Once my cake is frosted in SMB, does it have to be refrigerated? A: Well, you know, it seems that all baker's have a different opinion on this topic, but all I can do is tell you what I do. Many will tell you that it's okay to leave SMB frosted cakes out for a few days, but, personally I like to refrigerate my cakes overnight, and then take them out first thing in the morning so that they are nice and soft and fluffy when I serve them. If I'm making it on the day of serving, I would just keep it out. I just find that Swiss Meringue Buttercream that is too warm isn't appealing, and it if it's too cool, it's too buttery in texture. Definitely a fine line, but mostly, it's just heaven. I hope this helps in some way! All of that being said, I promise you with all my heart that it's A. Not really as difficult as it may seem, and B. Even if it was, it's worth it!
Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes
For the Cupcakes:
- 6 tablespoons 85 g unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup 230 g packed dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon 5 ml pure vanilla extract
- 1 large egg (at room temperature)
- 1 egg yolk (at room temperature)
- 3/4 cup + 2 teaspoons (115 g all-purpose flour)
- 6 tablespoons 38 g unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon 3 g baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon 3 g baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon 5 g kosher salt
- 3/4 cup 180 ml buttermilk, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons 30 ml mayonnaise
For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
- 5 large fresh egg whites (150 g)
- 1-1/4 cup 250 g superfine granulated sugar
- 1-1/2 cups 340 g (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
- 2 teaspoons 10 ml pure vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
For the Cupcakes:
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour standard cupcake pans as you would for muffins, tapping out the excess.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until lighter in color and slightly increased in volume, about 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next.
- Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder into a medium bowl. Add the salt to the dry ingredients after sifting, and whisk dry ingredients.
- Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated, or finish by hand gently.
- Fold mayonnaise into batter with a whisk, until just blended.
- Fill cupcake pans 2/3 each (I like to use a 1.5 oz cookie scoop) and bake for approximately 17 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out just barely clean (a few crumbs). This works well for moist chocolate cake (not vanilla).
- Let cupcakes cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then gently remove from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack. Let cool completely.
For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
- Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
- Place bowl back on mixer and fit with whisk attachment. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes, or longer). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth).
- Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
- You can also add a wide variety of flavourings, extracts, and more, but always add the vanilla first, as it brings out the true taste of the other flavours.
Assembly of the Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes:
- Divide buttercream evenly into 3 bowls. Flavour 1/3 chocolate, 1/3 strawberry, and leave final 1/3 vanilla (using instructions above). Add a few drops of pink gel colour to strawberry buttercream.
- Using a very sharp serrated knife, slice cupcakes twice, horizontally, resulting in 3 "layers."
- Fill one layer of each flavour (chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla), and top with sprinkles, if desired.
- Best eaten at room temperature on the day they were made, but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days (in refrigerator overnight).
*Keep in airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, re-whipping in mixer for 5 minutes.
**Can freeze for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer.
***For Chocolate Buttercream, add 150 g (3/4 cup) melted bittersweet Belgian chocolate (the best you can get--I use Callebaut) to Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream and beat until incorporated.
****For Strawberry Buttercream, add strawberry puree to taste, OR a few drops of LorAnn Strawberry Flavor Oil.
Southern Devil's Cake Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking, by David Guas.
Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians, and Happy Independence Day to our American friends! Wishing you all a safe and happy weekend!Good luck & enjoy!
- Rosie Alyea