Baking - General, Decorating, Ingredient Insights

Should Buttercream be Copyrighted?

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!

It's not snow-white, but at least it's tasty, naturally!
It’s not snow-white, but at least it’s tasty, naturally!

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!

Ingredient Insights

To Butter or not to Butter?

I thought that since I’m now over a year old I would branch out a little bit and do more of an opinion piece this week than a practical one; and it has more to do with eating a baked good than producing one.

I remember back in highschool getting together with some friends and having biscuits with strawberry jam, and one friend was horrified at the thought of spreading jam on a biscuit without putting butter on it first. I hadn’t really thought much about it, sometimes I put butter on my toast before the jam, and sometimes I didn’t. It wasn’t a necessity for me. But after that I started to wonder if I was crazy for not always putting butter on first.

butter (4)I searched it online a few months ago, just out of curiosity, and discovered that some people had pretty strong opinions on this subject, it was quite surprising. Now, I’ve never been one to jump into a conflict, I tend to take a pretty neutral stance on things; but since reading some of these things, and having some time to taste and think it over I have decided to weigh in on the issue.

I think butter acts as a lubricant for dry toast, making it easier to eat and easier to enjoy whatever spread adorns it. I think if you use salted butter, it enhances the flavours of whatever spread is used. I don’t think butter is mandatory, especially if you are trying to watch what you eat; leaving it off is an easy way to cut down on a small bit of fat consumption. I do not think butter should be used if you are using peanut butter as your main spread. I do think that if you have honey on your toast, or cinnamon sugar, butter is a must, there’s just something about those combinations. And my final thought is that we live in a society where people should be free to use or not use butter on their toast and biscuits without fear of being judged either way. So you can use butter or not, and I will not think any less of you; even if you disagree with me and think butter with peanut butter is a good thing.

I may judge you, however, if you use shortening. That’s just gross.

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Butter: Salted vs. Unsalted

Most recipes in baking call for unsalted butter. I never really kept unsalted butter on hand, because I prefer salted butter on my toast and when I’m cooking, so I often just used the salted butter, thinking it wouldn’t make that much of a difference; I could just use less actual salt than what the recipe called for. I decided to look into it to see if there really were more benefits to using unsalted butter with baking. I learned that for the most part unsalted butter is preferred in baking because it is more fresh. Salt is used as a preservative, and it can also be used to mask odours, so if cream is not as fresh it is usually turned into salted butter, and that can overpower the natural sweet cream flavour. When you use unsalted butter, you’re getting a fresher cream, which has a better, sweeter flavour, and therefore makes your baking taste more fresh. I also learned that salt can toughen the glutens in flour, which means that baked goods would not come out as light-textured as they would with unsalted butter. Tougher gluten is good for breads, but most people prefer a dessert that is not so dense. Continue reading “Butter: Salted vs. Unsalted”

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights, Recipe

Butter from Scratch

As a baker I am well aware of the fine balance when making whipped cream, that if you don’t whip enough it slumps, and that if you whip it too much it ends up separating. With all the emphasis on not whipping too much, it never occurred to me that over-whipping could actually be a good thing!

There was an article in the paper a couple weeks ago about making homemade butter. It sounded pretty easy, so I decided to try it out. I took a pint of whipping cream, sealed it into a 1-L plastic container, and shook vigorously until I started to hear a thumping sound instead of a swishing sound, which only took a few minutes. Lo and behold butter had formed, with buttermilk left to drip off. I tried to squeeze the buttermilk through a cloth, but the weave was too large and butter starting squeezing out with it. So I just poured the buttermilk out of the container (holding back the butter) while whipping with a small whisk until it looked like it had completed separating. I got just under ¾ cup of buttermilk, and the rest was butter. Continue reading “Butter from Scratch”