Category Archives: buttercream

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream, St. Patrick’s Day, and Racism

A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)
                                  -WB Yeats

Apparently I only make cupcakes with booze in them.

A Missed Opportunity…

car bomb ingredients; kaluha has been dropped from most people's version. image from Sgt Mac's BarA friend sent me this recipe and actually offered to pay me to make it (as if that would be necessary). Even though I didn’t take him up on the cash, the offer somehow short-circuited my typical urge to tweak. I felt like I was “on assignment,” so it wasn’t until I was dusting the tops with cocoa powder and watching the caramel sauce cool that I realized I’d missed an opportunity to make another cocktail in cupcake form. If only I’d thought of it sooner, I could have come up with some kind of Irish Cream element, and these could have been Car Bomb Cupcakes.

An Irish Cream fudge or custard filling? Or maybe I could have added Bailey’s to the frosting along with the whisky, so the topping would mimic the shot traditionally dropped into the Guinness. Of course I would not have been the first person to come up with this idea.

…to Offend Someone?

Maybe it’s better that I didn’t go that route, though. Apparently some people find the “car bomb” name offensive because it seems to celebrate the violent tactics used by the IRA. The Connecticut bartender who claims to have invented the drink initially called his Bailey’s, Kaluha, and Jameson shot the “Grandfather” in honor of the “many grandfathers in Irish history.” It became known as the “IRA” because of the way Bailey’s bubbles up when you add whisky to it.* From there, it was a short conceptual leap to “car bomb” when he dropped it in a glass of Guinness on St. Patrick’s day in 1979.

No longer available, unclear if that's due to complaints or not. I’m sure Charles B. Oat meant no disrespect, he was just celebrating the holiday commemorating the death of the sainted Catholic Bishop who supposedly converted many Irish pagans by using shamrocks to illustrate the holy trinity the way most Americans do: with copious amounts of alcohol. Of course, that upsets some people, too, as seen in the recent controversy over American Apparel’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed merchandise, including shirts reading: “Kiss Me, I’m Drunk. Or Irish. Or Whatever.”   

The lack of malice doesn’t automatically exonerate American Apparel or the many people who will spend this Saturday drinking too many car bombs or green Budweiser. But I think the people who claim that American St. Patrick’s day celebrations perpetuate a hurtful “Drunken Paddy” stereotype or otherwise show disrespect for Irish people might be mistaken about how “Irish” anyone really thinks green beer and “car bombs” are. Sure, contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are inevitably mired in the complex history of racial politics and European imperialism. The fact that lots of Americans are really over-eager to identify with the one (now-) white ethnic group they know of that experienced overt racism and colonization is kind of bizarre and yet totally understandable. But the idea that it’s racist seems to imply that the widespread practice of wearing green while participating in an otherwise-unextraordinary early Spring bacchanalia actually bears some relationship to how people really think about or act towards Irish people.

The American Apparel shirt doesn’t mock Irish people so much as it mocks people who pretend to be Irish once a year while drinking until they do something stupid. It’s only offensive if you think there really is something characteristically Irish about drinking to excess. Similarly, the name “car bomb” is only offensive if you think there really is something uniquely Irish about vehicle-borne explosives or dropping Baileys in Guinness and chugging it before it curdles. I think the “Irishness” being performed and celebrated on March 17 bears about as much relation to Irishness as eating at Olive Garden has to Italianness. The American enthusiasm for consuming vast quantities of beer and breadsticks in the name of celebrating an ethnic heritage—whether their own or someone else’s—seems pretty innocent to me.**

Disclaimer: the lepruchan on the bottle is not meant to represent all Irish people or all people named Steve who have nieces and/or nephews, nor to imply that all Irish people or Uncles Steve wear green suits habitually or drink or even *like* Stout beer brewed in the style associated with Ireland, although it's not exclusive to Ireland, nor should it imply that they like any other kind of beer or alcholic beverages much, or at least not any more than anyone else does. Back to the subject of cupcakes after the jump…

*Does this actually happen? Why would whisky added to a liqueur that’s basically just a blend of cream and whisky with a few other flavorings bubble?

**On the other hand, I also tend to think that if someone tells you something you’re doing offends them, you should probably consider stopping it. I’m looking at you, University of Illinois fans who won’t let go of the Chief. On the other other hand, if there’s a clear and obvious distinction between offensive practices that perpetuate racial or ethnic stereotypes and hurt people’s feelings and inoffensive ones that benignly reference or perhaps even positively celebrate invented identities and traditions, I don’t know what it is.

Boo, Crystallized CaramelThey were reasonably pretty before the drizzle. Alas.

Instead of something Irish Cream-related, the third element in the original recipe I followed was a brown sugar caramel. Unfortunately, it crystallized and got clumpy before it was cool enough to drizzle. I followed the recipe exactly, even though I had misgivings, knowing how finicky caramel can be. But the recipe didn’t mention washing the sides of the pot with water or making sure you stop stirring at some point, and the brown sugar made it hard to go by visual cues. So, if you want a smooth, pretty amber drizzle instead of something vaguely excremental, I’d try another recipe—perhaps this one if you wanted to keep it vegan. The agave nectar probably works like the corn syrup that helps prevent crystallization in many normal recipes. Or you could amp up the Irish Whisky flavor by subbing that for the bourbon in a recipe like this.

Verdict

Honestly, these basically tasted like chocolate cupcakes with super-sweet vanilla buttercream. The flavor of the stout in the cake part came through a little, but the whiskey barely at all. So although they certainly sound like they’re in the spirit of the coming holiday, their “Irishness” might require some explanation, a bit like a bad Halloween costume. If I make them again, I’ll frost them with a meringe-based buttercream flavored with Irish Cream and drizzle them with a different caramel recipe, probably spiked with Irish whiskey. And maybe I’ll call them “Grandfather bomb cupcakes.” 

Recipe: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Buttercream (from Chef Chloe)

Ingredients:

with no extended butter-creaming or egg-beating, this is one of the easiest cupcake recipes I've ever madeCupcakes
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stout beer (I used Short’s Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
ButtercreamJameson or Powers or whatever your favorite Irish whisky is would also work fine here
  • 1 cup shortening or margarine, at room temperature (vegan if desired)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 5 tablespoons milk (vegan if desired)
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons Irish whiskey
Caramel
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup margarine (vegan if desired, like Earth Balance)
  • 4 teaspoons milk (vegan if desired)

Method:

For the cupcakes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and line regular cupcake pans with 14-16 liners (I used 14 as called for, but they overflowed the cups a bit and then sank, so I would do 16 next time.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the stout, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Batter may be lumpy—that’s okay. Don’t over-mix or you’ll get too much gluten development and they’ll be tough and/or they’ll be flat because you deflated some of the leavening that begins as soon as the baking soda mixes with the liquid and acid.

3. Fill the lined cupcake tins between half and two-thirds full. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.

slightly fallen. probably means the cups were filled too full.

For the buttercream:

1. Beat the shortening or margarine (or other solid fat at room temperature) until smooth. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix until combined. Add the milk 1 Tablespoon at at time until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Add the whiskey, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you achieve the desired taste. Beat on high for 2 more minutes until very light and fluffy.

2. If your cupcakes also fell, you can level the top with frosting if desired. To decorate with a soft-serve style swirl, transfer the frosting to a piping bag or zip-top bag with a corner snipped off, and pipe in a spiral, starting on the outside edge and working towards the center.

3. Dust the top with cocoa powder if desired—I put about a teaspoon of cocoa in a fine mesh sieve and then hold the sieve over the frosted cupcakes and tap the side of the basket with the spoon.

It's possible that I undercooked or overcooked the caramel? Based on this recipe,it's impossible to tell. Really, just don't use this part of this recipe, please.For the (gritty, crystallized) caramel:

1. Combine the brown sugar, margarine, and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it  comes together.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 1-2 more minutes, until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat.

3. Let cool slightly and transfer to a ziptop bag and drizzle over the cupcakes.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting

A Modern Tradition

This my mother’s sugar cookie recipe, from her mother before her. I don’t know who my grandma got it from or when it acquired the name “old fashioned.” It can’t be older than mid-19th C. because it calls for chemical leaveners.These are not, however, the softest sugar cookies I've ever made. Click on the picture for the link to that recipe. The whole point of the sour cream is to provide an acid to react with the alkali baking soda and produce a tender, puffy cookie. That makes them completely unlike really “old-fashioned” cookies, which were usually unleavened and baked until they were completely hard and dry (for more on cookie history, see foodtimeline.com). However, now that chemical leaveners have been around long long enough to be part of recipes handed down for three generations or more, I suppose they can be “modern” and “old-fashioned” at the same time.

I like this particular recipe for Christmas cookies because it’s not as sweet or rich as most sugar cookie recipes—the ratio of fat : sugar : flour in the dough is 1: 1: 3. Compare that to the “Classic Sugar Cookies” in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, which are 1: 1: 2, or Dorie Greenspan’s Sablés, which are 4: 3: 8. I’d go with one of the other recipes if I were going to leave them plain or just sprinkle them with colored sugar before baking, but I think the slightly less-sweet base makes them a better vehicle for frosting.

Frosting presents bakers with something of a dilemma: either you can make something gorgeous, sleek, and stylish, or you can make something delicious. In the cake world, that dilemma is primarily represented by fondant vs. buttercream. In the cookie world, it’s largely royal icing vs. buttercream. Behold Royal Icing: 

If I thought I could actually do half as good a job as Olivia does, I admit I might be a little more conflicted. dorie greenspans cookies                           From the Kitchen of Olivia                                                  Chow.com

Even though those are really pretty, and royal icing also has the benefit of setting up hard enough to handle any amount of stacking or transport, when it’s a choice between butter or no butter, I’m almost always going to choose butter.

They're cute enough, right? Although the noses almost invariably get squashed before anyone can appreciate them. In retrospect, I probably should have done a garland on the tree instead of ornaments, which have a vaguely pox-like effect.

Buttercream Nationalism

There are basically two kinds of buttercream—cooked and uncooked. However, there are varying techniques, and they’re referred to by nation. Italian buttercream is made by beating egg whites to stiff peaks and then cooking them by gradually adding a hot sugar syrup. Then you add softened butter, which will initially look curdled as it mixes with the hot meringue but eventually emulsifies. Swiss buttercream is similar, but instead of drizzling in a syrup, you cook the meringue by holding it over boiling water while you beat the egg whites and sugar together. French buttercream is made using the same technique as Italian buttercream, but with yolks instead of whites (a base called pâte à bombe).

For cakes and fillings, cooked buttercreams can’t be beat. All three versions are smooth and airy, pipe like a dream, and—most importantly—are totally delicious. They’re kind of like a custard or mousse made with butter instead of cream. But they’re not great for cookie decorating because they’re not very firm at room temperature. They’ll harden if chilled (just like the butter they’re largely composed of), but you wouldn’t be able to stack them first—you’d have to refrigerate or freeze them in single layers, which is a pain. And you’d have to keep them chilled in order to transport them without the frosting melting into goo. I make these primarily to send them to people who live across the country, so I need something with a little more structural integrity.

If you don't want to bother with all the fussy details, a slightly thicker layer plus some sprinkles can look just as festive.

The usual answer for cookies is American buttercream, which is just butter and powdered sugar thinned with a little milk or cream and beaten until smooth. It’s acquired a bit of a bad reputation because most grocery store bakeries use that technique, but they substitute shortening for the butter. The result is the flavorless, waxy, tooth-achingly sweet frosting you get on most grocery store cakes, which usually gets eaten around or scraped aside and left on the plate. But the method isn’t really the problem, it’s the shortening and the ratio of sugar: fat. 

Most recipes for homemade American buttercream call for nearly 4 : 1 sugar: fat. I cut the sugar by more than half. That makes it a little softer at room temperature, and if you’re going to use piping bags, you have to use small portions in the decorating bag to prevent the heat from your hands from melting it. But once it air dries, it’s just hard enough to stack (gently). Depending on how elaborate and delicate your decorations are, and what kind of abuse they have to withstand, they might arrive at their destination slightly squashed, but at least they’ll still taste terrific. 

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
(makes approximately 3 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • Sour cream1/4 c. melted butter 
  • 1/4 c. melted shortening or lard
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1 t. regular table salt)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg or 1/2 t. cinnamon, or a dash of both
  • 1/2 c. sour cream

Method:

1. Pre-heat oven to 425F

2. Combine the melted fat, sugar, egg, and vanilla in one bowl. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3 additions, alternating with three dollops of sour cream. Stir until well combined.

4. Divide dough in half, and cover one half with plastic wrap. Roll the other out to approximately 1/4” thick and cut in desired shapes and place 1” apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

5. If you’re not planning to frost them, sprinkle them with coarse or colored sugar. Otherwise, leave plain. Bake 8-10 minutes or until just beginning to darken slightly at the edges.

christmas cookies 019christmas cookies 022 

Recipe: Vanilla Buttercream
(makes approximately 3 cups, which is enough to frost about 3 dozen cookies) 

christmas cookies 043Ingredients:

  • 20 T. butter, softened (2 1/2 sticks) 
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • a pinch of table salt
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. heavy cream

1. Using a stand mixer or a spatula, beat the butter until smooth and creamy—about 1 minute.

2. Add the salt and gradually add the sugar, beating slowly until incorporated. Add the vanilla and heavy cream and beat until combined.

3. Increase the speed to high and beat for 4-10 minutes, or until no lumps remain and it’s satiny smooth.

Tis the Season for DIY Gifts: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

If you want perfectly smooth chocolate coating, you have to use a plastic mold. Otherwise, unless you're a chocolate-dipping ninja, they will look "homemade." But that's sort of the point, right?

Making Candy Worth the Effort

A friend and fellow Michigan food blogger just celebrated her 10th Wedding Anniversary. The internet  informed me that the 10 years is the “tin” anniversary and her weddingAnd yet I made peppermint patties anyway because they're a classic I knew people would enjoy even if they weren't excited about the other flavors. (not-)colors were black & white, so I thought a tin full of black & white candies would be an appropriate gift. The first thing that came to mind were peppermint patties. Bittersweet chocolate may not be quite black, but contrasted with the white, creamy center, it has the right effect.

However, it seemed a little silly to make peppermint patties by hand when those are so easy to find ready-made. Sure, if you use expensive chocolate and real butter, a homemade peppermint patty might taste a little different than a York. But probably not enough to justify going to all the trouble of clearing out space in the fridge for multiple rounds of chilling and dealing with the mess of dipping things in molten chocolate.

Instead, I decided to make an assortment of flavors that aren’t as easy to buy. The black & white theme restricted the flavor options a little, mostly because I thought it would be a little strange to eat something with a white filling that tasted like something with a firmly-established color signifier, like raspberry or orange or maple. Additionally, I have this silly desire to use the “real" thing when possible or something based on it—i.e., if not fresh or frozen raspberries, then raspberry preserves or Chambord, etc. So I had to come up with flavors that 1) aren’t readily available in commercial chocolates but do go well with chocolate and 2) make both culinary and aesthetic sense in white (or nearly-white) buttercream.the hibiscus tinted the buttercream a very pale pink (left) and lavender tinted it a barely-discernable lilac which almost looked greyish (right)You could also use milk or white chocolate

The answer seemed to be other herbs, like peppermint, or something similar: flowers, spices, tea, etc. Basically anything that would make the buttercream gritty if you tried to add it in its usual edible form. So texture was the culinary justification. The aesthetic justification is that there’s not as strong of a color association with things like jasmine or cardamom. Even things like lavender, both a color and a flavor/scent, doesn’t seem like it has to be purple in the same way that raspberry has to be red. The problem with things like lavender and jasmine is they run the risk of seeming more like bath salts than candy, so I decided on a few combinations and decided to make different shapes so people could distinguish between them visually:

Peppermint (patties)
Cinnamon-orange (squares)
Lavender-almond (balls)
Hibiscus-rose (striped balls)

peppermint  cinnamon-orangelavender-almond 

For a slightly more elegant presentation, you could put them in individual fluted foil or paper cups in a flat gift box.

Choose Your Own Flavor Adventure

You can use any edible extract, oil, or concentrate or infuse a flavor into the liquid in the buttercream. Some options:

Extracts and essential oils: Most grocery stores carry peppermint, lemon, orange, almond, and raspberry extracts. Some also have rum, maple, hazelnut, chocolate, strawberry, and cinnamon. Natural or specialty foods stores sometimes have essential oils designed for therapeutic use, but many of those are not safe for internal use. You can order edible essential oils online in a wide range of flavors including all the classics and more unusual things like bergamot, clove, oregano, and key lime. Essential oils are much stronger than extracts, so you only need 1/4 and 1/2 t. Start with the smaller amount and add more if necessary. Any of them can be combined—I’m especially fond of almond + orange.

Fruit: You can flavor any kind of buttercream with 2-4 T. fruit preserves—any kind of jam, marmalade, or curd will work. If you can’t find preserves in the flavor you want or don’t want to use something pre-made, you can make them yourself by cooking the fruit down into a concentrated paste, adding sugar if desired. You may want to add a flavor extract to the buttecream, too—raspberry preserves + raspberry extract will have more “pop” than either one alone.

Here's the lavender being strained out of the milk. The floral flavors were very strong in the buttercream, but were somewhat masked by the bittersweet chocolate. But the lavender-chocolate combination was especially nice, even though it was subtle.Infusions: Herbs, spices, tea, or anything masquerading as tea can be incorporated as follows: heat the evaporated milk or cream to a simmer (20-30 seconds in a microwave on high) and add 2 T. fresh or dried leaves or flowers, and/or 1-2 t. whole spices crushed slightly. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then press through a fine mesh strainer. This is where you can really play with things that don’t show up in commercial candies—basil, rosemary, tarragon, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom pods, earl grey, oolong, rooibos, chai, tea scented with jasmine or fruit. The only thing you have to avoid are spices too finely ground to strain out of the liquid, although even those could be used if you have a very fine mesh bag—one of those disposable bags some coffee shops use for loose teas would probably work.

2 1/2 lbs of Callebaut bittersweet ($15) was more than enough to cover 120 chocolates Some flavors I considered and might make in the future, especially if color isn’t an issue, are cardamom-plum, strawberry-basil, and orange-bergamot. Of the four I made this time, cinnamon-orange is my favorite, but I’m pretty pleased with how they all turned out.

They may not be quite as sophisticated as truffles—buttercream is a cheap, pedestrian filling compared to ganache, and this recipe doesn’t even call for a real, cooked buttercream, it’s the powdered sugar version. Additionally, the chocolate coating has a little shortening added to it, which is a cheat that ensures the coating will be hard and shiny without the fuss of tempering, even if you store them in the refrigerator. So these are easier, less expensive, and more of a blank canvas for other flavors. I think that’s what makes them an ideal DIY gift—what makes them special isn’t pricey ingredients, but how you customize them for your recipients. 

Recipe: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams (adapted from The Joy of Baking and Chocolate Candy Mall #3)

all the flavorings involved--lavender and hibiscus flowers infusing in hot milk, rose water, and peppermint, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, and almond extractsIngredients:

  • 3 cups (240 g) powdered sugar
  • 4 T. (20 g) butter
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 t. of another flavor extract and/or 1-2 T dried herbs, loosed tea, or flowers, 1-2 t. whole spices, or 1 tea bag*
  • 3 T. (30 ml) evaporated milk or cream
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T. shortening

*The Classics:
For peppermint patties, use 2 t. peppermint extract or 1/2 t. peppermint oil, which is much stronger
For maple creams, use 2 t. maple extract 
For vanilla buttecreams use an additional 2 t. vanilla extract
For all other options, see the notes above.

1. Let the butter come to room temperature. If using dried flowers, herbs, spices, and/or tea, heat the evaporated milk to a simmer (about 20 seconds in a microwave on high), and steep the flavor element in the milk for 10-15 minutes. Press through a fine mesh strainer.

2. Combine the first five ingredients, using a spatula or a stand mixer—hand mixer not recommended  because the powdered sugar will just get everywhere. If using a stand mixer, start on a low speed. Once everything is combined, increase the speed and beat until the mixture is very smooth and creamy (2-3 minutes with a stand mixer, 5-10 minutes by hand).

powdered sugar, softened butter, hibiscus-infused milk, vanilla, and rosewaterin a different bowl, this one peppermint

3. Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to a small container with a lid and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Prepare a few cookie sheets by covering them with foil and dusting them lightly with powdered sugar. Shape as desired—For balls, quickly roll small amounts of the batter between your hands to form 1” balls. For patties, flatten balls with your hand or the bottom of a drinking glass to a thickness of about 1 cm. For squares or rectangles, place the buttercream in a quart-sized zip-top bag and roll flat with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Cut away the bag, and cut into desired shapes.

this is way faster than shaping them all by hand, but the squares are a little harder to dip whatever shape I made, 1 batch = approximately 30 candies

4. Return shaped buttercreams to the refrigerator for another 30-60 minutes.

5. Melt the chocolate and shortening in the top part of a double-boiler, a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave just until smooth. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and then begin dipping the buttercreams one at a time, making sure they get completely coated. Remove with two forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Set back on the foil or on waxed paper. Return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes if desired to set faster—the shortening will prevent the chocolate from “blooming.”

if you're not making a quadruple-batch, feel free to use a smaller bowl the little pooling bits can be snapped off after they're cooled