Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vanilla Buttercream

When I was 11 years old my family moved from Newcastle to Penrith to try to pursue all the opportunities we might find in the ‘big smoke’. Not that Penrith was the big smoke, but it was a damn sight nearer to Sydney than Newcastle ever was.

It was tough for me leaving the only school friends I'd ever had, but the change was made a lot easier by a girl called Nicole who lived around the corner from our new house. Even though Nicole has just completed sixth grade, she was repeating – I think it was because she was too young to go to high school. What ever the reason, I was lucky to have a neighbourhood friend who was in the same class as me at school.

Nicole and her little sister were what you call ‘latch key kids’ - their parents worked during the day, and weren’t there when Nicole and her sister arrived home from school. Eventually my sister and I would also end up as latch key kids – much to the detriment of our burgeoning predilection for squabbling (we weren't nice to each other at all). What I didn’t know about Nicole and her family was that they were also Mormons. This really meant nothing to me until I went round to Nicole’s place one afternoon to find two Mormon missionaries in the kitchen baking a tea bun for Nicole’s parents.

At the time I thought they were ‘men’. Now, of course, I realise they were probably 19-year-old kids, which I understand is the average age for a young Mormon to go on a mission. I was fascinated by Elder Rob and Elder David, mainly because they were American and spoke with a strong Utah accent. But they were also interesting because they were cooking. The tea bun was sitting on the cooling rack and the two Elders were whipping up buttercream without a mixer.

I can still clearly see those two young guys standing there in Nicole’s kitchen with Nicole, her sister and I utterly enthralled by them and what they were doing. I asked them why they were baking for Nicole’s parents – they said it was to help out. I couldn’t really fathom how a tea bun could help two hard working people – but of course these days I’d quite possibly do the same thing for someone myself. If I had a recipe for a tea bun! One thing I will never forget is the colour, texture and delicious vanillary smell of that buttercream. Those missionaries set a standard for buttercream which left a 30 year impression on me. I still think of those guys every time I whip a batch up.

175g salt reduced butter
1kg icing sugar mixture
150ml milk
1 tsp vanilla (Wilton clear vanilla is best)

1. Chop the butter into cubes and place in large bowl of electric mixer. Mix on medium speed until butter is softened and partially creamed.

2. Add icing sugar, milk and vanilla. Combine on low speed until all ingredients are wet, then increase speed to high and beat for about five minutes, or until buttercream is light and creamy. Make sure there are no remaining lumps of butter visible - if there are, keep mixing until the butter is fully blended into the mix.

3. You can now colour your buttercream if you wish. Add an additional 1/4 cup of icing sugar mixture for every 1/4 teaspoon of food colouring you add. This batch size is enough to pipe buttercream onto about 18 cupcakes.