Six-Layer Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake

Six-Layer Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake via Sweetapolita

Well, since my last post, I aged a year . . . yes, a year! I celebrated my birthday this past weekend, and, although we kept it cozy here at home, I couldn’t resist baking two different cakes. The truth is, I couldn’t decide what to bake, and since it was just going to be my little family, and I wanted to spend some time relaxing,  I didn’t want to get too fancy or crazy, but I still couldn’t decide what to make. Sadly (sort of), I can’t blog about the first cake I made because we (and by “we” I mean “I”) ate most of it and it was quickly out of the running to be photographed. If you’re curious what it was, I found the recipe here. It was delicious and intense in its chocolate-ness, and it had been on my mind for months. It was a perfect opportunity to give it a try! This 6-Layer Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake was the second cake I made, and I made it because I wanted to bake a different version of the one-bowl dark chocolate cake I normally use, and I was craving Strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream. It’s really a simple combination, but I love the deep, dark chocolate cake paired with the light, creamy strawberry buttercream. The strawberry version of the buttercream is simply a matter of adding strawberry puree or fresh strawberries to your vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream. I don’t make this version as much I should, actually, and it gave me a much-needed hit of strawberry and chocolate!

I couldn’t resist splitting the 3 layers into 6, since it’s a fast and easy way to create some drama in an otherwise classic birthday cake, and of course it’s a chance to include that much more Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I don’t think I could do this with a sugary frosting, as it would just be too much sweet (and, yes, I really do think there’s such as thing!), but it works well with this cloud-like, and not-too-sweet buttercream. As with the Rich Chocolate Cake recipe I use so often, this is a simple one-bowl recipe that offers a dark, super moist, and chocolate-y cake made with oil and my favourite extra dark cocoa powder: Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder – Extra Dark. I love the intensity of this cocoa powder, both in its flavour and colour, and it really comes through in this cake. You may notice that I can’t stop baking with it!

Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Cake via Sweetapolita

I topped the cake with a dark and shiny (and simple) glaze, made with my favourite Callebaut Belgian bittersweet dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) callets, which also have a touch of real vanilla in them, and butter melted over a pot of simmering water. A quick and yummy way to add another hit of chocolate to the cake. I love this chocolate! I use it for brownies, ganache, buttercream, and more. It comes in callet form (like chips), which is so easy to melt without having to chop from a huge block. If you’re not a huge fan of such dark chocolate, you can always use semisweet, or in some cases milk chocolate. I use milk chocolate sparingly in baking because I find it so sweet, but there is definitely a time and a place for it–especially when it’s Belgian milk chocolate. In any case, I tend to use the extra dark variety in most cases.

For those of you who have requested a few more caking-baking tips, I’ve included a few below, and you can also refer to one of my earlier posts on the subject, 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes.

Here is the recipe for all of the components of this cake–use them all, or any of them on their own, or mixed and matched with some of your other favourite recipes!

Six-Layer Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake

Yield: One 6-layer, 6-inch round cake

Ingredients

    For the Cake:
  • 1-1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/3 cups (275 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) dark cocoa powder
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons (6 g) baking soda
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons (6 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 140 ml (5 liquid oz) buttermilk
  • 130 ml (4.5 liquid oz) espresso or strong, hot brewed coffee
  • 75 ml vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • For the Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 5 large, fresh egg whites (150 g)
  • 1-1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(340 g) butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml)(or to taste) strawberry puree OR a handful (about 1 cup, or more to taste) of fresh, washed, and dried strawberries, chopped
  • pinch of salt
  • few drops pink food colouring (optional)
  • For the Glaze:
  • 4 oz (115 g) high quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or callets
  • 1/3 cup (76 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes

Instructions

    For the Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (180°C). Prepare three 6-inch round cake pans with butter, parchment paper rounds, and flour or cocoa powder. Tap out excess.
  2. In bowl of electric mixer, sift all dry ingredients.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients to bowl with the dry ingredients and with paddle attachment on mixer, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed (you may need the plastic splash-guard that comes with mixer) and pour into prepared pans. If possible, use digital kitchen scale and weigh pans for even layers. Batter will be liquidy.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes and rotate pans in oven. Cakes are done when toothpick or skewer comes out with a few crumbs, about 30 minutes total. Try not to over-bake.
  5. Cool on wire racks for 20 minutes then gently invert onto racks until completely cool.
  6. For the Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  7. If using strawberry puree, place a handful of frozen strawberries in a food processor, and process until a smooth puree. Measure approximately 1/4 cup and set aside (you may want to add more puree to taste).
  8. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  9. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
  10. Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  11. Add strawberry puree to taste or the finely chopped strawberries, and blend until combined. Add small amount of pink food colouring, if desired.
  12. For the Glaze:
  13. Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir the mixture using a rubber spatula until melted and smooth. *Be careful to not get even a droplet of water into your bowl of chocolate and butter.
  14. Assembly of the Six-Layer Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake
  15. Slice the 1st cake layer in half horizontally, using a large serrated knife and place cut side up on your cake board, pedestal, or plate.
  16. Using a small offset palette knife, spread approximately 1/2 cup of buttercream evenly on the top.
  17. Repeat this with remaining cake layers, until you come to the final layer, which you will place face-down on the top of the cake.
  18. Place cake on a turntable (if possible), and using a small offset palette knife for the top of the cake, and medium straight palette knife for the sides, cover the cake in a thin layer of buttercream to seal in crumbs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or more). *This does not need to be perfect, as that will come with the top "coat" of buttercream.
  19. Repeat the previous step and for best results, use bench scraper held at 90° against the side of the cake, slowly turning the turntable and keeping your hand steady--let the turntable do the work. Clean up edges with your small offset palette knife.
  20. Chill cake.
  21. If glazing the cake, make the glaze and set aside for a few moments to cool a bit. Pour glaze over chilled cake, smoothing the top with a clean small offset palette knife.
  22. Chill again to set.
  23. *Bring to room temperature before serving--about 2+ hours. Never serve Swiss Meringue Buttercream until it is soft and room temperature.
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For more about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream (and troubleshooting), you may enjoy reading these previous posts: Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystyfied and Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes & More About Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

A Few More Steps to Baking/Making Better Cakes

1. I always use a kitchen scale to weigh my ingredients. They’re small, light, and don’t have to be fancy or expensive; here is what I use: Salter 1020 Aquatronic Electronic Kitchen Scale. It’s just a great habit to get into. You wouldn’t believe the difference in what one person may scoop as a cup of flour, versus another, and weighing it to the exact gram/oz is your safest bet. Having too much flour can sure dry out a cake in a hurry, just as too little will throw it off kilter. I really believe that using a scale is one of the habits that made me a much better baker, and definitely more consistent. Trust me! I even use mine to weigh my coffee grinds for a perfect pot, my serving portions (when I’m eating clean), homemade burgers, and when dividing batches of pizza dough, etc.

2. You may notice that I bake “layer by layer,” so rather than baking a higher cake and slicing layers for a standard 3-layer cake, I bake 3 more shallow layers in 2″ high pans. This way, the cakes seem to come out more moist, with no “doming,” and ready to be frosted. It may seem an inconvenience at first, because you have to buy 3 cake pans in each diameter, but you get used to it quickly, and it’s so worth it. You also save the time trying to slice even layers, unless of course you are turning 3 layers into 6. But, then again, that’s worth it too!

3. Never open the oven before 20 minutes, or you could disrupt the baking process. Always wait 20 minutes, and then, if you’re baking 3 cake layers at a time, rotate the pans and then continue baking.

4. There are a few tools that I mention in almost every post, and since I’ve been receiving many emails asking more about the cake baking/decorating essentials, I thought I would take this chance to create a list of some of my favourite things in the kitchen, and things that I believe really make a difference:

I hope that helps those of you who were curious! See you soon with another baked treat.

Good luck & enjoy!

Related posts:

Love, Cake & Sprinkles {Pink Vanilla & Sprinkles Cake}

Love, Cake & Sprinkles via Sweetapolita

When I first met my husband, Grant, by chance while I was living in Grand Cayman in 1999, well, let’s just say that our meeting was a tad untimely. Sure, his gorgeous hazel eyes, true-blue demeanor, sincere compassion, and a few other remarkable (and seemingly rare) characteristics (that may or may not include a Calvin Klein model’s physique…if you don’t believe me, check him out in this previous post, here), were all striking and impossible to ignore, but it simply wasn’t the right time for us. After several years (4 to be precise), a move back to Canada, and a fresh start and move-in with a mutual friend in Toronto, he landed on our doorstep, almost literally. At that point, the timing was better, but still not perfect. A few weeks, and a bit of spring cleaning later, the timing was suddenly, well, perfect. We started to “date,” and it didn’t take me long to figure out that I was finally home.

I can recall one cold Sunday afternoon date in particular. We went for lunch to what soon became our favourite and most frequented greasy spoon, The New York Cafe, or as we like to call it, “The New Yorker” on “The Danforth” in Toronto. After that lunch date, for some reason (and yes, I’m in denial and swear it wasn’t our beloved New Yorker’s fault), I felt so ill. I managed to get the 40 paces home, but barely, and I could keep my eyes open no longer; I had to rest. I did feel a little weird about the whole needing-to-pass-out-or-die thing, considering we were on a date and really didn’t know each other that well (yes, I sure know how to wow a man, don’t I?), but it was really life or death, or so it felt. Grant asked me, in his sweet and famously compassionate manner, if there was anything he could get me, and I jokingly replied, “I’d give anything for cherry chip birthday cake with pink frosting and sprinkles.” Although this may seem logical, considering, I really cannot explain any of the following: A. Why I would crave cake when I was sicker than sick. B. What I thought he was going to do about it, even if I was joking, considering he’d never baked a cake in his life. C. If this was actually some kind of pseudo-subconscious dater’s test on my behalf. I can tell you, though, that if it was indeed a test of any kind, he passed; he rocked it, actually. While I was sleeping, he walked to the grocery store in the blistery-cold, came back armed with the provisions for making my cake wishes come true, and before I could say “father my children,” he presented me with what was possibly the loveliest-but-most-dilapidated cherry chip, pink frosting, and sprinkle-happy cake–talk about a serious kiss-ass romantic, but I was genuinely impressed and touched. It was such a fun and thoughtful thing to do, and, of course, the visual of this science-minded newly-graduated Chiropractor swirling pink icing and sprinkles all over his first-ever cake attempt, well, it definitely got us off to a sweet start.

If we fast forward 2 years from that day, and 6 years ago this exact moment, the night before our wedding, I was about to return alone to the quaint little single-cottage honeymoon suite at The Waring House in the beautiful countryside of Picton, Ontario. We had just finished up our rehearsal dinner at Grant’s father’s home on the farm property on which Grant was raised, and I was most ready for a good night’s sleep (back when I knew what that was) before our “big day” the next day. When I walked into the cottage suite room, there on the table was the cake I remembered so well, and could never forget: cherry chip layer cake smothered in fluffy pink frosting and covered in colourful sprinkles. And a card. An impeccably written but candid and heartfelt card, in which he expressed that if he has it his way, he will spend the rest of his days making sure my days were filled with such cakes and sprinkles. And, although we know that marriage and life are never filled solely with such literal and figurative loveliness, it sure helps. ♥

This week, to celebrate our anniversary, I made us a classic 3-layer vanilla bean cake with pink vanilla buttercream, and heaps of colourful sprinkles. Before we talk more about that cake, I thought it would be fun to share some snippets of my night-before-the-wedding cake surprise, and our wedding day, June 4th, 2005:

Sweetapolita

Not bad, right? Grant explained that he was so proud of his second attempt (yes, he did indeed wait the full 2 years to make this cake, but we’ll go easy on him), and I think he should be. He confessed that the back right portion of the first cake he made me, years before, had fallen off and the rest was held together strictly by strategically-placed gobs of frosting. I decided that night that I should wait until the wedding day morning to cut into this cake, and so I did. Seeing as this was long before my budding food photography days or, well, even my Sweetapolita days, I’m particularly pleased that the wedding photographer thought to take these photos. And, yes, that’s me on the morning of my wedding day, hovering over a table eating cake before going to the church. To think that the Sweetapolita in me had not yet been born; she would have been so proud! Looking back, it was a respectable and ironic way to start one of the best days of my life, and I love that Grant knew me well enough to come up with such a surprise. Here are a few more sprinkles from our wedding day (best I could do without digital files, but I still wanted to share):

Sweetapolita

Sweetapolita

Sweetapolita

Yes, we’re both drinking wine on the loose, but the good news is that the entire bridal party was doing the same. More good news is that we had a handy (and huge) limo bus to carry our insanely large and possibly tipsy bridal party back to the reception. And even more good news is that we were on the gorgeous Chadsey’s Winery property, in Prince Edward County, doing wine tastings and getting rustic country photos taken, so it all made sense at the time. Wait, there really is no bad news in this story.

Love, Cake & Sprinkles via Sweetapolita

So, as I mentioned, in honour of our 6th wedding anniversary this weekend, I wanted to make a cake reminiscent of Grant’s pink cake with sprinkles. I made his favourite flavour, vanilla bean, with a version of pink vanilla buttercream that I’d never tried before: it’s a white sugar and meringue base buttercream, similar to Italian Meringue Buttercream, but much quicker. The main difference technique-wise is that it doesn’t require a candy thermometer; the main difference ingredient-wise is that it uses light corn syrup. I found the texture to be incredibly fluffy, satiny, and stable; and the taste to be very similar to the meringue buttercreams. I will admit, that although this is a fabulously quick and easy classic buttercream, I still adore the corn-syrup-free Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Don’t get me wrong, this one is gorgeous, and I love that it doesn’t have powdered sugar. On a sidenote, I thought I’d point out that I bought so much pink ribbon for our wedding that I am still trying to come with ways to use it, such as above! You’ll likely see, and may have already seen, it make its way into my photos often; let’s think of it as the “Where’s Waldo” of food photography.

Love, Cake & Sprinkles via Sweetapolita

The cake itself is one of my favourites, the Vanilla Bean Layer Cake from the previous Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake post. A fairly dense, but stable, moist, and wonderfully vanilla cake (it’s also a great option for cakes that will be covered in buttercream and fondant).

Love, Cake & Sprinkles via Sweetapolita

Wishing you a weekend (and more) of love, cake & sprinkles!

*Wedding photos by Click Photo Co.

Pink Vanilla & Sprinkles Cake

Yield: One 3-layer, 8-inch round cake

Ingredients

    For the Vanilla Layer Cake:
  • 1-1/2 cups (341 g)(3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2-2/3 cups (540 g) granulated sugar
  • 9 (275 g) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups (575 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 2 cups (480 mL) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split & scraped or 1 tablespoon (15 mL) vanilla bean paste
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) pure vanilla extract, best quality
  • For the Vanilla Buttercream:
  • 5 large (150 g) egg whites
  • 1-1/4 cups (250 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (213 g) light corn syrup
  • 2 cups (454 g) (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 drops pink gel food colour

Instructions

    For the Vanilla Layer Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter three 8" x 2" round cake pans, line with parchment rounds, and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale, about 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the egg whites gradually, mixing until fully incorporated.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Mix vanilla extract and vanilla paste (or contents of vanilla bean) into buttermilk.
  4. Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. (If possible, weigh the batter in each cake pan on a digital kitchen scale to ensure even layers.) Smooth with small offset palette knife, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes clean.
  6. Let pans cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto racks, gently, peeling away parchment rounds. Let cool completely.
  7. For the Vanilla Buttercream:
  8. Wipe a mixer bowl with dampened with some lemon juice to remove any traces of grease.
  9. Place the egg whites in the mixer bowl and, in the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk on medium-high speed until foamy.
  10. Gradually add 6 tablespoons (72 g) of the sugar and beat on high speed to medium peaks (the whites should be smooth, full, and shiny, and the peaks should curl a little).
  11. Combine the remaining 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar and the corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring briefly to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook just until the mixture comes to a rolling boil; there should be bubbles covering the entire surface, and no pockets of sugar undissolved on the surface.
  12. Promptly remove the syrup from the heat and, with the mixer set on medium-high speed, slowly pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl in a steady stream between the bowl and whisk, being very careful not to let the syrup hit the whisk (otherwise you end up with sticky hot syrup splatters stuck to the sides of the bowl).
  13. Set the mixer to medium speed and whisk until the bottom of the mixer bowl feels neutral to the touch. Add the butter in, 1 tablespoon at a time (doesn't have to be precise, just in small chunks), until it has all been incorporated.
  14. Add vanilla extract, pinch of salt, and a few drops of any food colouring gel you want to use, and beat until thickened and smooth.
  15. Assembly of the Pink Vanilla Cake:
  16. Place bottom layer face-up on a cake stand, plate, or thin cake board. Spread and smooth ~ 1 cup frosting using a small palette knife. Repeat with second cake layer.
  17. Gently place third cake layer, face-down, on top.
  18. Spread a thin layer (also known as a crumb coat) all over cake using an the offset palette knife for the top and straight palette knife for the sides. Then, using a bench scraper, gently scrape off excess frosting from the cake, for a smooth finish. This works best while slowly spinning your rotating cake stand with one hand and holding the bench scraper with the other.
  19. Refrigerate your cake for at least 30-60 minutes.
  20. Use remaining frosting to decorate your cake.
  21. Add sprinkles or any other decorations that make you happy!
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You may enjoy this previous post, 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes.

Good luck & enjoy!

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Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Buttercream Cupcakes with Chocolate Glaze

It’s a beautiful Canadian day! Last night I was attempting to compose this second part of  my favourite-cakes-into-cupcakes post, and I was literally falling asleep sitting up, so I decided to close the laptop and go to sleep (it was still light out!). After eight wonderful, beautiful, and, most importantly, uninterrupted hours of rest, I woke up this morning at 5:30am–before the kids! I decided to make some strong French press coffee and write this post in bed with windows open, early-morning sun, and country breeze (very French indeed). There are, however, a pair of little wee feet pressed up against my leg as I write, but at least they’re sleeping feet. I am, undoubtedly, a morning person: a morning baker and a morning writer, so now that I’m rejuvenated, caffeinated, and motivated, let’s talk cupcakes. If you read Wednesday’s post, Campfire Delight Cupcakes, you’ll recall that I’ve been recently pondering what some of my favourite layer cakes would be like in cupcake form. This is mostly because we spend a lot of summer weekends away, and I find cupcakes are quick easy-to-grab treats for the gang & co. at the lake.

The thing is, I still want to share some of my favourite cake flavours and combinations, as well as switch things up, so rather than pack up the towering cakes, I thought cupcakes would be a fun change (not to say I won’t be packing up some highly inappropriate and overly dramatic cakes to the cottage this summer). I also find that I’m often left with extra cake batter, fillings, and frostings when I make the layer cakes, so why not use up every bit and create some cupcakes as a fun and mini addition to serving the cake itself? That way, the cupcakes can either be served that same day alongside the cake, or, after freezing the separate cake components, I can pull the tupperware containers of frostings and cupcakes from the freezer and flavour/assemble for a really quick (and hopefully impressive) treat for another day. That being said, I’m sure I don’t have to sell you on all of the fabulous reasons to make cupcakes!

Here is the mama version of these particular cupcakes from my previous post Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Buttercream Cake with Ganache Drizzle, where I had fun creating this unusual rectangular dark chocolate layer cake covered and filled with Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream and topped with Dark Chocolate Ganache. For the cupcake version, I used my Rich & Dark Chocolate Cake recipe and topped it with raspberry buttercream swirls, and then poured some dark chocolate glaze over top. I didn’t add sprinkles this time, but you definitely could! I can’t think of a single occasion that isn’t enhanced by a good handful of sprinkles.

When I look at this cake, I can’t help but have painful flashbacks from the week I made it–I was cutting out sugar, and I vowed (to myself) that I wouldn’t indulge. I actually managed to avoid it and, with much agony, gave it all away without so much as eating a piece. But . . . this week I made these and it was sweet justice. I love raspberry & chocolate combination, and the generous swirls of satiny buttercream and drizzles of dark chocolate glaze were the highlight. The deep chocolate cupcake portion didn’t hurt either.

These are really so simple to make, especially if you happen to have any extra cake batter from your chocolate cake batches, as you can just pour remaining batter into standard cupcake liners and bake after your cakes are baked. If you keep Swiss Meringue Buttercream in the freezer, you’re even further ahead of the game–you pop some fresh raspberries into your Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream and mix for a moment or so to incorporate and add a bit of pink colour for punch (I got a bit pink-happy with these and next time I would use less for a softer pink, as I did in the cake version, so the raspberry bits stand out). The dark chocolate glaze  is very quick to whip up and adds a sort of ice-cream-sundae sort of feel and a nice hit of dark chocolate. The glaze is a quick process of melting the three ingredients (dark chocolate, butter, and corn syrup) over a pot of simmering water. It’s has such a great shine and deep chocolate flavour, but since it’s all about the chocolate in this type of recipe, I recommend you use a premium Belgian chocolate or similar. If you aren’t a fan of using corn syrup, you can definitely use ganache in place of the glaze; it creates an even more decadent treat with its heavy cream. These aren’t fussy, fancy, or difficult, but they pack some seriously decadent flavours and textures into such a little package. If you want to give these a try, here’s the recipe:

*Product notes: the Cacao Barry Extra Brute (my favourite) cocoa powder is what makes this chocolate cake recipe so incredible. You can purchase it here: Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder – Extra Dark

Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Buttercream Cupcakes with Chocolate Glaze

Yield: 24 standard cupcakes, or two 9-inch round cakes

Ingredients

    For the Cupcakes:
  • 1-1/2 cups (190 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups (300 g) white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) dark cocoa powder (I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 g) baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 g) baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 g) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (120 mL) brewed coffee or espresso, hot
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon (95 ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • For the Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 5 large, fresh egg whites (150 g)
  • 1-1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(340 g) butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml)(or to taste) raspberry puree OR a handful (about 1 cup, or more to taste) of fresh, washed, and dried raspberries
  • pinch of salt
  • few drops pink food colouring (optional)
  • For the Glaze:
  • 4 oz (115 g) high quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or callets
  • 1/3 cup (76 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes

Instructions

    For the Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F and line a muffin/cupcake pan with your favourite cupcake liners.
  2. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, coffee, oil, egg and vanilla.
  4. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed (you may need the plastic splashguard that comes with mixer), Divide batter among (2/3 full or just less) liners. Batter will be liquidy, and cupcakes will rise.
  5. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until toothpick or skewer comes out with a few crumbs. Try not to over-bake. Carefully remove cupcakes from the pan immediately (it's hot!), and place them on a wire rack until completely cool.
  6. For the Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  7. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  8. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
  9. Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  10. Add raspberry puree to taste or the fresh raspberries in small increments, and blend until combined. Add small amount of pink food colouring, if desired.
  11. For the Glaze:
  12. Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir the mixture using a rubber spatula until melted and smooth. *Be careful to not get even a droplet of water into your bowl of chocolate and butter.
  13. Assembly of the Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Cupcakes:
  14. . Fill a large pastry bag (18") fitted with Ateco #887 (or the decorative tip of your choice) about 2/3 full and swirl the buttercream in a circular motion, beginning on the outside rim of the cupcake and moving inward. Gently release pressure when you reach the top of your swirl.
  15. Drizzle the top of the cupcake with Dark Chocolate Glaze (~1 tablespoon each).
  16. Top with a fresh raspberry and chocolate sprinkles (optional).
  17. Cupcakes are best enjoyed the day they are made, but these keep particularly well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days (however, I've been known to eat them up to a week later, and they taste great!). If you do refrigerate, serve at room temperature--particularly Swiss Meringue Buttercream cupcakes, otherwise the buttercream is too hard and butter-like.

Notes

*Essentially, this is vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream with some clean, dry, fresh raspberries into it. It doesn't require many raspberries to give it a nice flavour, but it's personal preference. You can also use seedless raspberry-puree for a smooth finish. Add a drop of pink food colouring for a touch more pink.

**Cupcakes are best enjoyed the day they are made, but these keep particularly well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days (however, I've been known to eat them up to a week later, and they taste great!).

***If you do refrigerate, serve at room temperature--particularly Swiss Meringue Buttercream cupcakes, otherwise the buttercream is too hard and butter-like.

[Glaze recipe source: Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented]

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Good luck & enjoy! I’ll see you soon with my 50th blog post!



 

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Well, this is my first impromptu post or, well, as impromptu as I can get around here! I was planning another cake post, which is coming soon, but this week I’ve received so many emails and comments asking about the ever-intimidating Swiss Meringue Buttercream (let’s call it SMB), that I thought it may help to run through how to make this glorious not-too-sweet and satiny-smooth delight. Warning: this is a very wordy post, and it’s seriously lacking fun and pretty photos. There’s no photo-styling going on and in some cases not great lighting, but I just really feel that if everyone is comfortable with making SMB, then you will get so much more out of my cake recipes, because I use it so often. So, if you’re up for it, let’s talk SMB!

I remember sitting down for one of my very first courses at Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts, and learning about how this was the ultimate buttercream for wedding cakes, birthday cakes, fancy cupcakes, and pretty much any cake at all. Up until that point, I, like many, loved sugary frosting made with powdered sugar, butter, etc., because it’s really all I knew. I will admit that there is definitely a place in my heart for super-sweet frostings, because, well, that’s just me–a devoted sugar junkie, but once I got a taste for “the good stuff,” well, I rarely opt for the other on a cake. Cupcakes, well, I think that is where sugary frosting rocks it like no other. SMB is gorgeous on cupcakes, but for  me, there’s nothing like a super-sweet cupcake fix. It was explained to my class that if we planned on making wedding or event cakes, we need to embrace SMB, since it’s most-often used under fondant as well as on its own for fancy cakes. There really is no comparison. The key, though, is enjoying SMB at room temperature. As soon as it starts to chill in the refrigerator, it solidifies, much like pure butter, and biting into that consistency just doesn’t have the same appeal as tasting fluffy, satiny icing. You also really taste all of the flavours in both the cake and the fillings/frostings when they are at room temperature.

In the world of meringue buttercream, there are really 3 main types: Swiss, Italian, and French. What is Swiss Meringue Buttercream exactly? Essentially, SMB is a meringue-based buttercream (what gave it away?) in which copious amounts of butter are whipped into a sugary whisked meringue base, followed by pretty much any flavour, chocolate, puree, extract, etc. It’s a super-stable, resilient, and delightful buttercream that I simply cannot get enough of. The variations are endless: vanilla bean, raspberry, mocha, caramel . . . endless! I should mention that Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream are almost identical, but the difference lies in the method: SMB is created by heating  and whisking white sugar and egg whites over a bain marie (simmering water on the stove) to about 140 degrees F, before whipping the meringue. Italian Meringue Buttercream is created by adding a heated sugar-syrup into an already whipped meringue base, followed by the addition of butter and flavours.

There is also French Meringue Buttercream, albeit less popular from what I can tell, which is created by whipping the egg whites while adding a steady flow of white sugar, until it thickens, followed by adding the butter and flavourings. I personally prefer the SMB because it’s what I was taught, but I also  find comfort in knowing that the egg whites are actually heated prior to adding the butter, but it’s completely personal preference in method. Also, like pretty much any technique in baking, there are many ways to create SMB, but this happens to be the way I do it. So here we go–let’s make some!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Because we are first making the meringue portion of the buttercream, we want to ensure everything is grease-free, otherwise the meringue won’t do it’s “meringuey” job the way it needs to. Even a trace of grease can cause the meringue to flop. So, let’s take a paper towel with some lemon juice or vinegar and wipe our equipment clean. I also have white rubber spatulas that are devoted to meringue only–royal icing, meringue, etc.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Now that everything is meringue friendly, let’s set up a bain marie (a fancy term for a pot of simmering water on the stove). You don’t want  the water to come close to the bottom of the bowl you’re going to place on top, nor do you want the water to be at a rolling boil (let’s not cook those egg whites), so even just an inch or so of water will do.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Then I take the butter from the refrigerator and cut it up into cubes and leave on the counter while I complete the rest of the steps.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Now we measure/weigh (I prefer to weigh) our granulated sugar. Using a measuring cup, or other bowl, place it on the scale, tare it so it so the scale starts back at zero, and add the sugar until you have the correct amount (I was making a bigger batch in the these photos, so disregard the 800 g).

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Clip on your candy thermometer and add your egg whites. Whisk gently, but constantly, until it reaches 160° F. A quick note about egg whites: I wanted to talk about the issue of using fresh egg whites versus 100% egg whites in the carton for meringue. To be honest, I got used to using the cartons of 100% egg whites during what seemed to be the longest stretch of being pregnant–I loved knowing that they were pasteurized and completely safe. I also love that I can make large batches of meringue without wasting yolks (although there are many fabulous uses for yolks only, but it’s just easier for me to not go through all of those eggs), and simply weigh the total of egg whites needed on my kitchen scale and get whisking. The thing is, some bakers swear that the liquid egg whites don’t whip up quite as stable and thick as fresh egg whites do, and I’ve heard that due to the fact that during the process of being pasteurized, the egg whites are heated to a point that, yes, makes them safer to eat, but prevents them from foaming and whipping up into a stable meringue. I have to tell you that I’ve always used Naturegg brand 100% liquid egg whites, and they’ve worked very well for me. Today, though, I was curious about this, so I whisked up a batch of meringue using fresh egg whites. I definitely noticed a difference, but it was slight. I think, personally, I would opt for real egg whites for baking meringue, and liquid egg whites for buttercreams.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Once your egg whites and sugar have reached 160°F, take the bowl off of the stove and back to the mixer, where you will use the whisk attachment to whip up the meringue. I start on about medium-low (3 on the KitchenAid) for the first moment or so, and then increase to medium-high (7 on the KitchenAid). This photo was taken about 2 minutes into beating the egg whites. It typically takes about 10 minutes for the meringue to become thick, glossy, and cool.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Here it is a few moments later. You can see it’s fluffing up nicely, and becoming nice and glossy.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

At this point, a few moments later, it’s looking nice and thick, but the outside of the bowl is still hot to the touch, so we know it’s not quite ready yet. If we threw the butter in there now, it would basically melt. Let’s keep whipping it up . . .

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

So now the bowl is neutral to the touch and the meringue looks thick and glossy. Just a note that at this point, you have a meringue! You can eat it, as I tend to do, just as it is, or you can pipe it and bake it, or top it onto a lemon pie, or do just about anything with it. This is Swiss Meringue, just minus the “buttercream” part. Trust me, it’s gorgeous and sweet just the way it is. I love this stuff, and I could eat it all, but, since we likely have a naked cake waiting to be prettied, we better add the butter.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Switching over the flat beater of our mixer now and decreasing the mixer speed to low speed, we’re going to add cubes of butter, one at a time, until each one is incorporated. This is a few cubes in, so you can see that the meringue has started to deflate, but once we add all of that butter, it will fluff up.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

Here it is a few moments later, after more butter was added. You can see that it’s actually looking a bit soupy–see, my butter was a bit too soft by the time I stopped to take photos, which is actually great news, because I can show you what it looks like when that happens, and what we can do to fix that.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

So, at this point, I’ve added all of the butter, but, again, because the butter was too soft, it seems too loose. So, I placed the bowl into the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, and then beat the buttercream for a few moments more on low speed. It thickened up, but was still a bit loose, so I added a few extra cubes of butter and mixed for a moment or two.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

So, it’s getting much thicker, but doesn’t it look almost scrambled-egg like? Under any other circumstances in the kitchen, that would seem scary and disheartening, well, unless of course you’re actually making scrambled eggs, but like I said SMB is very forgiving. Just keep on whipping this up in the mixer on low speed, and it should just magically thicken up and come together. Let’s have a moment of silence for all of those batches of SMB that were thrown in the garbage at this stage, because they were deemed hopeless.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream via Sweetapolita

And there you have it! Actually, we almost had it here, but I whipped it for another few moments, added the vanilla and salt, and it ended up as satiny and shiny as it should be–I’m sorry that I must have been distracted! Either way, at this point, it’s ready for colouring, additional flavouring, and decorating! Here’s an example of cake I did where fluffy and satiny SMB is the star (you can read more about this cake here):

Ruffle Cake via Sweetapolita

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Yield: ~ 10 cups of buttercream

Ingredients

  • 10 large, fresh egg whites (300 g)
  • 2-1/2 cups (500 g) sugar
  • 3 cups (680 g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (20 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  2. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
  3. Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  4. Add additional flavours, purees, as desired.

Notes

*Keep in airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, rewhipping in mixer for 5 minutes.

**Can freeze for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer.

***If buttercream still doesn't have its satiny finish after rewhipping, microwave 1/3 of the buttercream for approximately 10 seconds and add to remaining buttercream in mixer bowl, beating for a few moments to incorporate.

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Sweetapolita’s Notes on a few Variations:

  • Chocolate Buttercream:  Add 300 g (1 1/2 cups before melting) melted bittersweet high quality chocolate (the best you can get–I use Callebaut) for every 5 cups of vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream and beat until incorporated.
  • Strawberry Buttercream (or any other berry version):  Add fruit puree to taste (approximately 1/2 cup for 5 cups of SMB).
  • Vanilla Bean Buttercream: Add 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste OR 1 vanilla bean, scraped for every 5 cups of SMB, and beat until incorporated.
  • Lemon Buttercream: Eliminate vanilla extract and add 1 teaspoon of pure lemon extract  for every 5 cups of SMB, or to taste, and beat until incorporated.
  • You can also add liqueurs and other flavourings, as well as any food gel colours to achieve any desired colour.

Have a wonderful Friday, and I’ll be back in the next day or so with my next baked good post.

Good luck & enjoy!

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