Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and Buttercream Icing

By Patti Cook, BA, MS, Ed.D., Culinary Grad and B & P Student

When people find out that I’m a student in the Escoffier Online Baking and Pastry program and a health-conscious chef, they often ask me what kinds of things I’m learning to make. They assume it must all taste delicious and smell really good, which it actually does. They also assume it all has to be bad for you, which isn’t true. As a food blogger, chef-instructor and restaurant cook and baker, I’m finding the program amazingly educational; as much as I already know, I’m still learning so much about ingredients, cooking methods and equipment.

I embarked on my first baking assignment this week, Buttercream Icing, with excitement and trepidation. Even though I completed the culinary program, have been cooking for 50+ years and been a food nerd since I was old enough to hold a mixing spoon while watching Julia Child on Public TV, I’ve never made buttercream icing. Now that I know how to do it, this truly classic, basic icing method is one I’ll use the rest of my life at home and work. It is sweet, smooth, velvety rich and satisfying. Escoffier has a great buttercream icing video that demonstrates the secrets to success. Chef Susie Wolak, chef-mentor in the Baking and Pastry program, clearly points out the key techniques to make your icing turn out perfect.

One of the most important things I learned doing this assignment is that once you master basic techniques and recipes (like buttercream icing), you can vary them in multiple—really infinite—ways with different flavorings, seasonings, ingredients and equipment. Although recipes usually call for vanilla extract, I used lemon and it was very tasty. With St. Patrick’s Day coming, I also couldn’t resist the urge to make green frosting and celebrate with cupcakes. It’s a perfect St. Patrick’s Day treat. Simply add a few drops of food coloring to icing at the end and beat until fully incorporated and aerated.

As a health-conscious chef, I use high-quality ingredients including natural food colorings and pure flavor extracts. I hear enough concern about eating synthetic dyes or pastes that I don’t want them in my food. I’m willing to pay a little more to buy natural coloring agents (available at most large natural-foods stores); they last a long time, so it’s a good investment. Because the icing is rich and deeply flavorful, another way I keep calories in check is to use a healthy cake recipe and make small cupcakes. Monitoring portion size just makes common sense for healthier eating.

From my kitchen seat, St. Patrick’s Day or any day is perfect for a small treat. Life isn’t about not eating cake. My take is that we use healthier ingredients where we can and watch serving sizes so there is always a way for us to have our cake with icing and eat it too.

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