Making the perfect cupcakes make me happy. Eating the perfect cupcake makes me even happier. Cupcakes are the beautiful balance of tasty cake and gorgeous, but still delicious, frosting. Aesthetics are a big part of cupcakes but one can never sacrifice taste for looks. This is probably why I prefer buttercream over fondant. It wasn’t until I had started making the French buttercream did I feel like my cupcake game had peaked. I had managed to master a lovely vanilla cupcake thanks to taste.com.au. But I kept struggling with the buttercream.
I’ve had many struggles with buttercream. Buttercream that split or cream cheese frosting that would not thicken. French buttercream is the only one that has never failed me.
Maybe it is the systematic nature of the recipe, using a sugar thermometer and measuring things exactly. Maybe I should have been a scientist. Whatever the reason, this French buttercream is foolproof. While it is a thousand-times easier to make this with a stand mixer, I had made it once before I got my KitchenAid. I got my husband to slowly trickle the sugar syrup while I used the hand-held mixer to beat the egg yolks.
This time I only had to employ my husband as the taste-tester for the flavouring. Flavouring with lavender was a tricky task in itself! Lavender, as lovely as it smells, can be quite over-powering. Add too much, and it can end up tasting and smelling like a soap or candle. And as we found out, add too little, it just did not have any flavour. We kept adding the tiniest drop and tasting it every time, until it was beautifully fragrant. This is why I have not given a specific amount of lavender syrup to add in the recipe; I actually have no idea, I kept adding small amounts till it tasted right. I used this Lavender syrup from The Essential Ingredient.
When I made this lavender buttercream, other than getting the right flavour, one other pressure point was actually getting the right colour. This was probably because I had not had a lot of experience playing with different colours in buttercream. I am still only dipping my toe into the world of buttercream, celebration cakes and various flavourings! Because french buttercream is egg-yolk based, it has a pale yellow tinge to it. And when I added the purple, it started turning a horrible ash green. It looked quite unpleasant and at this point I was quite flustered. I clearly lacked basic colour mixing knowledge and didn’t know mixing purple and yellow turned to a brown. Luckily my batch was saved with some pink icing colouring. I mixed in the pink and once the mixture had turned light pink, I added the purple and got the right colour.
This buttercream is always a favourite. One of my most successful cakes was a chocolate cake I made with coffee french buttercream and chocolate ganache drip! The creamy buttercream complimented the soft and moist cake, and coffee plus chocolate is always a winning combination. I would love to experiment with more flavours, like berry, cookies and cream, or salted caramel.
What is a favourite or an unusual buttercream flavour you’ve had?
- 5 egg yolks
- 300 grams castor sugar
- 500 grams butter chopped, at room temperature
- Dampen the sugar with a little water and bring to boil in a saucepan. Brush the sides with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystallisation.
- Bring the sugar syrup to soft ball, which is 121 degrees (you’ll need a sugar thermometer to measure this). You can test this by dropping a little sugar into cool water. It should form a small, soft ball.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with an electric mixture on high speed until light and fluffy. Once the sugar has reached temperature, slowly add the sugar into the egg yolks, in a slow trickle, from the side of the bowl. This is most effective done in a stand mixture so that you can control how much sugar goes in, while the mixture is continuously whisked till all of the sugar is added.
- Once sugar is added, continue to beat on low to cool down the mixture to room temperature.
- Gradually add the butter , until combined well.
- Add flavour (vanilla extract, coffee extract, lavender syrup, etc, to taste). A vanilla french buttercream is my favourite!
- Add colour.
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