This week’s obsession: Italian Meringue
Do you have a skill that you do so well that it's become second nature? That was me with several recipes I used to use on a daily basis, and I used to be able to make Italian meringue in my sleep. There was a time when I worked at a small French bakery in the middle of nowhere Louisiana, and I developed a line of 13 different flavors of macarons that were available daily, which meant that I made a lot of Italian meringue (I know most macaron recipes use French meringue but I felt like the Italian meringue was more stable and produced a better product). Plus we only frosted our cakes with Italian buttercream, which meant we had to make EVEN MORE Italian meringue.
For those of you reading all of this, wondering why I keep specifying that the meringue was Italian and what the heck that even means, here’s a quick breakdown of the 3 different types of meringue you can use in pastry (side note, there’s a 4th type - a Japanese meringue - but it’s mostly just eaten as a dessert instead of being used to make things like cookies or buttercream):
1. French Meringue: This is just whipped eggs whites and sugar. No heat is introduced into this form of meringue, so be aware if you’re serving it raw. Can add food color and then pipe into cute cookie shapes and bake, or can be folded into cake batter for some added fluffiness.
2. Italian Meringue: A syrup of water and sugar is brought to a boil then poured over egg whites as they’re whipping. This is the only form of heat that is introduced to the raw egg whites. Can add room temperature butter while it’s whipping to make buttercream, or can be piped on top of pies and tarts and torched.
3. Swiss Meringue: This type starts by heating your egg whites and sugar over a double boiler to a certain temperature, then whipping them into a meringue. You can use this style just about everywhere you can use Italian meringue.
I guess that was more of a lesson than a tip of the week, but there you have it. Meringues are great! And they are why the buttercream I used on this cake was so silky smoOoOoOth.
When my dear friend told me that her man candy’s birthday was coming up and asked me if I could make a lilikoi filled cake, I was so excited! I love making cakes for my friends' birthdays because it gives me a chance to create something that's not about my design preferences, but about someone else's. So of course, I immediately asked her what kind of decoration she would like me to make for his cake. She responded with a shrug and said, “I dunno, a skull?”
At first I was all:
(I’m pretty sure I actually made that face.) (I mean, come on. If you check out my Gallery Page, you can tell that a skull is wayyyyyyy out of my typical design wheelhouse.)
But then I reminded myself that “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” and, “Your comfort zone is a beautiful thing, but nothing ever grows there.” So I took a big gulp and said YES!!! (followed immediately by 20 seconds of pure panic, repeating those two quotes to myself several times, and then starting to come up with a plan). Part of that plan involved figuring out how the heck to make an edible skull (I’m not a big fan of putting inedible items on my cakes, therefore I couldn't just buy one), and the other part of the plan was coming up with the best flavors to pair with lilikoi - which is where the Italian buttercream idea came from.
It was pretty obvious to me that chocolate cake would wayyyy overpower the lilikoi so I opted for my vanilla cake recipe (definitely one of my favorites. Even though it’s “just” vanilla.) and paired it with the silky smoothness of Italian buttercream. Now I know I already described a lot about meringue, but to make Italian buttercream, you start with an Italian meringue and just. Add. Butter. That’s it!
I use European butter in my baking (basically European butter has a higher butterfat content, and it makes things taste so nice!) which adds to the creaminess of this buttercream, but what I really love about it is that it’s not super sweet (that’s actually one of the comments I hear the most about my baking. Everyone is surprised that my products aren’t “too sweet”, but that’s because I use European recipes and ingredients!).
Next up was the lilikoi filling itself (need a refresher about lilikoi? Read this blog post.). Originally I had planned to make a lilikoi curd, but I couldn't get my hands on enough lilikois in time to make it (I've only ever seen lilikoi for sale at a farmer's market on the north side of the island, and only on Saturdays. Other than that, I've always been gifted lilikoi. But since the cake was due on a Saturday, I was pretty S.O.L.) So I used a store bought lilikoi jam (GASP! I know, I know, but it was made on one of the neighboring islands so I figured it was a pretty safe bet.) and I'm glad I did because it turned out to be DELICIOUS! (And I will definitely buy it again!) I folded the jam into my silky Italian buttercream and used it as a filling, then spread a little bit of the jam by itself on top of the filling just for a little punch of flavor.
There are other really cool pieces of this cake such as the fresh berries and rosemary sprigs on top, and the hand painted gold drip covering the topside. I’ve never hand painted a whole cake drip before and I have two things to say: 1) Holy moley that took FOR-EV-ER!
2) That was so messy!! I got gold paint everywhere!!! I had to pop my cake back in the fridge after I painted it, then scrape all of the gold paint off of the buttercream (not the drip) after it firmed up, and I still felt like there was gold paint everywhere!
Regardless of the gold mess, this cake made the long trek out to the west side of the island in the weekend afternoon traffic nonsense with ease, and the birthday boy really seemed to appreciate the cake (and the solid white chocolate skull).
And really, the best part about everything that I do is being there to experience someone truly enjoying my artwork #WarmFuzziesAllAround
Happy eating, y’all! (And Happy Birthday, birthday boy!)
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