Fall Leaves and New Love

September 3, 2009 at 9:10 pm 30 comments

“Bowl-o-Rama” Bowling Ball – Chocolate cake, chocolate & vanilla buttercreams

Pumpkins, cinnamon, vibrant leaves, and my favorite red rain boots – there is everything to love about fall. Along with the drizzling rain and the brisk, crisp chill sweeping into Seattle comes school, but also fresh starts and new love. A love in the form of Swiss Buttercream.

The photos in today’s post are a few paid orders from the summer. Because time was an issue and setting up photos was not a priority, they are not my most beautiful shots, but I’m still happy to share them with you. And the one thing they all have in common? They are frosted with a silky, light swiss buttercream that I am head over heels for. It makes me swoon. It’s sweet and velvety and also a dream to work with. I’ve never frosted a cake so smooth.

Buttercream has always been elusive for me. I’d tried making a classic buttercream once, but something went wrong between heating the sugar and whisking the eggs and I ended up with a big mess. That seemed to scare me from buttercream ever since, and I just stuck to powdered sugar frostings. Not anymore! I made… wait for it… six batches of buttercream in the past two weeks. Which sounds like a lot, and then I did the math and realized that I baked 13 cakes this summer, including 7 paid orders!

“Bowl-o-Rama” Bowling Ball Cake & “Strike!” Bowling Pin Cake

Baking paid orders is so different than baking for fun. For one thing, it’s a lot more stressful. Failure when I’m baking for fun or experience is merely disappointing, and frequently entertaining. Failure when I’m charging somebody for it makes my insides curdle faster than my first buttercream. I worry about taste, appearance, and getting the order right – after all, it’s a purchase.

It’s hard to say if I truly enjoy paid orders. On the one hand, I am creating cakes I would have never made on my own.  I cut out interesting shapes, learn new techniques for decorating, and even try new frosting recipes. For the same reason that I love being a Daring Baker, I like the challenge each paid order presents and the new ingredients, tools, and skills I acquire. And the feeling when I know the client has gotten exactly what he or she wanted, is amazing. When the client arrived to pick up this bowling cake, she saw the pin first and gasped. It’s genuinely thrilling, and it makes me want to do nothing but make customers happy.

On the flip side, I stress like Robert Irvine on Dinner: Impossible. I always wake up before 8:30 that day, to make sure I have enough time to work and start over if necessary. If the cake is drier than expected or something doesn’t go according to plan, even though I know how to fix it, it’s difficult not to feel anxious. When I don’t like the final result, my hands actually shake as I transfer the cake to a platter and my stomach tightens uncomfortably until the moment I feel certain the client is satisfied. Somehow, when my whole body relaxes and I begin to gather the dishes, it feels like the whole morning was worth it. It’s not about the money, but something so much more important than that.

Vanilla “Dream” themed cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, fondant stars & moons, and blue sanding sugar

Monday was my first day of school. This year I’m taking some fascinating classes and will be participating in a fantastic internship. It’s been a long week, and a busy one. My school doesn’t offer a cooking class and my teachers haven’t hesitated to assign homework even in the first few days. The result? I haven’t had the opportunity to spend as much time in the kitchen as I’d like.

It’s jarring to be suddenly thrown back into the world of lectures, lengthy homework assignments, and commitment. While I would never sacrifice my responsibilities for my hobbies, all of you know I would also never stop blogging no matter how busy I got. While I might need to put paid orders on hold, baking and blogging is my passion.

SAT prep classes, college applications, and warm autumn flavors… I welcome fall with open arms, sharpened pencils, and a satisfied stomach.

Pink Fairy cake for a special 3-year-old girl’s birthday

While I am smitten with Martha’s Swiss Buttercream, my dad finds it a bit too sweet. I tried two other swiss buttercreams in an attempt to find an even better one, but the first was too buttery and the second even sweeter. Please feel free to share your favorite swiss buttercream recipes with me, and if you are a true buttercream master, please give me tips on making classic buttercream! Someday when I am brave enough to try it again, I’ll be more prepared than last time.

Martha’s Swiss Buttercream
From Martha Stewart
Makes about 4.5 cups

1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large egg whites
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place egg whites and sugar in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a pan of simmering water and whisk until sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. [I rub the mixture between my fingers and it should feel completely smooth.]

Move the bowl from the pan to the mixer and, using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until the whites have cooled to room temperature and formed stiff peaks (about 10 minutes.)

Add the butter one piece at a time, beating until just incorporated between additions. [If the buttercream curdles simply keep beating and it will come together, do not panic!] Add vanilla and beat until just combined.

Beat with the paddle attachment on the lowest speed to eliminate air pockets and smooth the buttercream. If you’re going to use it soon, cover and store in a cool environment until needed. If not, you can refrigerate buttercream (tightly wrapped) for up to 3 days. When ready to use, bring to room temperature and then beat on low speed with the paddle attachment until smooth.

Printer Friendly Version – Martha’s Swiss Buttercream

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30 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tania  |  September 3, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    WOW! Three recipes at once! What a treat!

    Thanks Elissa this just quenched my insatiable thirst for your blog posts! Hahaha you got me addicted D:

    It’s so nice to see the recipes I’ve heard so much from you about!

    “SAT prep classes, college applications, and warm autumn flavors… I welcome fall with open arms, sharpened pencils, and a satisfied stomach.” I wish I could say the same for myself! Please lend me some of your enthusiasm (:

    Reply
  • 2. tianne  |  September 4, 2009 at 8:10 am

    beautiful! where do you get the orders from? friends/family? that’s awesome that you can get paid for waht you love to do, even if it is stressful. i can totally relate to that stress… good and bad stress. good luck with your classes and happy fall!

    Reply
  • 3. Valérie  |  September 4, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Beautiful cakes, every single one! I admire your energy!

    Best of luck with the new school year!

    Reply
  • 4. Eliana  |  September 4, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Swiss Buttercream is the absolute BEST. It’s so creamy and luxurious not to mention tastey. It’s definitely my go-to when I am making something for someone special.

    And gorgeous pics by the way ;)

    Reply
  • 5. Dolce  |  September 4, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Just a friendly reminder from a Summer lover: Fall only starts at the end of September. I know, shocking, plus we can really start to feel it’s getting cooler… But I won’t abdict and will not use the word “fall” ever again until late September!!

    That being said, great cake decorations :)

    Reply
  • 6. Elissa  |  September 4, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Dolce – it’s true that fall hasn’t “technically” begun, but this is more of an anticipation post as I look forward to it. This is also the time of year when the rain begins again, which always feels to me like the end of summer even if it’s not the start of fall. :)

    Reply
  • 7. kissmyspatula  |  September 4, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    wow wow wow – you are so utterly talented!! can’t decide which i love most!

    Reply
  • 8. nutmegnanny  |  September 4, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    All these cakes look awesome! You are such a great baker:)

    Reply
  • 9. Cucinista  |  September 5, 2009 at 5:05 am

    I am totally with you on the buttercream — it scares the bejeezus out of me. I am one with the powdered sugar frostings… But you have given me confidence to tackle a real buttercream!

    I know what you mean about anxiety before a big cake/meal/test or whatever: I don’t know that it ever goes away, but probably after a few more cakes the stomach-clenching dissipates a bit. Though I think those of us who feel passionately about something never quite lose that desire towards perfection and anxiety about failure. Looking at your cakes, though, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

    Reply
  • 10. Kerstin  |  September 5, 2009 at 9:42 am

    What cute cakes, you did a great job! I always liked going back to school and I love fall too!

    Reply
  • 11. Ash  |  September 6, 2009 at 7:23 am

    Your cakes are just amazing!! Great job.
    I get paid orders too every once and while and I too find them stressful sometimes, I always want it to be just perfect!

    Reply
  • 12. Amanda  |  September 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Orders are stressful! But you seem to be turning out great cakes, so… relax! : D

    Easier said that done, right?

    Reply
  • 13. Hilary  |  September 7, 2009 at 9:07 am

    I’m impressed that you manage to fit it all in. School, homework, college applications AND baking? Well done.

    Reply
  • 14. Baking Monster  |  September 7, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    I’m so impressed Elissa! How does it feel to be the big man on campus? I know how you feel I haven’t been able to bake either thanks to school. but anyways all your cakes look amazing!

    Reply
  • 15. Michelle Moore  |  September 7, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    YAY Elissa! I’m sure ALL your clients are just elated with the care you put into each paid order (and always completely satisfied!). I remember my nerves with the first few real jobs I had, and over time it will start to go away, and become more manageable. Having a bit of stress/anxiety over an order/job can be a *good* thing too, because it shows you care, and gives you an edge to deliver a really awesome product that you put your heart and soul into :) I hope that you had a wonderful first week of school! It was SO fun to meet you and take your photos…you are truly a beautiful shining star!! xoxo

    Reply
  • 16. Miakoda  |  September 8, 2009 at 2:09 am

    Wow, thanks for the butter cream recipe. Everything looks beautiful. I love the color of the Bowl-o-rama!

    Reply
  • 17. Marta  |  September 8, 2009 at 11:34 am

    I’m so glad you conquered buttercream! It’s indeed a versatile and useful element for any talented baker like you. Those cakes look brilliant, did you make them all? It looks like you’ve been spending enough time in the kitchen!
    I always loved the start of the schoolyear. Everything is fresh, everything is new and, because I’m a nerd, I always loved going to those first few lectures, where you could size up how much you’d be learning during the year! Good luck with it all!

    Reply
  • 18. Making my Mark  |  September 10, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I’m sure all of your clients loved your work. I understand what you mean about stress though.

    I hope school is going great for you!

    Reply
  • 19. justcooknyc  |  September 14, 2009 at 11:09 am

    i really like how the cupcakes look with the blue sanding sugar

    Reply
  • 20. kai  |  September 14, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    oh wow the fairy cake was pretty amazing hahaha.

    can’t wait for the next set of pictures. I really want to see the stuff from this weekend! you continuously impress everyone more and more. =]

    Reply
  • 21. Memoria  |  September 21, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Oh no! You forgot to place the requisite, inverted or upside-down exclamation mark! In Spanish, you have to have both marks. Well, I guess you can do that the next time you make a cake with Spanish greetings. ;)

    Anyway, the cake looks great! You are so talented. I wish I could be at least half as talented as you.

    Reply
    • 22. Elissa  |  September 21, 2009 at 7:44 pm

      Memoria – Whoops! Not speaking Spanish myself I completely forgot about that… Can do next time :)

  • 23. kaet  |  September 22, 2009 at 10:01 am

    wow! i am totally blown away by these cakes!!! you are so so talented and i am glad i found your blog!

    Reply
  • 24. Christina  |  December 27, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. My husband loves the freshly-made buttercream icing at our local bakery but they are stingy in letting me buy just the icing to frost my own baked goods. I always get dirty looks when I request it and sometimes they won’t sell it to me at all. I never know whether ot trust online recipes, but I trust yours bc I know they’re tried and true and you’re honest with the outcome. Now I can make my sweetie fresh icing at home!

    Reply
  • 25. the way it crumbles » Cupcakes for A Graduation  |  May 4, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    [...] by the addition of coffee, whilst I was told the vanilla recipe was lighter. The buttercream recipe I used was also very effective from 17 and Baking, flavoured with vanilla extract, and in the case [...]

    Reply
  • […] for the vanilla and inserting frozen raspberries before cooking, and swirling the cupcakes with a swiss meringue buttercream flavoured with lychee puree and SoHo (shhh…don’t tell the kids). And all was […]

    Reply
  • […] a recipe I could do in my sleep. I’ve made this meringue countless times as part of my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream, and I’ve never had difficulties with chocolate ganache. As I cracked the eggs, I felt calmness […]

    Reply
  • 28. Buttercream in Bloom | VIVIMETALIUN  |  December 6, 2013 at 9:19 am

    […] as attractive, so I made chocolate cupcakes filled with meyer lemon curd. Then I used my favorite swiss meringue buttercream to pipe each petal on […]

    Reply
  • 29. Cello Birthday Cake | VIVIMETALIUN  |  December 9, 2013 at 6:35 am

    […] I knew I wanted to make a cello cake. He doesn’t like chocolate, so I played with my favorite swiss buttercream to try and get it brown without cocoa powder. Peanut butter, maple syrup, coffee, nothing produced […]

    Reply
  • 30. http://bit.ly/1hxXAO0  |  April 7, 2014 at 5:57 pm

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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