I was in the mood for cake the other day. And I’ve had this swiss meringue buttercream article bookmarked for a long while. So this weekend they came together.
First of all, icing. The stuff on the back of the powdered sugar box is NOT buttercream, despite its claim to the contrary — it’s nothing like real bakery icing. Failing that, and not having good substitutes for the otherwise lovely but shortening-based “fluffy white icing,” and Mark having no qualms against icing-in-a-can, I haven’t made icing in years. (Except the boiled icing for texas sheet cake that we make on birthdays.) The swiss meringue buttercream article inspired me to try again to make the real thing.
But what cake to put it on? As usual, I hemmed and hawed and researched too much — this buttercream, or try to find a honey- or maple-sweetened version — likewise, a regular cake, or one with healthier sweeteners — would texas sheet cake really be that bad in layers — and on and on. Here are some other buttercreams I considered — once I chose this maple-sweetened, butterless cake, I decided to go with the original swiss meringue despite the sugar.
First, the cake.
I used white whole wheat flour, substituted whole milk for the coconut milk, used coconut oil, and increased everything by 1 1/2 thinking that way I would have enough for two round layers. The store Mark went to did not have any bittersweet chocolate, so he got two giant Special Dark bars. When I make the cake again, I’ll try to get the right chocolate, and I’ll be sure to have the maple syrup and milk at room temperature — right out of the fridge they nearly solidified the coconut oil.
The cake is delicious. Rich, chocolaty. But very dense, and could be more moist. To me it seems like some hybrid between pound cake and flourless / mousse cake. Good — but maybe not the best choice for a layer cake with fluffy frosting. Too sweet to my taste, but that may be because of the Special Dark instead of bittersweet.
And now, the icing.
I divided the recipe by four, thinking since I wasn’t doing any fancy piping or other decoration I would have plenty. The egg white and sugar heating went beautifully, as did beating it until thick, glossy, and cool. Adding the butter went smoothly too, although it was no longer thick. Then it curdled a bit when I added the vanilla. I kept chilling it and trying again. Then, like magic, very suddenly, it simultaneously got very thick, slowing the mixer, and beautifully smooth instead of grainy.
Even though it’s not as cloyingly sweet as powdered sugar “buttercream,” this icing is still too sweet to my taste. I wonder if it would work with less sugar, or if the amount of sugar affects the way the meringue sets up.
I sliced the surprisingly tall layers in half to make four layers (maybe one recipe would have been enough), and barely had enough icing to cover them all. It would have been a fine amount for a normal layer cake. I think applying the frosting might have been the hardest part of the whole endeavor — what a terrible job I did.
Still — cake! (And real icing!)