Cheating with a pound of butter

I’ll be the first to confess, when it comes to hosting an event, the instinct is to do everything I can to “do it right.”

And in my vision of the world, that means any food I put on the buffet is made from scratch.

But reality inevitably rears its’ honest face, and I wind up realizing that making everything from scratch would require a sabbatical from work, giving up time with my family and sequestering myself in the kitchen for a couple of days.

And I’m not about to justify doing that. Instead, I compromise without really compromising.

What does that mean? The same focus on quality, with the same “scratch batch” results, but only a half-scratch effort.

Recently, we hosted a family pot-luck to welcome some out-of-town relatives who were visiting. I knew I wanted to serve some cupcakes as a dessert option, because they’re easy to set out on a buffet and just forget about them.

To make it even easier, I used a box of cake mix to bake the cupcakes. But not just any grocery store variety cake mix: I splurged on a premium box created with Duff Goldman (as in Ace of Cakes from Food Network!). This awesome, truly decadent chocolate flavor is found in lots of places now…and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been promoting his product line as part of my day job. Still, I have to try what I’m attempting to get others to buy, right?

There was nothing – just a little water, oil, and a few eggs – to put this mix together. Popped them in the oven, and let them cool overnight hidden from my son, who would want to eat them as soon as he saw them. When the little guy was napping, it was time to dress them up with the truly homemade portion of the treat: buttercream icing.

This classic vanilla buttercream is the perfect foil to the fudgy goodness that makes this cupcake. A stand mixer is definitely a must for making this batch, and it may seem time intensive when looking at the recipe. But taken in little steps as you wait for the cupcakes to cool, it’s really not that much work.

But what really sold me on this recipe was the fact that it called for a pound of butter. A pound! What better way to say you love your guests than wallowing in butter?

Given the deep dark color of the cupcakes, I did nothing to color this batch of icing. I literally dumped the salty-sweet goodness into a pastry bag fitted with a #1M tip from Wilton, and giddily piped the stuff on top of the cupcakes. And when I found I had a bit more icing, went back and “equalized” a few of the cupcakes that didn’t seem to tower quite so high as the others.

Like buttah...

I think that justifies doing semi-homemade desserts for a crowd, don’t you? Here’s the recipe, courtesy the folks at America’s Test Kitchen (from their Family Baking Book):

Vanilla Buttercream

6 large egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened

Whip the egg yolks in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until slightly thickened and pale yellow, 4 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the sugar and corn syrup to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar, about 3 minutes.

Without letting the hot sugar mixture cool off, turn the mixer to low and slowly pour the warm sugar syrup into the whipped egg yolks without hitting the side of the bowl or the beaters. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whipe the mxiture until it is light and fluffy, and the bowl is no longer warm, 5 to 10 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and add the vanilla and salt. Gradually add the butter, one piece at a time, until completely incorporated, about 2 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the buttercream until smooth and silky, about 2 minutes (If the mixture looks curdled, wrap a hot, wet towel around the bowl and continue to whipe until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.

The buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days (it will take on a more yellow hue as time passes). Let the buttercream stand at room temperature until softened, about 2 hours, then whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, 2 to 5 minutes.

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