I've always used some form of the American style buttercream for my cakes (usually Sharon Zambito's). I love using it due to it's durability and stability....the fact that it's nice and stiff and you can make a nice, strong cake that will stand up to whatever you can throw at it.
The problem (at least for me) is that it's not a true buttercream and it doesn't have the most sophisticated taste. It's well suited for kids and people who like supermarket cakes but not for the customer base I want to appeal to. When I trained with Colette Peters, she constantly extolled the virtues of SMBC and said she used it on all of her cakes. So, I've decided to go in that direction.
So, I've been working on perfecting my SMBC recipe (all butter - no shortning) making skills. Every batch I've made has come out silky smooth, fluffy and with a taste to die for. My question is this:
While the SMBC is delicious, smooth and fluffy....it doesn't seem like it would be strong enough to hold up on a cake. I had left some SMBC on the counter just to see how fast it would breakdown and lose its structure. It was 71 degrees in the kitchen (air-conditioning was on) and within an hour, it had lost its structure and was soft, soft, soft.....no way it could hold up under the weight of anything.
I can't see how a SMBC filling would hold up under the weight of a cake (unless thoroughly chilled) let alone holding up under the weight of fondant. I know if you chill it, it will harden and would lend great stability to the cake.....but biting into chilled SMBC is like biting into a chunk of butter...ugh
How can you build a cake with something that seems to handle even low temps poorly (70-75 degrees ...which even in upstate NY is considered to be a fairly cool day).
Should I be replacing some of that butter with shortning to bring the melting point up?
What am I missing? Thanks in advance for any help or insight
SMBC is the only thing I use -- just for the reason you and Colette observed. It works fine as a filling, or under fondant, or alone, with a couple of warnings. As you say, it will behave essentially like butter when exposed to heat and humidity. So, it should be refrigerated at each step of the process. The cake should be allowed to come to room temperature before serving -- that avoids the cold butter texture you mention and brings back the sophisticated deliciousness of SMBC. So, after each stage: filling, crumb-coating, icing and smoothing, and applying fondant -- refrigerate until firm. It will be very stable. A large cake, or multiple-tier cake, will take some time to come to room temp, so that allows a margin of several hours for display (at a wedding, for example) before serving. The only circumstance that should cause you to avoid SMBC is a hot, humid, out door event where the cake must stand for a long time. Do not try to add shortening to SMBC. Use Sharon's recipe for the hot weather events.
@ luddroth -
Thanks so much for the insight concerning this amazing buttercream
I guess my next course of action is determining the timeframe between where its come back to room temp and where its been out so long its going to start collapsing under the weight of the cake and fondant.
I can see where a SMBC cake with no fondant could probably hold up a little longer since it doesn't have that extra weight of fondant pulling down on it. Am I wrong in assuming this?
I've never had a problem with the cake "collapsing" (see discussions about the marvelous SPS system). I don't think the SMBC as a filling is a problem at all, as long as you don't use a super thick layer of it. And as an icing under fondant, the worst that happens is it can squish out a little as you cut it with the pressure against the fondant if it is very warm. But I've learned to put a fairly thin layer of the SMBC under the fondant -- barely more than crumb coat thickness, which you can do if your fondant is high-quality and tastes good enough that people aren't all stripping it off. If you use SMBC as the only icing, it will hold up quite well at room temp for many hours if it's properly made. Be sure your meringue is very firm and at room temp before you start adding your butter. And be sure that your butter isn't soft to begin with -- it should be cold enough that you can dent it with your finger, but not nearly warm enough to spread on bread, for example. Made properly, the SMBC holds up very well at 72 to 75 degrees for hours. My 4-tier wedding cake, SMBC filled and covered with fondant, sat at 75 degree room temp for about 6 hours before service and was still slightly cool -- definitely firm -- but creamy delicious. It had been refrigerated in tiers, before stacking, for about 24 hours before stacking and transport.
Your fondant shouldn't be too thick. And yes, a lot of people use SMBC exclusively with their cakes, in fillings and under the fondant, including Ron Ben Israel.
As luddroth said, SMBC and IMBC made properly, won't collapse. Ever.