For her birthday, Cate selected the elephant cake from my handy dandy Cakes for Kids book. Honestly, I think the main reason she picked the cake was because it was pink. I was happy to oblige – it was a straightforward design and super cute. And I could make cupcakes for all the kids, topped with Circus Peanuts to tie it all together (see photo near the end of this post). The cake and the cupcakes were a hit!
Like I mentioned on Sunday, Cate’s elephant cake tasted light years better than Anna’s ghosty cake. And not just because chocolate cake will kick angel food cake’s patootie any day of the week. But the icing I used for the elephant cake is to die for. The book had suggested frosting the cake with a recipe that uses shortening, because it’s easier to handle and would work for creating texture on the elephant’s skin. But, uh, hello? Shortening? Blech. I promptly picked up the phone and called my good friend Faye, the pastry chef in my life. She suggested I whip up a Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which would also be easy to work with and have the added benefit of actually tasting like food.
I’m not exaggerating. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is the creamiest, smoothest, most flavorful frosting I’ve made. I don’t even usually like frosting that much. I love this stuff.
And, sure enough, I was able to gently press a sieve into the surface of the icing to create a super cute texture that every pretty pink elephant aspires to.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
As described over the phone to me by my friend Faye Stein
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 15-20 ounces butter (american style, the regular stuff you get at the store), room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla
Combine the egg whites and the sugar in a KitchenAid bowl. Place over a pan of simmering water. Whisk thoroughly until the temperature reaches 165 degrees (which actually happened faster than I was expecting). The mixture will be shiny and the sugar dissolved. Remove from heat, place on mixer.
With the whisk attachment, whisk at high speed until it’s a meringue, stiff peaks forming. Stop whisking, let mixture cool until bowl is cool enough to touch and the mixture is room temperature.
Whisk at medium high speed, breaking off pieces of butter and adding, mixing after each addition. The mixture will stay quite soupy and you’ll think there’s no way that this is going to turn into frosting…and you’ll get ready to grab your phone to call me and find out what you’re doing wrong even though I told you it would work (that’s what I did with Faye)…but you just keep whisking and whisking, and then all of the suden it’s right. It suddenly turns into creamy frosting wonderfulness. (I added about 15 ounces of butter total the first time I made it, 12 ounces the second time I made it). At the point that it looks like actual frosting, add your vanilla and any food coloring and whisk again for a few minutes.
Leftover frosting can be frozen for future use. Once you’ve refrigerated or frozen the frosting, if you want to mix it in the mixer again you should use the paddle attachment, not the whisk attachment.
For the cupcakes, I stuck with my usual buttercream frosting, which is also very tasty and delicious.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
From How to Cook Everything
- 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 6 tablespoons cream or milk (cream is better)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Use a fork or electric mixer (I use my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment) to cream the butter. Gradually work in the sugar, alternating with the cream and beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. If the frosting is too thick to spread, add a little more cream, a teaspoon at a time. If it is too thin (which is unlikely), refrigerate; it will thicken as butter hardens.