Let’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 2: Swiss Meringue Buttercream & the Game Plan

For Let’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 1, click here. For Vol. 3, click here.
Swiss Meringue ButtercreamWedding Day is two days away and things are getting *real* around here. I have not lost my mind yet, but that’s a very big “yet.”

To be fair, this is probably the most prepared I’ve ever been for anything in my life. I’ve read all the homemade wedding cake information out there (especially Deb’s brilliant series) and done as much work ahead as I possibly could.Let’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 2
In case you missed it, the cake will be three round tiers (14-inch base, 10-inch center, 6-inch top), all vanilla, with alternating mocha and caramel fillings and Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Each tier will be filled, frosted, and doweled (!) at my workspace in Brooklyn, and then transported via my friend David’s trusty Volvo station wagon to the Central Park Boathouse on Sunday afternoon. The cake will be assembled on site and finished off with a cascade of fresh flowers. And then I will go put on my ballet pink bridesmaid’s dress and support my friend as she marries the man she loves. Did I mention that I’m a bridesmaid, too?Let’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 2
I baked, wrapped, and froze all the cake layers last week—that’s what I did to celebrate the Fourth of July. All the layers are made with my Vanilla Layer Cake recipe, but instead of baking them at the usual 350F, I went with a lower 300F. This helped keep them flatter—sort of the opposite of how I bake muffins—but also meant that each individual layer took 50 minutes to bake. Each layer was triple-wrapped in plastic and frozen flat.Swiss Meringue Buttercream
For those interested, I used Wilton Decorator Preferred pans that came as a set. Each 14-inch layer took 1.5x of the regular 9-inch cake recipe (10 cups of batter). The 10-inch layers were made with 0.75x the recipe (5 cups of batter), and the 6-inch layers were made with 0.37x the recipe (2.5 cups of batter). There was a lot of math and I’m sure most of it was inaccurate.Let’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 2
Since this is my first-ever tiered cake, I had to learn some new skills, namely how to dowel a cake so that it will be structurally sound and not one big, sad mess. This meant watching many YouTube videos about tiered cake assembly and, of course, doing some practice.Swiss Meringue Buttercream
I made two miniature wedding cakes last weekend, each with a 6-inch base and 4-inch top. The first was hideous from humidity, but it was properly assembled and survived a ten minute walk to a friend’s house without incident. The second was properly doweled and pretty. It’s basically exactly what I hope the real deal will look like but, you know, bigger. A lot bigger.Let’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 2Let’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 2
FYI, my favorite part of doweling a cake is shoving a sharpened dowel through the whole thing. It’s very satisfying to break through the top tier’s cake board.Let’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 2
On Wednesday, I picked up last second supplies—extra dowels, cake rounds, boxes, and a gold-foiled cake base. My beloved N.Y. Cake Supply is currently closed while it moves to a bigger space, so this meant going to The Sugar Room in Sunnyside, Queens. I don’t think I’ll be going to Queens for supplies from now on, but I will say that it was a great shopping experience and shockingly inexpensive given the amount of stuff I needed.Swiss Meringue Buttercream
I started thawing layers yesterday, so they can be trimmed and torted, AKA sliced in half. Yes, each tier is going to have six thin layers because I am freaking crazy.Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Flash forward to today, when I am making a triple batch of each filling. I think this may be too much, but I’d rather have too much than too little. Plus, after a long day of cake assembly, leftover pudding is the kind of problem I’d like to have. I am also making a batch of simple syrup to brush over the layers. Dryness is a common wedding cake concern, and I am determined to counteract it!

My plan for tonight is to have all the tiers filled and wrapped tightly in plastic before I go to bed. This means that I’ll be able to get up and start frosting tomorrow. I am hoping to complete the top tier before I leave to attend the rehearsal luncheon, and then to complete the other two that afternoon.Swiss Meringue Buttercream
And speaking of frosting, that’s today’s recipe 🙂 Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a dreamy, fluffy bright-white frosting perfect for any occasion, but especially beautiful on wedding cakes. It’s made from whipped egg whites, sugar, and softened butter, so it’s airy and light, but has a rich, pleasing mouthfeel. I also like to add a little cream of tartar for stability (like in Lemon Meringue Pie) and a pinch of salt for flavor balance.Swiss Meringue ButtercreamSwiss Meringue ButtercreamSwiss Meringue Buttercream
If you feel like you’ve heard me talk about Swiss Meringue Buttercream before, you’re right—I posted a chocolate version a few weeks ago. That recipe is literally the exact same as this one, except that there’s no chocolate here and I reduced the salt slightly because there’s less sugar in this recipe overall. Basically what I’m saying is that if you can make that recipe, you can make this one, and vice versa.Swiss Meringue ButtercreamSwiss Meringue Buttercream
I’m using Swiss Meringue Buttercream not only for its aesthetic beauty and flavor, but because the egg white base means it’s less likely to melt than an American Buttercream, i.e. most of the frostings on this site. There’s still butter in there, of course, so melting during transport is a possibility, but the risk is much lower than it would be otherwise. I plan to have all the frosted tiers spend the night in the refrigerator, so they should survive the trek to Central Park just fine.Swiss Meringue ButtercreamSwiss Meringue Buttercream
The recipe I’ve written here is just to frost a 9-inch round layer cake, not a full-on wedding cake. I am not exactly sure how many egg whites I’ll need to make frosting for all three tiers, but I have two dozen in my refrigerator, ready to go. That should be enough to leave some for piping a border at the base of each assembled tier. If it’s too much, Swiss Meringue Buttercream keeps well in the refrigerator and can even be frozen! It just needs to return to room temperature and be whipped again before use. Easy peasy.Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Whew! That’s a lot of information for a Friday. Thank you all for the enthusiasm, encouragement, and general showing of support during this exciting and challenging project. Please send me some good vibes this weekend! I’ll be documenting it on my social media and do a full post-cake rundown next week.

In the meantime, have you ever made a wedding cake? Got any tips?Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
makes enough to fill, frost & decorate a 9-inch layer cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar*

Egg whites will not whip properly if they are not treated well. Before beginning, please ensure that all equipment used in this recipe is very clean and dry. I like to wipe down the bowl(s), whisk, and mixer attachments with vinegar before starting the recipe. There is no way to salvage this recipe if the egg whites are contaminated with oil, yolk, or even water.

Cut butter into 16 one-tablespoon pieces. Set aside.

Fill a small pot with 1-2 inches of water. Set a very clean, dry heatproof bowl over the top, ensuring that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Remove bowl and bring water to a simmer.

Combine egg whites, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl. Place bowl over simmering water and whisk frequently until sugar dissolves. Test for readiness by rubbing a drop of the mixture between your clean, dry fingertips to feel for granules. Remove bowl from heat and wipe off the bottom to remove any condensation.

Use a very clean, dry electric mixer (preferably a stand mixer) with a whisk attachment to beat egg white mixture until room temperature and doubled in size, about 7-10 minutes. At this point, the mixture (a meringue) should hold stiff peaks and be glossy.

Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing to combine. Buttercream will probably curdle before re-forming; this is normal. Continue to whip until it thickens and becomes airy and frosting-like. If the buttercream is taking a long time to thicken, it may be too warm. Simply pop the bowl in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before whipping again. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is ready when it goes from being runny to being fluffy.

Leftover frosting will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Let come to room temperature and whip until fluffy before using.

Note:

There is no substitute for cream of tartar. It is mandatory for this recipe.
Swiss Meringue ButtercreamLet’s Make a Wedding Cake, Vol. 2

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Cinnamon Buttercream

Cinnamon ButtercreamThe official cake-count has now been brought up to sixteen since last Monday. Oy. But in keeping with this week’s theme of taking it easy, I’m not giving you a new cake recipe today—this post is all about the Cinnamon Buttercream.Cinnamon ButtercreamI did break my own step-by-step photos rule though. #sorrynotsorryCinnamon ButtercreamCinnamon ButtercreamWhen cakes #14 & #15 were picked up on Monday afternoon, my client paused before driving off to say how much he loved a vanilla cake with cinnamon buttercream that I had made last month. While he had ordered the cake, he couldn’t decide which flavors he wanted, so he let me surprise him.Cinnamon ButtercreamCinnamon ButtercreamI could have gone in many directions: chocolate, Oreo, malted, coconut, cream cheese…but instead I went for my secret favorite buttercream flavor: cinnamon.Cinnamon ButtercreamNow, I have never had someone ask for a cake with Cinnamon Buttercream. Not once. But every time I have put it on a cake, I get texts and emails like you wouldn’t believe. People love butter, sugar, cinnamon, and cream whipped until fluffy and slathered between layers of cake.Cinnamon ButtercreamDo you know why?Cinnamon ButtercreamIt’s because butter, sugar, cinnamon, and cream are freaking delicious!Cinnamon ButtercreamAlso delicious? My buttery vanilla cake. It’s a crowd favorite.Cinnamon ButtercreamIf you follow me on social media, you may have noticed I’ve been into piping recently. If you’re not, you can use more buttercream between layers and on top of the cake.Cinnamon ButtercreamOr just keep a little bowl of Cinnamon Buttercream in the fridge and eat it with graham crackers. Not that I’d know anything about that.Cinnamon ButtercreamWhile this particular combination of cake and frosting is great on its own, a little extra flourish of cinnamon-sugar never hurts.Cinnamon ButtercreamThere. Now it’s perfect.Cinnamon ButtercreamI think I’ll call this one Sweet Sixteen.Cinnamon Buttercream

Cinnamon Buttercream
makes enough for 1 fully-frosted 3-layer 9-inch round cake

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
5 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons (6 teaspoons) ground cinnamon
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons heavy cream

For the cake pictured:
1 recipe Vanilla Layer Cake, cooled (3 layers, baked 26-28 minutes)
1 tablespoon coarse sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy (about two minutes). Beat in confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon in three installments, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Beat in salt, followed by vanilla. Add heavy cream until desired consistency is reached.

For the cake pictured, frost and layer cake layers as desired. For cinnamon-sugar topping, mix together coarse sugar and cinnamon. Scatter over the top of the frosted cake.

Assembled cake will keep covered at room temperature for up to two days or in the refrigerator for up to five.

Cinnamon Buttercream

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Oreo Buttercream

 Peanut butter and Oreos are a match made in heaven. The salty-sweetness of peanut butter combined with dark chocolate wafers and creamy filling is straight-up amazing. Seriously, if you have never tried them together, I demand that you do so ASAP. And while there’s nothing quite like spreading peanut butter onto an Oreo, why not take this magical combination and make it into cupcakes?

Today, I’m bringing you just that–moist, fluffy cupcakes jam-packed with peanut butter and a buttercream frosting chock full of crushed Oreos. Oh yes, these are goooooooood. Like, I’ve-eaten-three-today-and-am-considering-another good. Almost too good to share. But I will, because having seventeen…make that fourteen…of these in my apartment is clearly a bad idea. 

These cupcakes are full of peanut butter flavor. There’s 2/3 cup of the good stuff mixed right into the batter. Yes, it takes that much. Peanut butter is one of those ingredients that can easily disappear in baked goods. If you don’t use a lot, you might as well just make vanilla cupcakes because that’s exactly how the final product will taste. I love vanilla cake, but when I want peanut butter, I. want. peanut butter.

Not only does the peanut butter serve to flavor the cupcakes, it also keeps everything moist along with a little bit of softened butter, a lot of dark brown sugar, and a couple of eggs. Where many peanut butter cupcakes are dry and crumbly, these stay soft and springy. The rest of the ingredients are pretty standard fare: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, granulated sugar, vanilla, and buttermilk. There’s also 1/4 cup of cornstarch to lighten the batter and keep the texture nice and soft. 

These cupcakes bake up to be gorgeous and golden with crackly tops. And oh, they smell ridiculously good. You’ll want to have two straight out of the oven, but you should wait because 1) you will burn your mouth, and 2) there’s Oreo Buttercream to be had! 

This frosting is pretty much everything I want in life. It’s light, fluffy, super creamy, and packed with crushed Oreos! And it couldn’t be simpler. Beat softened butter and confectioner’s sugar together until light and fluffy. I always add a pinch of salt too, just to keep the frosting from being overly sweet. Next comes some vanilla, followed by nearly a cup of crushed Oreos. There are twelve of the little sandwich cookies in this frosting! YAAAAAS. Add in a few tablespoons of heavy cream, and beat until everything is super fluffy, delicious, and ready for cake. Pipe or spread the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes and garnish with more Oreos. Because Oreos.

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Oreo Buttercream are too good, you guys. Too good. The cake itself is moist, springy and packed with peanut butter, while the frosting is fluffy and full of that classic Oreo flavor. They’re perfect for birthdays, cookouts, or any occasion that demands cupcakes. Just make sure that you have people to share with. I’m still eyeing that fourth one. 

 Want more peanut butter and Oreos? Check out my homemade Oreo Peanut Butter!

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Oreo Buttercream
makes about 16-17 cupcakes

Cupcakes:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup creamy-style peanut butter*
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk*

Buttercream:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 Oreo cookies, finely crushed (a scant 1 cup of crumbs)
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream*

For Garnish:
16-17 Oreo cookies

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a standard muffin pan with cupcake liners. Set aside.

Make the cupcakes. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and peanut butter until combined and fluffy. Beat in dark brown and granulated sugars, followed by eggs and vanilla. Mix in buttermilk. Add dry ingredients in two installments, mixing until combined.

Fill prepared muffin cups 2/3 full of the batter. Gently tap pan on the counter five times to release any large air bubbles. Bake cupcakes 21-23 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in a couple of cupcakes comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool in the pan for five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Cool muffin pan completely before filling with any remaining batter.

Make the buttercream frosting. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar in two installments, followed by salt and vanilla. Mix in crushed Oreos until well-dispersed. Beat in cream until your desired consistency has been reached. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes. Garnish with additional Oreos, if desired.

Cupcakes will keep covered at room temperature for up to three days or in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Notes:

1. Do not use natural-style peanut butter.

2. If you do not have buttermilk, you may make your own. Pour one teaspoon of white or Apple cider vinegar into a liquid measuring cup, and pour in regular milk up to the 3/4 cup mark. Stir and let sit for five minutes before using. I do not recommend skim or fat-free milk.

3. Half & half or whole milk may be substituted in the frosting, although the final product will not be as rich and creamy as frosting made with heavy cream.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

  
Things are about to get really basic up in here. I have taken all the flavors of the beloved pumpkin spice latte and mixed them into light, fluffy cupcakes with vanilla buttercream piled high on top. Pumpkin spice lattes in cupcake form? I might as well just put on the Uggs that have been relegated to the closet the last couple of years because I CAN’T EVEN. Pumpkin spice, espresso, lighter-than-air cupcakes, and dreamy vanilla buttercream? YAAAAAS. YAAAAAAAAAS. Pumpkin spice all the things!

But before we get to the cupcakes, I have a confession to make: I don’t really understand the pumpkin spice latte craze. I mean, I get that cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and coffee are good. That’s the entire basis for the chai latte, and I big-pink-puffy-heart love chai lattes. But something about the pumpkin spice latte turns me off. Maybe it’s my confusion over the pumpkinization of America. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never had a pumpkin spice latte that actually tasted “right.” In my experience, it either tastes of artificially flavored syrup with a good dose of bitterness, or a very milky cup of coffee, neither of which are things that I get terribly excited about. I like my pumpkin real and my coffee black. But I also dig cupcakes. So here we are.

These cupcakes have a hefty dose of pure pumpkin purée (a whole cup!), more pumpkin pie spice than cinnamon (because pumpkin should taste like more than just cinnamon), and a noticeable hit of coffee flavor in the form of granulated espresso. Where many pumpkin baked goods are dense and heavy, these cupcakes are a bit on the softer, lighter side thanks to some serious baking chemistry. Yes, chemistry. Don’t panic. I am a C+ chemistry student at best, so if I can figure this out, anyone can.

To achieve a tender crumb, we need a few things: cornstarch, buttermilk, oil, and my favorite ingredient of late, whipped egg whites. Cornstarch is added to the dry ingredients. Cake flour is a mixture of all purpose flour and cornstarch, and it’s slightly lower amount of gluten makes for a velvety texture. If we used all cake flour here, our cupcakes would likely sag in the middle. They’d still be delicious, but we want them puffy. The solution is to add just a touch of cornstarch to the full volume of flour. Buttermilk also helps with tenderness, and activates our leaveners. Oil is used instead of butter. American-style butter is 15-20% water, whereas oil is water-free. Therefore, our cupcakes will stay moist for days, rather than drying out as the water in the butter and pumpkin evaporates.

 
 Airiness, something that is so often lost in pumpkin baked goods, comes in the form of whipped egg whites, just like it does in my Pumpkin Pie. Egg whites are structural powerhouses in baking. Left in their natural state with the increased moisture from the pumpkin purée, buttermilk, and oil, they would weigh these cupcakes down. But when we whip air into them and completely alter their physical form, we bypass dense, heavy cake completely. Light and fluffy cupcakes all the way.  Once the cupcakes are baked, put them on a rack to cool and get to work on the frosting. This vanilla buttercream, you guys. It is SO good. Buttery, fluffy, not-too-sweet vanilla heaven. And it’s so easy, it’s ridiculous. Beat butter until it’s fluffy and light in color, add confectioner’s sugar and salt, then vanilla and heavy cream. The heavy cream whips within the mixture and makes the resulting frosting so fluffy, I could die! (Name that movie.) You could use half & half or whole milk here, but your frosting will not be nearly as rich and fantastic. Once all your mixing is done, stuff the buttercream into a bag with a piping tip and go nuts. If you’re not comfortable with a piping bag, or just don’t have one, spread the vanilla buttercream with an offset knife.

 
Make these cupcakes this weekend or over Thanksgiving, and get your basic on. Or, if being totally basic isn’t your thing, double the batter and make an amazing layer cake! No matter how you feel about Starbucks or Lululemon or selfies, these Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes won’t disappoint.  Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

adapted from Pumpkin Cupcakes on Sally’s Baking Addiction
makes 14 cupcakes or a one-layer 9″ round cake*

Cupcakes:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 1/2 tablespoons espresso granules*
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pure pumpkin purée
1/2 cup neutral-flavored oil*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk

Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened room temperature
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream*

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, espresso granules, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together sugars, pumpkin purée, oil, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. Using a silicone spatula, fold in the flour mixture in two installments. 
Place two egg whites in a medium mixing bowl. With an electric mixer or a whisk, whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the pumpkin batter, just until combined. Divide batter into prepared pans, filling each cup 2/3 full. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into one of the cupcakes comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat softened butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. With the mixer starting on low, beat in confectioner’s sugar in two installments. Add salt. With the the mixer on high, beat in vanilla and heavy cream, stopping to scrape down the bowl. When the frosting is to the preferred consistency, it’s ready. Pipe or spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes.

Cupcakes will keep covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Notes:

1. If you want a layer cake, you may double this recipe and pour it into two greased 9″ round pans. Bake at 350F for 25-27 minutes.
2. I use Medaglia d’Oro.
3. I use canola oil, but vegetable oil will also work.
4. Half & half or whole milk may be used in place of the heavy cream.