Friday, May 29, 2020

Learning to Pipe Buttercream Flowers in the Time of Quarantine

I was sent product free of charge from Nielsen-Massey Vanillas in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Well, it's been a crazy few months since my last post. Back then, things were just starting to go into lock down mode. Now, we're all adjusting to our new normals, whether that is ordering takeout a few times a week to keep our friends in the hospitality industry afloat, buying meal kits from our favorite small businesses and, vendors, and farmers, or doing a hell of a lot more baking than any one person should probably be doing.

Speaking of baking, if you've been following my Instagram, you'll know I have fallen full force into the quarantine baker role. Bread, butter mochi, chocolate chip cookies. Just all the carbs. So much carbs. Thing is, as good as my baking skills have gotten, my presentation skills are still kind of lacking.

That is one of the reasons I still love visiting bakeries, like my neighbors, Life's Sweet Inc. Ever since this dessert wonderland opened last year, I've been obsessed with everything Melissa, the owner, makes. Every time I walk in the door, I am immediately hypnotized by all the delicious sweets on display in her pastry case. Better yet, if you stick around her shop for any length of time, you are bound to see one of her gorgeously decorated cakes making it's way out the door. Every single time, I marvel at how beautiful and precise her buttercream piping skills are.

Sadly, it's businesses like Melissa's that have been hit the hardest during the COVID-19 crisis. Small, independent, neighborhood restaurants, bakeries, and specialty shops all over the country have been forced into making horrible decisions about whether to remain open for carry out/delivery and place their staff at risk while fighting with greedy delivery platforms, or closing up completely and putting all their faith in the unstable and confusing government loan programs. But through everything, Melissa has stayed flexible and positive by keeping her bakery and cafe going through an ingenious pickup window system. I have made it a point to try and visit places like her shop at least once a week, because I am now so addicted to her ever changing lineup of sweets and perfectly prepared breakfast and lunch fair that I cannot imagine my neighborhood without her. I will single handedly keep her in business, if that's what it takes!

My buddies over at Nielsen-Massey Vanillas recently released a new instructional video over on their Better Your Bake page about how to pipe buttercream roses and hydrangeas. Well, since I have been wanting to step up my decorating skills, this was a perfect opportunity to start learning, especially since I have never ever tried piping before! But, I wanted to see just how close I could get to professional quality flower piping using the instructional video alone, so I roped Melissa into helping me. I ordered some of her impossibly moist mini cupcakes and had her put her signature piping on top of half of them, and I would try my best to replicate her work. How did I do? Well, before you scroll all the way down, take a close look at the next picture and see if you can determine which of us piped which cupcake:

Not bad for a beginner, hu? In case you couldn't tell, that's mine on the right and Mel;issa's on the left. Preparing the two toned piping was much easier to do than I thought it would be, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. Now, after I started practicing my piping, I realized that I was using tips that were a bit smaller than Melissa's, but I think I still achieved the same effect. Now, as for the roses... well, it's gonna be pretty obvious who the beginner piper was here!

Yeah, I didn't quite master the height and definition of Melissa's work, but at least after a few tries, I did manage to get something that vaguely looked like a rose! Oh, and by a few tries, I mean two batches of buttercream worth of tries!

Rose attempt number 1
Rose attempt number 2

In the end, the piping was a bit easier than I expected it to be, but it's definitely something that is going to take lots of practice to master. There is a lot of muscle memory and nuance involved, and getting the buttercream to just the right consistency and temperature is crucial (that's why I used Nielsen-Massey's tried and true buttercream recipe to give myself the best chance at success).

So, what do you think of how my beginner's piping compared to that of a professional? And let me know in the comments below what skills you have been learning while you've been stuck at home! Stay safe, everybody! And don't forget to support local small businesses and independent restaurants in any way you can!