Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Hey Guys!  Only two more days of my first Back to Basics series!  I hope you’ve been enjoying the lessons so far.  What have your favorite points been so far?  Earlier this week I talked all about Layer Cakes.  If you couldn’t tell already, my love for layer cakes runs pretty deep.  I got so carried away with my post that I decided to separate the recipe for this Red Velvet Cake and let it have its own spotlight (it’s that good!).  Tomorrow I will be announcing the giveaway winner, so make sure to tune in. Jump down to the bottom of this post to enter!

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
RedVelvet07.jpg
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

In my research for Layered, I found all sorts of interesting tidbits about classic layer cakes, including Red Velvet Cake.  For example, this widely considered southern dessert was actually first served at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC!  It was originally paired with a cooked-flour frosting or “Heritage” icing, but today you’ll most likely find the bright red layers slathered in whipped cream cheese frosting (like with this recipe).  Who would have thought, right?

Other layer cakes throughout history include:
Boston Cream Pie– Parker House Hotel, Boston; 1856: luscious pastry cream sandwiched between two layers of vanilla sponge and topped with chocolate.

Black Forest Cake – Germany; 1915:  layers of kirsch-soaked chocolate cake slathered in whipped cream and stuffed with cherries from the Black Forest region in Germany that is known for producing the cherry liqueur. 

Brooklyn Blackout – Brooklyn, NY: layers of chocolate cake filled and frosting with chocolate custard and topped with cake crumbles.  It was named after the World War 2 blackout drills and was made famous by Ebinger’s Bakery (1898 to 1972).

Hummingbird Cake – Jamaica, 1979: this southern classic actually dates back to Jamaica.  Named after the Jamaican nation fowl or “doctor bird,” it is a pineapple-banana cake with either pecans or walnuts and smothered in cream cheese icing.

Opera Cake – Paris; Early 20th century: meticulously layered almond sponge soaked with espresso, ganache, and coffee buttercream cut into precise portions.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pretty interesting, right?  Or at least is it to me.  I could go on, but let’s get back to the Red Velvet.  I feel like people are very divided over red velvet cake.  Either you love it or hate it.  Years ago, you probably would have found me closer to hate.  Honestly, I just didn't understand the appeal.  Artificially dyed cake slathered in sickly sweet frosting?  No thanks.  Overtime, I had so many clients request the classic at my bakery that I ended up giving in and became determined to create a red velvet that I could be confident in.

Take the color out of the equation, and it is a delicious buttermilk cake with a hint of cocoa and whipped cream cheese.  Okay, now we are getting places.  Naturally, there is a bit of a red hue when the acidic properties in natural cocoa powder reacts with the vinegar and buttermilk. The velvet part?  This refers to the texture of the moist and tight crumb of the cake.  You can certainly still make this cake without the food coloring or use a natural substitute, like beet!

 

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cake
2 ¼ cup cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 ½ sticks)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
red food coloring (optional)
¾ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans and set aside.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  With the mixer on low, add in the cocoa, vanilla, red coloring, and eggs – one at a time.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

With the mixer on low, add in half of the dry ingredients followed by the buttermilk and vinegar.  Add the second half of the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting
12 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 to 5 cups confectioners sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth.  With the mixer on low, mix in the remaining ingredients until just combined.  Once incorporated, turn up the mixer to medium-high and beat until fluffy.  Adjust the sugar and milk until your desired consistency in achieved.

Once the cakes are completely cool, place the bottom layer on a cake plate or serving.  Spread about 1 cup of frosting on top.  Invert the second cake and place upside on top of the frosting.  Crumb coat the cake then fully frost.  Serve at room temperature.

Layer Cake 101

Oh hey!  Welcome to week 2 of my Back to Basics series!  Last week we discussed cupcakes and frosting, but today we are jumping right into my favorite subject: Layer Cakes.  Endless combinations of tender cake layers, flavourful fillings, luscious frostings, and edible garnishes – layer cakes were my first true love.  While I occasionally dabble in French pastry and have been having fun experimenting with pies a lot lately, I will always be the ‘cake lady.’  Fittingly, I even wrote the book on it!

Layer Cake 101 from the author of "Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes"

There are so many reasons why I love a good layer cake. Cake + filling + frosting almost always guarantees a delicious bite, but layer cakes mean so much more than just ingredients.  To me, a layer cake means celebration, shared memories, time spent with cherished friends and family, and the heart that goes into baking something so spectacular for a loved one.  As I say in Layered, “It is a layer cake with swooping frosting on which children blow out candles on their birthdays, that happy coulee slice into on their wedding day, an that one parades into a dinner party…”  It is a layer cake that turns an ordinary Tuesday afternoon into a special occasion.  It is a layer cake that turns heads and elicits “oohs” and “awwws” at any party.  It is a layer cake that you will spend countless hours baking up in the kitchen, meticulously frosting its layers, just to make its lucky recipient smile and feel loved.  Want to show someone how much you care about them?  Make them a layer cake!

What I also love about layer cakes is how personal they can be.  When made with that special person in mind, they are very customizable and lets us play around with different flavours in order to make something unique and just for them.  For example, when I make a birthday cake for my husband, I always try to include his love for peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate but when I bake a cake for my mom, it’s more about almond, meringue, and tropical flavours.  When you make a layer cake for (or with!) someone, not only is it made by hand and from the heart, it is a chance to use all of their favorite flavours!  

Layer Cake 101 from the author of "Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes"

But what makes a good layer cake, you might ask?  To me, it is all about balance.  It is about the ratio of cake to frosting/filling, different levels of sweetness, and a mix of texture. If filled with buttercream, I personally strive for cake layers that are twice as thick as the filling (ideally with cake layers that are about 1 inch tall and filling about 1/2 inch thick).  However, this equation doesn’t work for everything.  A rich ganache filling or sweet raspberry jam can usually be enjoyed in smaller doses.  In such cases when I have a super sweet or overly rich filling, I like to halve the cake layers (horizontally) to create more, thinner layers of cake and spread them each with a thin layer of the sweet and/or rich filling.  Make sense?  Of course this is all based on personal preference and my opinion of a great layer cake might be completely different than yours.  

Layer Cake 101 from the author of "Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes"

Once thing that we can all probably agree on is that whether fluffy or dense, the cake itself should be moist and flavourful.  Slather those layers in fluffy fudge, satiny ganache, or silky buttercream and we are in business.  I like to play texture, too.  Decorating with crispy chocolate pearls, a handful of sprinkles or coarse sanding sugar, toasted coconut flakes, and chopped nuts add a bit of crunch to each bite.  Other edible decorations may include candied citrus, fresh berries, cute meringue kisses, abstract chocolate bark, chocolate curls, and even spun sugar. 

Speaking of cake decor, here are some of my favorite ways to make yummy layer cakes appear just as gorgeous as they taste:

Layer Cake 101 from the author of "Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes"
Layer Cake 101 from the author of "Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes"

My TOP TOOLS for Layer Cake Success:

Cake Pans:  I bake 90% of my cakes in 6 and 8-inch round cake pans (and consequently the recipes you will find on this blog and in my book will match).  Occasionally I will use 7 and 10-inch round pans, bundt and, and sheet pans (where cakes are either cut into squares or cut out using a cake ring).  Most cake recipes will call for pans that are at least 2-inch tall.  I have a combination of Wilton, Fat Daddio, and Williams-Sonoma brand pans that I’ve been using since my bakery days.

Candy Thermometer:  Now that I’ve switched from Italian to Swiss Meringue buttercream as my go-to frosting, I usually just use my finger to test instead of using a candy thermometer, but I don’t recommend this for those just starting out (and also, ouch! if it’s too hot!).  I used to have a super-fancy candy thermometer, but could not for the life of me figure out why all my caramels were burning… It was broken.  I’ve since gone back to my $6 Safeway candy thermometer.  At that price, I centrally recommend picking one up to help with buttercreams, caramels, and curds.

Electric Stand Mixer:  A Kitchen Aid stand mixer is such a luxury.  I have two duelling mixers leftover from my bakery days, and honestly don’t know what I would do without them.  Of course, mixing by hand (or with a hand mixer) is completely do-able, but I love the speed and efficiently an electric mixer provides.  They are certainly a costly purchase, but a great investment if you a bake a ton.  My two mixers are each about 9 years old, were treated like workhorses during multiple wedding seasons, and survived all the recipe testing for my book.

Icing Smoother or Bench Scraper:  A nice, straight edge with a 90-degree base is my best way for achieving smooth, straight sides and crisp top corners on my layer cakes.  If you can find one, I like an icing smoother with teeth on the opposite side that acts as an icing comb too!

Long Serrated Knife:  Want perfectly stackable cakes?  Make sure to trim off the dome that occasionally bakes up on the top of your cakes.  Use a long serrated knife to trim and torte cakes for perfect layers.

OffSet Spatulas:  My small offset spatula just might be my most-used tool in my entire kitchen.  From spreading filling and cleaning up top edges, I am constantly reaching for my offset spatulas.  Besides applying icing, I find myself using offset spatulas to create different textures in the buttered, lifting cakes off the turntable, and frosting “homemade” looking cupcakes.

Layer Cake 101 from the author of "Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes"

Oven Thermometer:  As mentioned in my TOP 10 baking tips on Day 1, a grocery-store oven thermometer takes all of the guess work out of trying to figure out what the actual temperature of your oven is.  Too hot, and your cake may burn or crack - too cold and it can collapse.

Pastry Bags and Piping Tips:  You all know I love a frilly cake.  From ruffles and rosettes to basic writing, a small set of piping tips is fairly cheep with big impact.  I have a few big canvas piping bags for frosting dozens of cupcakes, but also keep disposable ones for smaller and messier tasks.

Rotating Cake Turntable:  Another beloved piece of equipment!  If you make a lot of cakes, then I definitely recommend a rotating cake turntable for icing cakes.  If you can, then invest in a metal one.  I find the plastic ones to be cumbersome and not very effective.  Of course the metal ones are more expensive, but I’ve had mine for nearly a decade and its still works great (I love Ateco brand - sometimes found at Williams-Sonoma.)

Rubber, Heat-Safe Spatulas:  I once worked at a bakery where the pastry chefs used a lot of large metal spoons to stir and mix things, but I never liked it.  Instead, I have a drawer stuffed with about a half-dozen rubber spatulas.  I like them soooo much better.  I recommend finding silicone, heat-safe ones that you can use on the stovetop.

Other helpful gadgets include: icing sifter, a variety of whisks, vegetable peeler (for peeling and making chocolate curls!), microplane zester, and a kitchen scale. 

Layer Cake 101 from the author of "Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes"

Last summer, I put together a step-by-step tutorial for How to Frost a Layer Cake.  If you are new to making layer cakes, I definitely recommend starting here.  As mentioned in the my top tools, be sure to trim and torte your cakes (make sure they are completely cool!!) with a long, serrated knife for even, level layers.  All my other cake-stacking tips and frosting tricks can be found in this post.

Ready to take things up a notch?  Learn how to stack a cake here for any large celebration or DIY wedding!

Image by Tessa Huff for Brit.co

Image by Tessa Huff for Brit.co

Some classic layer cakes are simple and straightforward (like tomorrow’s Red Velvet Cake) and only require one cake recipe and one filling/frosting recipe.  Others call for multiple components, sauce, syrups, and garnishes.  Unless you have the luxury of blocking off an entire day to make everything and assemble the cake, then I’d definitely suggest making parts of the cake in advanced.  Most cake layers can be baked and stored for up to about 3 days, and even frozen up to a few months.  Wrap the cakes in a double-layer of plastic wrap.  Most cakes may be left out overnight, but chilling them in the refrigerator will make them easier to cut and stack.  However, chilling butter-based cakes will make them seem dense and firm.  Be sure to allow for an efficient enough time to let the chilled cakes to completely come to room temperature before serving.  This is important when considering a frosted (and chilled) cake too - nobody wants a mouthful of solid buttercream or hardened ganache!  Oil-based cakes (like carrot or some chocolate) will stay tender even when chilled, but still consider the frosting aspect when storing and serving.  Buttercream can be made in advanced and stored in the refrigerator for up to about 10 days. Be sure to bring it to room temperature before re-whipping.  Likewise, caramel and ganache can both last in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but will need to be re-heated before use.  Depending on the sugar and chocolate involved with edible garnishes, storage can be specific and tricky.  Make sure that humidity isn’t going to be a factor and read the directions for each element.  

 

Lastly, be sure to check out this serving chat I illustrated for you all!  Be sure to tune back in tomorrow where I will be sharing some classic layer cake combos, newer flavor pairings, and a recipe for Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway!  Winners will be announced on Friday:

Fluffy White Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Fluffy White Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Hey all!  Welcome to Day 3 of my Back to Basics Series!  I hope you are all following along, learning a thing or two about cake baking and frosting making, and enjoying some awesome go-to recipes.  In case you missed anything, we talked all about CHOCOLATE and all about BUTTER earlier this week.  Also, don’t forget to enter the giveaway!  You can find the entry form at the bottom of this post for your chance to win a signed copy of Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes.  But until then, let’s talk all about EGGS.

At the end of Wednesday’s recipe for Classic Vanilla Cupcakes, I added a note about converting the recipe to make layers cakes, but how I typically use more egg yolks than whole eggs in my layer cake recipes to keep them extra moist and tender.  Unknowingly I’m sure, a kind reader asked why is it that sometimes I use whole eggs and other times I decided to use just the yolks.  Great question, right?  Well today, we are going to talk about just this- plus a few more tidbits about what happens to eggs in the oven and how to whip egg whites into heavenly clouds.

Fluffy White Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

All About EGGS
The checker at Costco must think I am totally crazy every time I unload at least 4 dozen organic eggs out of my cart and onto the conveyor belt.  At the rate I bake cakes and rely on poached eggs to make pantry staples and whatever vegetables we have left in the fridge into a full meal, we go through a ton of eggs.  But what is really in an egg and why do we depend on them so much for making delicious pastries and lazy weekend night meals?

Crack one open and it’s pretty obvious what you will find - a rich, golden yolk and runny, alien-like whites.  Most of time you see me cracking eggs, the shells are brown.  I use organic chicken eggs - the shells up here in Canada just happen to be that color.  I heard once that the shell color had something to do with the diet of the hen, but I don’t really know for sure.  Unless otherwise stated, most recipes call for large eggs.  If the egg (white or yolk) is measured by weight, then that is a pretty good indication that precise measurements are important.  For example, recipes for French macarons usually list egg whites in ounces or grams, because the the measurements need to be precise to create those crispy, finicky shells, and while eggs are separated into medium, large, and extra large, there is definitely some inconsistency in size.

WHITES VS. YOLKS
Besides the obvious differences in appearance and texture, egg whites and yolks play drastically different roles in the pastry kitchen.  As a whole, eggs create structure and stability within a batter, thicken and emulsify custards, and add moisture in the form of fat in cakes, cookies, and other baked goods.  There is some overlap, but let’s take a look at the parts separately first to better understand their functions.

The most important role of the egg yolk is to provide fat.  Fat adds richness, flavor, color, and gives cakes a velvety, tender texture.  This is why you will see that my go-to butter cake recipe only contains egg yolks.  The results are a golden, moist, and velvety crumb.  Another big attribute is their emulsifying abilities.  As an emulsifier, the yolks have a unique ability to help bind other fats and liquids together resulting in a more homogenous batter.  So in theory, if you want to add a bit of richness, try substituting whole eggs for yolks in equal amounts.  

For as awesome as egg yolks are at adding lusciousness, egg whites are at building structure.  Hard boil an egg, and you can see what heat does to an egg white - it firms up!  Whip ‘em, and they become mighty and strong but incredibly light.  Whipped egg whites act as natural leavening agents in certain types of cakes and soufflés.  In batters used for things like particular sponge and genoise cakes, the heat of the oven causes the air trapped in the foam to expand and the batter to rise without needing a chemical reaction like those created with baking soda or powder.  Some recipes still rely solely on whipped egg whites as leaveners while other use a mix of whipped eggs and baking soda/powder for reassurance.

Cakes made with whipped egg whites and without yolks (think Angel Food cake) tend to be light and airy in texture and pale in color.  Pretty great, right? For whom doesn’t love cloud-like layers of cake topped with things like whipped cream and fresh berries? However, like in most cases, there can be too much of a good thing.  Where egg yolks at moistness from fat, egg whites tend to do the opposite.  Too many egg whites in a batter can wind up making the cake dry.  Likewise, it is possible to over-whip your whites (more on how to whip in just a second), causing them to be clumpy, grainy, and difficult to work with.

Many recipes call for both or rather, just whole eggs.  When the eggs are separated and whites are whipped, you are essentially getting the best of both worlds - rich, fatty yolks and lightness from the whites.  Lots of recipes will just call for the whole egg to be added in - simple and straightforward.  

Fluffy White Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

WHIPPED EGG WHITES
All this talk about the role of whipped whites, but how do you actually achieve them?  Pretty simple, really, as long as you have an electric mixer.  Sure you can do it by hand, but why?  Haha.  There are a few things to note about whipping egg whites.  One, whipped whites wait for nobody.  They begin to break down and the air bubbles start to deflate once the whipping stops.  You will have some time, of course, to fold them into your batter, but it is best to have most everything prepared first.  However, you can help stabilize and strengthen the whites by adding cream of tartar, lemon juice, or reserving a tablespoon or two of granulated sugar. Adding these supporting ingredients also help maximize the volume of the whipped whites.  

While these few supporting ingredients are great at strengthening the whites and allowing them to stretch and expand, all other add-ins will hinder the foaming process.  Fat here is our worst enemy.  And as you may recall, egg yolks are essentially fat.  Be sure to separate your eggs with care and definitely pick out any bits of yolk that may have dripped in.  Likewise, make sure that your equipment is clean, dry, and free from grease.

To whip, start slow and increase the speed as the whites build.  You will want to use a whisk attachment.  Once the egg white begin to foam, gradually increase the mixer speed to medium-high/high.  And remember, it is possible to over-whip, so don’t get too carried away and be sure to stop at stiff peaks.

Fluffy White Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

MERINGUE
Simply add sugar to whipped whites (in one form or another) and you’ve made a meringue.  There are several different types of meringues used in the pastry world, so let’s take a look at a few:

French Meringue: This classic meringue is pretty straightforward - just egg whites beaten with sugar and cream of tartar.  When baked low and slow, it becomes crispy, airy, and sometimes chewy in the center.  Everything whips together with just an electric whisk to stiff, glossy peaks, then the meringue is either piped or spooned onto a baking sheet.  It is the type of meringue that bakes into cute meringue kisses, heavenly pavlova shells, and decorative shapes (think meringue mushrooms on a Yule log).  Unlike Swiss and Italian meringue, it bakes up hard, dry, and crisp.

Swiss Meringue:  Instead of being baked, the egg whites are heated with sugar and gently cooked over a double-boiler.  Once the egg white/sugar mixture is heated and the sugar begins to dissolve, it is whipped up on high speed until stiff and glossy.  The whipping cools the mixture in about 5 to 8 minutes (hello 7-minute icing!).  On its own, Swiss meringue is similar to marshmallow fluff and can be used to top things like Baked Alaska.  Add unsalted butter, and you’ve got my beloved Swiss meringue buttercream!

Italian Meringue:  Similar to Swiss meringue, Italian meringue uses heat prior to whipping and stays soft and fluffy.  However, instead of being cooked over water, the sugar is cooked with water.  Here, the egg whites are whipped separately while a sugar/water syrup boils on the stove top.  Once hot, the sugar syrup is streamed into the egg whites (while whisking on high), then mixed until stiff, glossy, and cool.  Like Swiss meringue, it is the base for buttercream and can be used to top pies and other pastries.

Last lesson, we took a closer look at American buttercream, but today let's visit my favorite, Swiss meringue buttercream!  And hey look!  I even made you a video about it:

SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
If you read this blog often, then you've probably heard me sign he praises of SMBC a thousand times by now.  In my opinion, is isn't too difficult to make and is far superior to American buttercream.  I love the way it glides over layer cakes creating crisp edges and smooth swoops alike.  This is probably way it is so popular with pastry chefs and cake makers.  It is easy to flavor (passion fruit and Earl Grey are my favorites) and isn't too sweet.  As mentioned earlier, it is made by heating egg whites and sugar together over a double-boiler, then whipping it up to glossy meringue.  While the mixer is running on low, add in softened butter and combine into luscious perfection.

PROS
Not too sweet and easy to flavor; silky smooth and easy to frost/pipe with; moderate skill level

CONS
A bit fussier than American buttercream; requires using the stove; not as stable as Italian meringue buttercream; some might find it tastes too buttery

Fluffy White Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Here I go talking about whipping egg whites into billowy clouds of goodness before carefully folding them into a batter, but this recipes simply call for them being add straight into the batter using the two-step or “reverse” method (as opposed to creaming - see previous post).

Fluffy White Cake
adapted from Layered

5 large eggs whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 7-inch cake pans and set aside

In a small mixing bowl or liquid measuring cup, stir together the egg whites, vanilla, and 1/4 cup milk and set aside.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer.  With the paddles attachment, mix on low until combined.  Add the butter and remaining 1/2 cup milk and mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Turn the mixer to medium-high and mix until combined.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

With the mix running on medium-low, gradually stream in the egg white mixture.  Work in about 3 batches, making sure everything is incorporated before adding in more liquids, scraping the bowl in between additions.  Each addition of egg whites should take about 10 to 15 seconds to stream in in order to emulsify properly, but do not over-mix or the cake may become dry.

Evenly distribute the batter between the prepared pans.  Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
makes about 3 ½ cups 

½ cup (120 ml) egg whites (from about 3 to 4 large eggs)
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks – 340 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (optional)

1.  Whisk together the sugar and egg whites:  In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, add the egg whites and granulated sugar.  Whisk them together briefly by hand, just until they are combined so that the egg whites don’t begin cooking by themselves.

2.  Create a double-boiler:  Fill a sauce pan with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer.  Place the mixer bowl with the egg white mixture on top to create a double-boiler. The water should be kept at a simmer but should not touch the bottom of the bowl.  The double-boiler acts as indirect heat for the egg white mixture. 

3.  Heat the egg white mixture:  Occasionally stirring, heat the egg white mixture until it reaches 155 to 160 degrees F on a candy thermometer.  The mixture should be very hot to the touch and the sugar should have dissolved. 

4.  Make the meringue:  Once the egg white mixture is hot, carefully return the bowl to the stand mixer.  Fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the mixture on high speed for about 8 minutes.  When done, the meringue should hold shiny, medium-stiff peaks and be cooled to room temperature.  Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk for the paddle attachment.

5.  Add the butter:  With the mixer on low, begin adding in the butter a couple tablespoons at a time.  Use the paddle attachment to mix it in.  The butter must be room temperature in order to incorporate properly with the meringue.

6.  Add the vanilla:  Once the butter has been mixed in, add the vanilla bean seeds (if using) and the vanilla extract.

7.  Mix until smooth:  Turn the mixer up to medium speed and mix until silky smooth.  This may take a few minutes, but centime to mix until light, creamy, and free from most air bubbles.

For a more in-depth look at Swiss Meringue Buttercream, click here.
 

Lastly, don't forget to enter the giveaway!