When I made some royal icing for the dominoes cookies last week I used the recipe from a pack of meringue powder. There are several icing recipes included, one of which really caught my attention: Snow-White Buttercream Icing. My first thought was, “That’s impossible, butter isn’t white, so why would buttercream icing be white?” When I read the ingredients it calls for 1 1/4 cups of shortening, and no butter at all. A very bland icing, you say? Well, not when you add the 1/2 teaspoon of butter flavour! As a baker who tries to use as many pure/natural ingredients as possible, I cringed, and thought there should be some kind of regulation. There was really nothing natural in the recipe; even the vanilla that’s called for is a clear vanilla extract, which is artificial. Pure vanilla should be a dark brown colour (but remember, not all dark vanillas are natural).
I learned a few years ago that authors of recipes do not have the same rights and privileges as other authors. The author of a textbook needs to be acknowledged appropriately if you use his/her work in an essay, and if that person and his/her work is not acknowledged it’s considered plagiarism. Not so for recipes. Maybe if you used a recipe from a published cookbook and put it into your own published cookbook; but if you’re preparing a recipe to eat, whether it be for yourself or for others, it is not required to acknowledge the author. This may be why so many families have secret recipes handed down generation to generation!
Back to the buttercream… Although I don’t think it’s practical, or really necessary, to actually copyright a recipe for buttercream, I do think that if a recipe title has the word ‘butter’ in it, it should call for butter as an actual ingredient. If you don’t care enough to put natural butter in your icing, why would you care if the word butter is in the title? You can just call it ‘Snow-White Icing’ and save yourself some syllables. Now, I am a bit biased, I haven’t actually tried using butter flavour, but I can’t imagine it’s better than the real thing. And even if the flavour is right, the mouth-feel of the shortening would be much less desirable than the real thing.
I realize there are people – especially a lot of brides – who, for decorative purposes, might want a ‘snow-white’ icing. If you are aware that the only way to get that is artificially, then that’s fine; it’s obviously not my preference, but if the presentation is more important than the taste, so be it. But I think it is unfair to mislead people into thinking they have an authentic buttercream on their pristine white cake when there’s actually no butter in it.
Perhaps I have become a baking snob, but when I make a cake (or anything, for that matter) for someone else, I do my best to make it with ingredients that I am comfortable eating myself. Sometimes that means sacrificing a pristine appearance, but when that cake is all cut up into pieces, no one is focused on the appearance anymore, they’re all focused on the taste. And I want them to taste something unforgettably rich and delicious, naturally!