American Buttercream for the Win

Right now, I have five different kinds of flour in my pantry – cake, almond, pastry, bread and all purpose. I’m seriously trying to up my game in the baking department. Blame it on the pandemic and my love of shows like the Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship.”

It’s bizarre how invested I get in these baking shows. When Rene, a woman from Mississippi who had lost her job as a pastry chef during the shutdown, won the “Halloween Baking Championship” last month I actually cried. I was just so happy for her.

Not many people know this but one of my dreams is to compete on a baking show. It could happen. There’s some “home bakers” they have even won. The huge hurdle would be learning how to do all the fancy stuff like pate a choix and macarons that require a degree of culinary finesse I don’t have – yet. 

Another thing that would be di riguer is conquering Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. Apparently, American buttercream, which I was raised on and have an intimate relationship with, is frowned at. 

If you want to set a judge off – use American buttercream. They get all up on their pastry high horse about how it’s too sweet, not that least bit creamy and lacks a “smoothness of flavor.”

To be honest Swiss meringue buttercream seems icky. It’s egg whites, sugar, and big chunks of butter. How can that compare to the confectioners’ sugar masterpiece that is American buttercream?

In a quest to discover why SMBC (yep, using pastry chef acronyms) is such a fancy pants favorite of baking judges and to increase my culinary skills I decided to lean into the Swiss. My hopes were high. I had on a new apron and I watched two videos on how to make the “quintessential frosting.”

My first take away was that any icing that requires three sticks of butter and half dozen eggs better be beyond good. My second was that the recipe made my arms hurt. I had to whisk the egg whites and sugar for a solid 15 minutes over a pot of boiling water.

After the sugar dissolved I then, mercifully, got to use my KitchenAid to whip the goo for another 15 minutes until stiff peaks formed. Then I dumped in chunks of butter and mixed – some more.

My husband who was at home on a Zoom call texted me, “Are you trying to burn the motor out on your mixer because I think it’s been going for like an hour.” 

I didn’t text him back because I was on what’s called “curdle alert.” You need to stare at your buttercream and make sure it doesn’t reach the dreaded “over churned lumpy butter” stage. 

The whole thing was an ordeal that took me 45 minutes. Yes, 45 minutes to make enough frosting for one cake. You know what doesn’t take 45 minutes to make? American buttercream.

In under five minutes I can whip up a vanilla icing that will make you swoon. But I told myself if this Swiss connection tastes amazing then maybe it’s worth it. I dipped a spoon inside the mixing bowl and at first glance it looked glorious. The frosting was perky. It had loads of volume and even glistened. My hopes were high.

But once I tasted it I started chanting, “U.S.A, U.S.A.” This Swiss frosting was just okay. It certainly wasn’t worthy of 45 minutes of my life nor the investment of that many eggs. It was, in no way imaginable, superior to American buttercream. 

Maybe that’s my platform to get on a baking show. I can be the “Make American Buttercream Great Again” contestant. It’s not like stranger things haven’t happened. 😉