Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seriously amazing peanut butter icing

This was my second attempt at peanut butterization of an icing I grew up calling butter cream, but to the baking world, “butter cream” refers to powdered sugar and fat based icings that are nauseatingly sweet. This recipe has a flour and milk paste that cuts the sweetness but has a light and creamy texture similar to a mouse. I’ve modified the base recipe somewhat from my mom’s recipe which I’m pretty sure was my grandma’s… the original recipe, aside from using real butter and milk, actually is less sweet, but upping the sugar from 1 cup to 1 ¼ results in a good in between sweetness that is good enough to eat big piped rosettes!

This recipe has been my first exercise in patience for this year. I’m not even sure how many times I’ve tried and failed with it over the years, but perfecting it was my first goal after receiving my KitchenAid. It is not actually difficult to do, but it is time consuming and takes a little bit of trial and error to know when each step is done, especially when you are trying to figure it out from a non-descriptive recipe. Properly creaming the margarine and sugar is the key to successfully making this icing. During this step, the sugar crystals cut into the fat creating air pockets that give the icing its light and fluffy consistency. The margarine should be close to room temperature and softened, but not melted so it is not too hard for the crystals to cut through. I’ve found letting Earth Balance sticks sit out for 15 – 20 minutes in a temperate kitchen works well. Another important step is dissolving the flour into the soymilk. You want to break down all flour clumps before heating so the flour paste is perfectly smooth. My mom does this by shaking the flour and milk in a jar until all of the clumps are gone. While this is probably the fastest method, I despise washing dishes and this makes one more flour coated item to scrub. I whisk the flour and soymilk together while cold for a few minutes until all the clumps are gone before cooking it. It is also important that the flour paste is cooled long enough before adding it to the creamed sugar. You’ll want it no warmer than room temperature, but I usually cool it in the refrigerator. Just be sure there isn’t any condensation on it! My last tip for this is to choose a peanut butter that has a homogenous consistency, although finding one that does not contain hydrogenated oils can be tricky. It is important not to use one that separates into a peanut paste and oil.

Peanut Butter Icing:
1 cup soy milk
7 tbs flour
1 cup margarine (I swear by Earth Balance Buttery sticks for this)
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
½ tbs vanilla

To start, mix the flour and soymilk together while cold until there are no lumps left. *Update 062809: After mixing in the flour I pass it through a strainer to remove any remaining lumps. The final product is much better this way!* Cook over a low heat in a medium saucepan, whisking continually. Cook until the flour forms a sticky paste with a mashed potato-like consistency:
Cook a minute or two longer to ensure it is totally thickened and cook down all of the flour. Cool until ready to use. To avoid condensation, do not cover immediately when putting it in the refrigerator.

Using an electric hand or stand mixer, mix at low speed a minute or so until the sugar is roughly combined then increase to a creaming speed (number 6 on a KitchenAid). Cream until the margarine is almost white in color and is very fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl every few minutes. This is NOT a fast step – it will take 10 or 15 minutes if you’re lucky. I creamed the sugar in my KA for 15 – 20 minutes and then creamed another 5 or 10 minutes with a hand mixer to be sure all of the sugar crystals are broken down and the texture is not grainy:

Don’t freak out and throwaway your icing if you cannot get rid of every bit of graininess – mostly smooth should be ok since it will still be mixed further. It will probably take some trial and error before you realize what point this step is done. However, if the margarine starts to look like it’s separating (probably from starting with margarine too warm, creaming too long or it being too hot in your kitchen to keep it from melting) this batch could be a lost cause, but if you catch it early you can put the bowl in the fridge for a bit to try to salvage it. Baking 911 has a great description of the importance of this step and some trouble shooting tips. When the margarine and sugar are creamed, add the peanut butter and cream until fully incorporated. Add the cooled flour mixture. I usually add it in three parts, creaming each part in a minute to make sure it stays smooth and to check for separation. Add the vanilla and cream for another 5 – 10 minutes until totally smooth.

I find that this icing is best to use immediately, especially if you are going to pipe it. Decorated baked goods hold up well refrigerated or at room temperature, provided it is not horribly hot.

This recipe takes longer than most icing recipes and there are several steps that it can be ruined, but it is absolutely worth it!

I topped some chocolate cupcakes with this icing for my second annual SXSW brunch and everyone loved them! Chickpea and jícama salad and soyrizo recipes to be posted soon...

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