She uses it to thickly coat a pan of brownies, and to fill and frost the chocolate birthday cakes of our Wagon Wheel Lane years.
When she has witnessed her culinary school-trained daughter pull out eggs and egg whites and a candy thermometer to make buttercream, she shakes her head. There’s just no reason, she says. But these others are smoother, I say. They’re glossier. They’re more work and therefore…better?
No. They often taste a little greasy, I have to admit. The Abood buttercream is American buttercream, a simple mix of butter, cocoa, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, and a bit of milk.
In the wide world of cocoa powders, my mom uses Hershey, and Hershey only. This isn’t just a matter of convenience, that she can find Hershey in any grocery store she frequents. It’s a matter of devotion. This is the chocolate her father used in his candy store, and this is the bar she stashes in her candy drawer (yes, she has one of those) for her chocolate fix.
The butter is salted. It makes a difference. When I came back around to my mom’s buttercream after all of my highfaluting thermometer-egg antics, I started in with unsalted butter, the baker’s choice. But the result was lackluster. I added salt, but it just wouldn’t disperse properly and didn’t have an inherent balance. So, salted butter. Whatever butter is on sale.
Now I thought, and fully intended, that this post would be about an exceptional homemade chewy, fudgy brownie to serve as the platform for my mom’s buttercream. I’ve been anticipating a post about those brownies since the get-go of my blog.
However: the brownie recipe does not exist. Except in the form of a boxed brownie. I have searched high, and I have searched low, and I have baked countless batches of homemade brownies. My summation, as dictated by my own Mom’s kitchen, is as follows: Duncan Hines.
We don’t go for too many things from a box. There are Triscuits. There are brownies. We go ahead and take the hit here, in favor of the chewy interior, the glossy crackly crust that has not been matched by any of our homemade (if you have the recipe, by all means, do share, but I tell you we may still be skeptical!).
If my mom shows up with a pan of her brownies and they aren’t frosted, she greets a family of crestfallen eaters–just as the family of birthday cake eaters have felt during our recent winter birthday cake season. My brother Chris was especially stunned when, on his own birthday, the massive chocolate frosted cake I baked was covered with a buttercream that did not match our mothers. I had taken the frosting to the stand mixer, which gave it a completely different texture. It’s like mousse, he said with disdain. It’s light, he said with a what’s-wrong-with-you look in his eye.
Okay, okay. I had to agree. And for once, after all of the cookbooking and blogging that is a hound of recipe improvement, I finally just accepted the recipe as it stands, the truly delicious thing that is my mom’s thick, rich chocolate buttercream. I used it for my own chocolate birthday cake last week, and we all agreed (even Chris, after he gave it a thorough inspection): yes. That’s it. That’s So Good.
Put it on any darn brownie or cake you like. Or join me in my favorite way to eat it: off my finger, from the bowl.
- 8 ounces salted butter (2 sticks), very soft room temperature
- ½ cup Hershey’s cocoa
- 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 or so tablespoons milk (any kind)
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the butter and cocoa. If the butter isn’t extremely soft, this requires some elbow grease.
- Sift the confectioner’s sugar into the bowl, one cup at a time and mixing after each addition. After each cup of confectioner’s sugar, add some liquid, starting with the vanilla and then adding milk one tablespoon at a time.
- Stir until the mixture is well combined, smooth and spreadable.