Buttercream blues


My head was spinning like the rotating paddle attachment of my stand mixer as I methodically scoured every goddamn rule in buttercream troubleshooting to explain the faintly curdled mess churning. To make matters worse, the tube of red food colouring I’d thrown in there got me somewhere half-way between Barbie pink and ridiculous pink!

This was part of a Lightning McQueen cake project for the munchkin’s birthday and I was conducting a little dry run. From the looks of things in my mixer, all I can say is Thank God I decided to do so. The cake part was a breeze – a standard yellow butter cake; the shape was a no-brainer as well with the Lightning McQueen cake mould. But when I got to the frosting part, now that’s when things started getting a bit tricky.

Every year, when I bake a kid’s theme cake I generally opt for chocolate or cream cheese frosting or something that doesn’t involve food colouring, being a staunch advocate of a preservative, additive free kind of lifestyle. This time, however, I decided to go with a full-on colour coded Lightning McQueen cake – red frosting to signal his shiny red coat, cream cheese for the bolt and outline and dark chocolate ganache to substitute black frosting for the wheels. Colourful frosting, notwithstanding, I still wanted to keep the whole endeavour fairly chemical free. Even the tube of red food colouring that had gone in advertised all natural ingredients. Well, we know how well that turned out!

Each year, the same scene of frenetic birthday baking unfolded; I would get a jump on things days in advance, such as baking the cake leaving only the frosting to be done the day of. Oh boy! Did I ever learn what a gross miscalculation that was! Every mistake in the buttercream bible would manifest itself and I’d find myself frantically winging it on turbo power and a prayer, confectioner’s sugar everywhere.

As if that wasn’t stressful enough, one year I decided to up my game from the usual whipped chocolate ganache frosting to something that was not always giving me away as a hopeless chocoholic. But that wasn’t nearly as ambitious for someone eager to impress; I wanted to do a cheffy number on this one with pineapple mousse and pineapple buttercream. Let’s just say things didn’t churn out too well, shall we.

Though I might sound glib and light-hearted about the whole affair now, I was an emotional mess (yes frosting that won’t cooperate makes me unravel!) when it happened almost two years ago to an ill-fated guitar cake. Not so much over the gritty buttercream and sloppy mousse, but because my munchkin whose cake it was, raved about it to everybody who was anybody, saying, “Look at my awesome guitar cake that my mama made.” Well, in his defense anything involving butter and sugar is fair game!

As much as I wanted to downplay things and distract attention away from that damned cake, he talked it up all the way to a crescendo! In fact it was all he talked about at the party and long after, making sure nobody escaped the sight of its presence at the table.

Well, after that, I vowed to be more prepared and thorough with my cake frosting. But today, after four hours of hovering anxiously over the stand mixer, adding ingredients, chilling and blending, I decided to throw in the piping bag and call it quits. The rest of my buttercream (and I use the word loosely) went down the drain along with the last reserves of my patience. All that was left was a counter-top partially covered in icing sugar and butter wrappers, a clumsily frosted Lightning McQueen cake and a sink full of dishes.

I hated the mess; it weighed me down more than the buttercream debacle. So I did what any sane person in my situation would. I picked out the only clean utensil left, a serrated knife, hunked out a piece of cake and crammed it in my mouth. I’m not altogether despondent; there’s still time left for a few more practice runs before the big day. Now, to glove up and get washing!


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