I recently volunteered to make some cakes for the newly reopened Avalanche Records. Strictly speaking my boyfriend volunteered me, as he is always being inundated with cakes and thought it would be a good outlet for my baking. It was an exciting thing for me to be volunteered for! Avalanche Records is an independent record shop which is a bit of an Edinburgh institution. They have moved from Cockburn Street to a huge new shop in the Grassmarket with plenty of space for instore gigs and they have recently started serving coffee alongside old school sweets and cakes. These cakes can pretty much be whatever I feel like making at the moment as the coffee section is in its infancy, but it has to be served up easily and so I decided to make some brown sugar chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cupcakes with different frostings: chocolate, vanilla, baileys and whisky.
Cupcakes at Avalanche Records by me and Emily - yours for £1.50
I used my usual fail-safe cookie and cupcake recipes but decided to make swiss meringue buttercream for the cupcake frosting. It's not generally used in the UK - I think Beas of Bloomsbury, an American-style bakery in London, is one of the few shops I know of that use it for most of their cupcakes and cakes - and I associate it more with American cakes. It's got a super light silky texture and as it doesn't use icing sugar, has slightly less sugary sweetness to it. It also pipes easily and holds shape really well, and can take on flavours and colouring beautifully.
I'd only made this once before as buttercream is so easy to make but if you have a mixer, this is really only one extra step more. I used the recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes which makes quite a bit (5 cups) but can easily be scaled down if needed. Egg whites can also be bought separately in cartons or in powdered forms now which makes it even more convenient and easy to make. Be warned that the mix can curdle - mine did, and I freaked out hugely but just be patient and keep mixing a few more minutes and it will come together!
So now you can stop off for a cake or cookie and support your local independent record shop at the same time.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes about 5 cups
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 lb (450g) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into tablespoons
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Combine egg whites, sugar and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips)
2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.
3. With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides with a flexible spatula and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
4. (Optional) To tint buttercream, reserve some for toning down the colour, if necessary. Add gel-paste food colour a drop at a time to the remaining buttercream. You can use a single shade of food colour or experiment by mixing two or more. Blend after each addition with the mixer (use the paddle attachment) or a flexible spatula, until desired shade is achieved. Avoid adding too much food colour too soon, as the hue will intensify with continued stirring; if necessary you can tone down the shade by mixing in some reserved untinted buttercream.
Using a flexible spatula, fold in 4.5 oz of semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled, into the buttercream mixture in step 3, along with the vanilla extract.
Mix 2 tablespoons good-quality instant espresso powder (do not use instant coffee) with the vanilla extract, and add in step 3.
Beat in 6 oz of fresh raspberries (or other berries) after all butter has been added, until buttercream is streaky (do not overbeat).
Substitute the vanilla for Baileys or whisky in step 3.