The elusive black buttercream. This has been my main experiment for the past month. Along the way, I made some awesome slate grey colors, some more bitter flavored icing, many many many cakes to use as vehicles for eating the experiments, and used lots and lots of gel coloring.
In April, I took a cake order that was going to be mostly black. The client gave the option of using fondant or buttercream and I opted for buttercream because guests would be more likely to eat and enjoy it. Having read several posts on blogs and in baking groups about working on black buttercream, I figured I would get it in only a couple of trials.
Trial 1 – Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) is my current go-to for cakes. It isn’t very sweet, has great flavors, takes spices and colors well, and holds up well through various temperatures.
For this first run, melted milk chocolate, a small amount of black cocoa and some drops of Wilton black gel coloring were added to white IMBC. The chocolate flavor was delicious! The initial color result was a slate grey. Leaving the buttercream out overnight to darken only yielded a very slight change in shade. “Ok,” I thought, “maybe I didn’t add enough black.”
Trial 2 – another run with IMBC.
Trial 2 had a lot more black cocoa, no milk chocolate, and more black gel color (this time I tried Americolor) than last time, but it still was not enough as I achieved exactly the same shade as I had in trial 1. The chocolate flavor in batch 2 was still good despite lacking the smoothness the melted milk chocolate added.
There were many issues with the IMBC: the texture was getting thinner as I added more chocolate and gel and I was not satisfied with it, the flavor was very bitter and I was adding a lot of powered sugar in to compensate, and it was taking hours to mess with the color. If I was going to add so much powdered sugar, why not start with something very sweet, like American buttercream (ABC)? During my research, a recipe from Chelsweets kept coming up and I decided to give it a go.
Trial 3 – American buttercream via Chelsweets.com
VICTORY! Not only had I achieved black, but it came together really quickly and the flavor was very good! I had found my black buttercream.
It took about a month, but I was ready to tackle the cake order. This cake order was big for a few reasons:
First cake order for Casual Confections
First bake in the bakery I’m renting space from, Baked Well
First cake where I was trying to match a design
Only my second decorated cake (you may remember the uterus babies as the first)
The order was for a Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC for the pages and lettering, and black chocolate ABC for the icing.
I did not stage any of the photos, just grabbed a few quick shots on the work table after a few hours of working without a/c, around the repair guy, and running into a few issues with the bake and decorating, I was very tired and needed to clean and close up. The black buttercream turned out really well. As it crusted, I was able to use a wet paper towel to smooth out the buttercream and achieve a leather cover look, which was perfect for the look of a well-worn journal.
Achieving black buttercream was definitely more of an adventure than I expected it to be, but I learned a lot of lessons along the way and now I can whip it up in almost no time!
Black American Buttercream via Chelsweets* (makes 4-5 cups)
1 cup (217 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp (37.5 gram) heavy cream
1/2 tsp (2 grams) vanilla extract
1/4 cup (25 grams) black cocoa, sifted (I always ended up adding a bit more to get a deeper black)
1/2 tsp black gel food coloring (add more if the color isn’t quite the black you’re looking to achieve)
Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla.
Add in the sifted black cocoa and mix on low speed until incorporated (scrape down the sides and mix).
Alternate between the powdered sugar and cream, adding each slowly (the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and the cream, a splash a a time). Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the desired consistency is reached (add more cream for a wetter, looser buttercream, add more powdered sugar for a drier, thicker buttercream).
Once the frosting is fully made, add in a generous squirt of black gel buttercream and mix by hand with a rubber spatula until the frosting is evenly colored.
To allow the shade to deepen, place in sealed piping bags or an airtight container. Leave out overnight at room temperature or place in the fridge for several days.
*Check out the link for additional tips and nutrition information.
In 2019, I’m taking on some baking challenges with two other bakers in different states. The challenge for January is a pull apart cupcake cake. I opted for a fun but simple design for this, my first cupcake cake. To still make it a challenge, though, I tried my hand at making Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC). I’ve made American (ABC) and Swiss Meringue (SMBC) buttercreams before but not Italian.
The design I selected for the cake was taken from bluprint (formerly Craftsy). My version ended up utilizing 9 regular sized cupcakes and 20 mini cupcakes, all yellow cake. The nice thing about such a simple design is that you end up with plenty of extra cupcakes to snack on. One mistake I made was with the mini cupcakes.
The recipe for the Italian meringue buttercream is by Yolanda Gampps on HowToCakeIt.com. She has an excellent video up if you’re interested in seeing her techniques. Her recipe is easy to follow and should have you whipping up some IMBC in no time. If you haven’t tried IMBC before or aren’t sure if you have, it is less sweet than American buttercream (one of the most common types of buttercream in the U.S.) and a little less buttery than Swiss meringue. It’s a really smooth and light flavor as a base. It also takes coloring and flavorings really well. I added some raspberry extract to the purple portion and it was very good.
After making the buttercream and arranging your cakes, use a piping bag with a wide tip to pipe the outline of your design. Then fill in the shape with more buttercream and smooth it out with an offset spatula. This helps to keep some of the definition in your shape and prevents you from pushing cupcakes around while trying to dollop icing on them.
Lessons learned from my first go at a pull apart cake:
I need to be better about portioning out my buttercream colors. I ended up with far too much leftover blue buttercream and not near enough white buttercream to touch up the tentacles.
I need to bake my mini cupcakes longer. I under-baked them slightly, resulting in them being too moist and the wrappers pulling awkwardly away from the cakes after sitting overnight.
I forgot to put icing on the bottom of the large cupcakes before decorating them. Adding a dot of icing under each cupcake makes it harder for them to slide across the board and helps to hold them in place.
This was only my second time piping anything (the first being the teeth on the sarlacc cake). You can tell I was playing around with one of the piping tips due to the variation in the design of the purple icing on the tentacles.
Overall, the experiment was a success. The expectation of a yummy pull apart cake that resembled a jellyfish was met and now we have a taste for IMBC!
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp-sized pieces, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.
While the sugar syrup is heating, put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
When the syrup reaches 230°F on the candy thermometer, begin to whip the egg whites on medium/high speed. Whip until the egg whites are stiff.
When the syrup reaches 240°F, immediately remove the pan from the heat and, with the mixer still running, pour the syrup into the egg whites in a very thin stream. Pour the syrup between the sides of the bowl and the whisk.
Whip the meringue at high speed until thick and glossy and the bowl is no longer warm on the outside, about 8-12 mins.
With the mixer running, add the butter, a piece at a time, whipping until each piece is fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula occasionally.
After all of the butter has been added, continue to whip the buttercream until it’s thick and smooth, 3-5 mins.
Beat in the vanilla.
Divide the buttercream into different bowls to fold in different colors and flavors.
Today I utilized three different recipes I’ve tried in previous bakes and ended up with something very tasty! How tasty? The entire plate of cookie sandwiches was gone before any could be shared outside of the house! This has become a new favorite.
May I present to you, the oatmeal pecan sandwich cookie with chai buttercream.
• Chewy oatmeal cookies from a previous post (just use chopped pecans as your mix ins instead of apples or walnuts)
• Chai spice* (from the chai spice sugar cookies post) I make a batch of this to keep handy for experiments like this. The buttercream only needs up to 4 tsp so there will be more than enough left over if you make a batch of the chai spice.
Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 mins. Sift the powdered sugar into the butter in 3 half cup sections, scraping the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition. Add the chai spice and beat again. Add milk a 1/4 tsp at a time and beat for a few mins until the frosting is smooth and keeps its form when manipulated. If it looks too runny, stop adding milk. Adding more powdered sugar will thicken it. Adding more milk will make it less stiff. Mix until desired consistency is reached.
Spread a thick layer onto a cooled oatmeal cookie. Place second cookie on top and press down to secure the cookie, but not hard enough to make the frosting run out of the cookies.