Icing on the (Birthday) Cake

Our columnist offers a buttercream recipe, plus the inspiration to attempt new culinary pursuits.

by Lisa Ann Panzino DiNunzio

For this month’s column, I decided that I would share an American buttercream recipe, and a few photos of a cake I recently made for my great-niece, Naminé Noel’s (My Nami Girl) second birthday. Throughout the years many folks have asked about my culinary background, stating that they’ve enjoyed my columns, recipes, and “foodography,” which truly blesses me.

Since I understand people’s curiosity, I thought I’d share my background with readers of this column. I’m not a professional baker, nor have I attended culinary school; however, I’ve been baking and cooking since I was 11 years old. Through many hands-on experiences in the kitchen with my mom and grandmom at a young age, and being an avid watcher of Food Network, and PBS cooking shows since my early 20s, I feel quite “schooled.” I’ve had many culinary adventures in my own kitchen, and I love trying my hand at new savory and sweet recipes. I learn new baking/decorating techniques as I go, and feel comfortable doing so. However, a bucket list item I’ve wanted to accomplish for years, was to bake and decorate a cake using a variety of designs and piping techniques, which is not easy if you’re not professionally trained. I watched many “how to” videos, and just went for it! I’ve made many cakes but nothing as fantastic as the four-layer cake I made for my great-niece. I searched and searched for American buttercream recipes that would be firm, yet spreadable. I’ve made several attempts throughout the years, and while they tasted good, and looked good, the buttercream would “melt” quickly. But alas, using advice, and ingredients from several recipes, and a few tweaks of my own, I finally have a recipe that I love, and even in July, it held up beautifully. And by now, everyone knows that I love to share recipes and tips, so since I’ve learned some valuable things when making, and decorating this cake, I thought I’d share them.

First, a crumb coat is a must, refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes after the crumb coat, refrigerate again after the final coat of frosting, and before doing the decorative drip, and once again before decorative piping is applied. Yes, refrigeration is key, as a chilled cake is so much easier to work with! And as far as my “masterpiece,” I must say that my family all gave rave reviews, but the birthday girl herself gave the best review of all. My Nami Girl’s eyes lit up, she clapped her hands excitedly, and after her first bite said, “Mmmm, more!” I’m one happy Auntie Lee Lee! I hope you give this American buttercream recipe a try, and don’t be afraid to venture into a culinary adventure of your own, just have fun with it!

American Buttercream
1/2 cup unsalted organic, grass-fed butter, room temperature
1/2 cup organic shortening *I used Spectrum Organic All Vegetable Shortening
3 1/2 cups organic powdered sugar
1 tablespoon meringue powder
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan Pink salt
2 tablespoons organic heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

With a hand mixer or stand mixer with a paddle, cream butter for one minute, add shortening and beat for five to six minutes on medium speed, or until mixture is creamy, and much lighter in color. Then with mixer on low, add powdered sugar one cup at a time, scraping down the bowl several times, and mix until the sugar is fully incorporated. Add the meringue powder and salt with the last cup of powdered sugar. Add heavy cream, and vanilla extract, mix until fully incorporated. You can add more heavy cream if buttercream is too thick, or more powdered sugar if not as firm as you’d prefer.

If adding color to some of the buttercream, first divide into separate bowls and mix well, allow colored buttercream to “rest” a short time and “develop” its color; that way you can adjust to make it darker/lighter. I saw this happen for myself, I added coloring, went onto another project, came back 15 minutes later, and the buttercream was much darker than I wanted, so to remedy, I added more of the “white” buttercream.

*This buttercream is great for cakes, cupcakes, whoopie pies, sandwiched in between two homemade cookies, etc.

Note: I tripled this recipe with amazing results. I used organic and all-natural ingredients, and plant-based powdered food coloring, so I typed the recipe as such. You can use non-organic ingredients, if preferred.

As always, Bon Appetit!

Lisa Ann Panzino DiNunzio is author of Seasoned With Love, Treasured Recipes, Lisa Ann’s Seasoned With Love II, and children’s books Snicker Learns An Important Lesson and Readers’ Favorite 5-Star rated Little Twinkle Learns Her Purpose.

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