Friday, April 13, 2012

Buttercream basics

Frosting a cake never tasted so good! If you want a simple alternative to my favorite Swiss Meringue Buttercream, the Basic Buttercream recipe I've been refining does the trick. It also pipes beautifully, smooths perfectly, and tastes divine.

For Dina's school party this year I made cupcakes from a box (don't judge me!) Duncan Hines yellow cake mix (was it Classic Yellow or Butter Recipe Golden? I don't remember.) Here in Eindhoven, this can be found at Jumbo supermarket in Veldhoven or Rohit. Of course I can't just make a box cake mix without some kind of modification so I substitute a low-fat milk for the water in the recipe. I ended up with 24 cupcakes (fill them up about 50-60% of the way so you get a nice domed top) from one box, which meant, once baked, they came just over the top of the cupcake liners.
Normally I bake 22 from a box, and fill them more, for a bigger dome top, but this was for a party with two and three-year-olds. Less is more!

Once the cupcakes cooled, I frosted them with a Basic Buttercream. The key to any frosting is, of course, the ingredients. The butter available everywhere here in the Netherlands kicks serious ass. The powdered sugar... not so much. I've only found proper 'icing' sugar or 'Poeder Suiker' at the Genneper Park molen, and the Dommelsche molen. Those of you listening back home can use Domino 10x, you lucky people. If you are unable to get powdered sugar (do not use AH brand powdered sugar, it is too grainy and will result in frosting that has the texture of sand) you can use a food processor to process the Fine crystal sugar available at AH and sift it, many times, until you achieve the right consistency. The 10x in the Domino brand sugar stands for process and sifted 10 times. I'm lazy so I just stock up when I go to Genneper park- powdered sugar never goes bad.

Basic Buttercream Frosting
230 g unsalted butter
500 g powdered sugar (one bag)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp meringue powder (Wilton brand is what I used)
2 Tbsp water
1/8 tsp salt

Start with the butter at room temperature. Beat the butter in a mixer until it looks smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar, scraping down the bowl after each 100 g (approximately). Once all the powdered sugar is incorporated, add the remaining ingredients. Beat well. If the frosting is too stiff, you can add more water, 1 tsp at a time.

Frosting can be left at room temperature for a few days, but should not be left in direct sunlight, or a very warm room.

I colored the frosting using Wilton gel color purple, and added sprinkles we bought in Germany, which are very similar to American sprinkles.  Using a piping bag with Wilton tip 2D, I piped a swirl on top of each cupcake and let Dina add the sprinkles. They were sitting in the pie-taker on the counter (covered) for about an hour in the morning before I brought them to her school, and in that time, the sunshine from my window actually faded the purple frosting on one edge! Wacky, no?
You can see it at the top of this photo- the edge of several cupcakes looks blue. My husband at first thought it was a lighting effect, but it is actually the color, faded, in just an hour of sunlight, through the clear plastic container!
The Dutch tradition (at least in Dina's school) is for the birthday child to wear a crown (Dina picked purple, of course) and as each child comes to shake her hand, she gives each classmate a cupcake(or other treat). We were excited that among all her dresses, she choose the dress my grandmother made and I wore as a child to wear on her special day.
This lucky kid got to eat TWO cupcakes, one at school and one after dinner on her birthday. Dina insisted that I do something simple for her school cupcakes. The remaining cupcakes got a more fancy treatment, using a Wilton petal tip, and my husband took some photos.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Warning! Red dye is not for kids...

My daughter, Dina had her 3rd (time flies!) birthday party over this past weekend, and I used a bit of red marzipan on her cake. I've never been a fan of fondant, (although I've not yet made my own, I've heard when you make it yourself, with choice ingredients it can actually be edible) and some might say, 'it looks amazing!' but I guess I'd rather use the phrase 'it looks like plastic!' to describe the fondant cakes I've seen. Never mind how bad it tastes- fondant looks like plastic and tastes like plastic, in my opinion.

Marzipan, on the other hand, is edible (almonds typically make up 20% of marzipan, the rest is mostly sugar) and can be made to look similar to fondant (smooth finish on top of a cake).  Marzipan shaped like animals, fruits and other tid-bits are commonly found seasonally in Europe. I prefer the French marzipan (the French are all about amazing food) over the German version but can't say I'd ever choose a marzipan pear over a chocolate bon-bon. I was intent on using red and white for the top of Dina's cake and it is always difficult to color red your own icing/frosting at home. Every time I try to dye frosting red it comes out orangey-red or dark pink- even using tons of the fancy red food coloring gel from Wilton. Also, if I add too much, my frosting separates. However, red pre-colored fondant or marzipan have a gorgeous color. How do they get it so red?  Not without something not-so-nice inside!
A translation from Dutch into English of the ingredient list for the red marzipan (Marsepein Rood) I got at V&D follows:
sugar, 20% almonds, stabilizer(Sorbitol- a sugar alcohol), glucose syrup, Allura Red AC, thickening agent Carboxy methyl cellulose, invertase(an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of sucrose), acidulant (Citric acid- to lower pH and to impart a tart, acid taste), aroma. This product can contain traces of milk, soy, egg. Allura Red AC can impact the activity and attention in children.

Yes, on the packaging it actually states, "Allura Red AC can impact the activity and attention in children."  My friend Marieke pointed this out to me when I told her I was using red marzipan (she noticed the same warning on the red fondant she used on her son's cake). Turns out that Denmark, Belgium, France, and Switzerland have all banned the substance. In the USA it is called, "Red 40" and is in many products including cotton candy, soft drinks, and children's medications. 

Wikipedia explains that a study done in 2007 showed increased hyperactivity in children who ate Allura Red AC. The article goes on to recommend the following dyes be avoided by hyperactive children: Sunset Yellow, Carmoisine, Tartrazine, Ponceau 4R, Quinoline Yellow WS and Allura Red.  Since I live in the EU, I have to memorize a bunch of E-numbers rather than names as described above. Allura Red AC is E129. Here is the list of the rest:

E110: Sunset Yellow
E122: Carmoisine
E102: Tartrazine
E124: Ponceau 4R
E104: Quinoline Yellow WS
also, a food preservative is also named a culprit: E211: Sodium benzoate

I did end up using the red marzipan on her cake in small amounts, however, I suggested the children eat the cupcakes which I made with a simple buttercream.

Maybe I'm dating myself by admitting that I remember the red dye scare that happened when I was a child, because I remember that no red M&Ms existed until 1985. This was in spite of M&Ms not even containing the cancer-causing Red Dye No 2(E123)- which, incidentally, is still used in the UK for Glace cherries. I remember when red M&Ms first arrived during Christmas of 1985. It was so exciting to eat red M&Ms!

Of course this has me pondering about what alternatives exist for getting a gorgeous red color and yet not having a hyperactive toddler afterwards. Wikipedia also discusses the food coloring carmine (E120), which is derived from insects. Not without issue, carmine causes a severe allergic reaction in some people and also is not for vegans or kosher. It is banned in New Zealand as of 2009, presumably because of the allergic reactions.

Red Beets are another option, however the color is not such a bright red. Still, as a natural substance, you can't get more earthy than beets.