How to make Italian buttercream

A cheese and pineapple echidna, chocolate cornflake cakes, popcorn, fresh fruit skewers, homemade lemonade. And cake. What a kid’s birthday party is all about. Singing happy birthday, blowing out candles, making a wish and eating cake. For Thea’s first birthday I had baked her a baby friendly banana and coconut birthday cake with THE most delicious maple buttercream frosting, a beautiful recipe from rubies and radishes. No grains and no refined sugars for little tummies and their first taste of cake. I was looking forward to baking it again for Pat’s celebratory day. Little did I know, it was going to turn into a lesson on how to make Italian buttercream.

The night before Pat’s party, to be held at a ride on model railway, the banana and coconut component of Pat’s cake was on the bench ready to be iced. With Thea and Pat in bed it was time to start making the best part, the maple buttercream, to ice it. I poured the maple syrup into a saucepan and heated it to 115 degrees. While it was heating I whisked up four eggs. Ok. Now time to add the hot syrup to the eggs, steady stream, all in. And now the butter. Shit. The beautiful billowy whisked eggs turned to soup. Damn it. What had I done wrong. I’d made this icing before. Weird. Maybe the syrup wasn’t hot enough. So I tried again, this time with a different thermometer.

Oh shit. On my second attempt with the new thermometer I forgot to change the settings from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Third attempt. Soup. Ok. Seriously. What is going on. You tube. Fourth attempt. Fifth attempt. I was raging. All those beautiful ingredients. What was I missing. Why wasn’t it working. I’d done it before damn it. Who could I call. What was my plan B. Cross and disheartened I went to bed thinking that I would just whip up some fresh cream in the morning and ice the cake at the party.

Anyone who knows me will know that I don’t give up. I’m stubborn and determined, and like a rumbling dark storm cloud when something isn’t going my way. So without even knowing why, in the morning still in my pajamas with 15 minutes until we had to walk out the door, I abandoned plan B and started my sixth attempt at the icing. Heat the maple syrup, oh wait no I used it all last night. Ok honey. Heat the honey. Whisk the eggs until doubled in size. Honey hits 115. Pour the honey down the side of the bowl with the motor still on high. Now the bit that I didn’t do the night before. I left the mixer going on high for a generous 15 minutes. I even held an ice pack against the side of the bowl during this time (a you tube tip from this lady) to help bring the mixture to room temperature. With the first piece of butter in my hands ready to add to the mixture, there was now no time for a back up plan. Every single one of my eggs was in that basket. My heart sank. The eggs lost some of their volume. Shit shit shit. Oh fuck it. I just kept adding the butter.

Piece by piece I dropped the butter into the bowl and watched, quite astonished after so many agonizing attempts, as the buttercream began to increase in volume again. Wow. I’d done it. I had made honey Italian buttercream. Elated knowing that there would be icing on the cake I grabbed the bowl, a spatula, some Thomas trains and we headed for the party.

Kids parties are a delight to plan. Any party is fun to plan, but especially children’s ones. They’re bright, colourful, imaginative and creative. They make food fun. And it’s always heartwarming to see small people excitedly putting little fistfuls of food into their mouths. I made sure that the spread wasn’t too sugar heavy and surprisingly the children dived into the fruit skewers while the adults scoffed the chocolate cornflake cakes. Pa cooked sausages on the wood fire barbecue while everyone had rides on the sit on locomotives. The cake cut into just the right amount of  slices, and there were even a few comments about how good the icing tasted. I’m sure everyone wondered what all the fuss was about though, and Pat didn’t even want any. Never mind. I’m so happy I didn’t give up. And the icing for Thea’s cake. You guessed it. A maple buttercream. From now on it’s going to be my signature.



How to make Italian buttercream

Maple Italian buttercream

Recipe from rubies and radishes

  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 4 eggs
  • 480g soft butter
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • pinch sea salt
  1. Place the maple syrup in a small saucepan and heat it until it reaches a temperature of 115 degrees C, then immediately remove it from the heat. Use a thermometer to do this. The heating process should take about 5-10 minutes.
  2. While the syrup is heating, crack the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high until the eggs have doubled in volume and turned a pale colour. This will take about 5 minutes. Try to time it so that the eggs and maple are ready at the same time. There is the risk of over whisking the eggs.
  3. With the mixer still running, in a confident slow stream, rest the saucepan on the side of the bowl if you wish and pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl. Take about 1 minute to do this.
  4. Continue whisking on high for an additional 15 minutes. This allows the egg/syrup mixture to cool to room temperature before the butter is added.
  5. Now, add the butter, one bit at a time, until it’s thoroughly incorporated.***
  6. Finally, slowly add the cream and whip everything until it’s well combined and fluffy.
  7. Ice the cake!

***This is the point where things may turn to soup. If the egg/syrup mixture is too hot when the butter is added, it may turn to liquid. Stop adding the butter and get an ice pack (or several) from the freezer and hold it against the side of the bowl. This is to try to cool the contents down and bring it back to a fluffy mass.
The opposite thing can also happen if the butter added is too cold. Then the icing will become grainy and appear to separate. In this instance, wet a tea towel with hot water and hold it against the side of the bowl to warm the mixture up and “melt’ the butter slightly.

If you enjoyed this recipe you might like my top tips for making Pavlova

Strawberry homemade sprinkles

Thea is almost two. Two. The days and weeks went by slowly when she was first born, as we got to know each other and I became accustomed to my new routine as a mama. Then something happened without me noticing. Time sped up and I find myself here today, one month away from her second birthday. I don’t feel like a mum. Somedays I am amazed that the world let me become a mother as I struggle through the everyday, utterly confused as to what my daughter, happy one minute, loudly uncheerful the next, wants. One night she sleeps peacefully for 12 hours straight. The next she wakes at two o’clock, ready to start the day. On Tuesday she loves homemade chicken nuggets. By Thursday, she won’t touch them and wants porridge. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. One thing I hope she really likes though, is the birthday cake that I’m going to make for her. With homemade sprinkles.

I’m not much of a baker. I suppose that’s because I’m not much of a cake eater either. I prefer pate and cheese and dark chocolate. But when I do bake, I usually go all out. Chocolate dipped honeycomb, presented in little handmade boxes and given to people as gifts. A dozen little Christmas puddings, made in September, and lovingly tied in cheesecloth and hung in a wardrobe ready for December (when I lived in England and it’s chilly during those months). A gigantic seven layer black forrest cake constructed for ma’s birthday, that lent slightly to one side. And now I’m attempting to make strawberry flavoured homemade sprinkles for a second birthday cake, staunchly ignoring comments that I could simply buy them from a supermarket for a couple of dollars.

Cooking being about showing love and all that, I want to make Thea a cake from scratch. A creative cake that takes time and effort. A cake that I have to think about and plan in advance. A cake that I can be proud of and say, I made that. I realise that she won’t be aware of my efforts. But I will. And that’s what counts. Because despite on occasion being confused as to how to do the right thing by my daughter, I love her. Unconditionally. Even when she refuses my chicken nuggets, will only eat porridge or wants to get up at two in the morning. Her little face is the best thing in this world.

I don’t know about you, but I love sprinkles. As a kid, my favourite ice lolly was a Fab. A strawberry ice block with a white, milk flavoured cap that was covered in multicoloured sprinkles. To tell you the truth, once I’d nibbles all the sprinkles off, I didn’t much care for the strawberry flavoured ice underneath. Another thing I loved growing up was banana splits. A banana cut in half lengthways and positioned in a glass dish with scoops of ice cream between the two lengths, anointed with whipped cream, wafers and you guessed it. Sprinkles. I will also admit to garnishing. No. Garnish is too polite. Drenching whipped cream sitting a top a hot chocolate with sprinkles, ahem, when I was pregnant. So two years ago. With these stories in mind, it seems only fair that my daughter will enjoy sprinkles too. Pretty, pale pink, strawberry, homemade sprinkles.

Strawberry homemade sprinkles

From a recipe by Stefani Pollack

Begin by grinding the freeze dried strawberries to a fine powder. I did this in a small spice/coffee grinder.

Next simply mix all the ingredients together. This could be done by hand or with the help of a free standing mixer. I chose the later option.

Now transfer the icing sugar mixture into a piping bag. I used a disposable piping bag, which I cut a very small hole in the end of. If using a piping bag with a nozzle, the nozzle should be about 4mm.

Pipe lines of the mixture onto baking paper. They do not have to be perfect lines, but the closer together that you can get them the better. It will make the chopping process easier and mean that you have to use less pieces of baking paper.

Now wait. 24 hours. This will allow the iced lines to completely dry. After the time period has elapsed, take a long knife and cut the lines into little sprinkle size strands.

And that’s it. Homemade sprinkles, that really do taste like strawberries.

Enjoy this. Then why not try your hand at some homemade vanilla ice cream to go with them?