Basic and Commonly-Referenced Recipes (Sorted Alphabetically)
Unless otherwise noted, these “Essential” recipes are standards that have been adapted, mostly in language, from many sources and personal experience.
For photos, see A Tale of Three Frostings: Vanilla Edition
A basic confectioner’s sugar and butter frosting, American Buttercream (ABC) is a sweet addition to any recipe collection. Great for piping!
Yield: 2-1/2 to 3 cups frosting
1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature (do not microwave)
3-4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons milk or cream
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat butter on medium-high speed until it’s the consistency of mayonnaise. Add salt, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Continue adding confectioner’s sugar in 1/2-cup increments until you’ve added 3 cups, scraping bowl between additions.
- Add 2 tablespoons milk or cream and beat on high speed until fluffy. Test frosting consistency. If you want a stiffer frosting for piping, continue adding confectioner’s sugar in 1/2-cup increments until desired consistency is reached. For a looser or fluffier frosting, add additional milk or cream in 1-tablespoon increments. Frost as desired.
As with most “all-butter” frostings, this buttercream will not withstand heat well. Cakes and cupcakes should be completely cooled before frosting. ABC will firm up when stored in the refrigerator. If you frost your cake or cupcakes in advance, it’s best to return them to room temperature before serving. Resist the temptation to speed up this process by microwaving; you’ll risk melting your buttercream.
This recipe is easily dyed. I prefer to use gel colors, added after the milk or cream.
Different extracts or liqueurs can be substituted for the vanilla. Various flavorings have different strengths, so I always start with 1/4 teaspoon of extract or 1 tablespoon of liqueur and modify to taste from there. Some of my favorites include almond, orange (extract or liqueur), and coconut.
Lightly sweet and intensely buttery, Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a luxurious treat. Since it’s rich, I prefer to reserve SMBC for sponge cakes and light-crumbed cupcakes.
Yield: about 4-1/2 cups
5 large egg whites
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature (it’s best not to microwave to soften)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place egg whites and granulated sugar in a heat-safe bowl of an electric mixer. Make a makeshift double-boiler by placing the mixer bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Heat the egg whites and sugar to 160 degrees F, whisking constantly.
- Place the bowl on your stand mixer and use whip with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until both the mixture and bowl are cool, about 10 minutes. Continue whipping until the meringue forms stiff, glossy peaks.
- Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl occasionally.* (Don’t worry if the buttercream deflates or appears curdled while you’re adding the butter; just keep beating.) Add vanilla extract and beat until buttercream is light and smooth. Frost as desired.
*If the mixture becomes soupy with the addition of butter, the meringue/bowl might not have been cool enough or the butter might’ve been too soft. Don’t despair! Place the mixture in the refrigerator for 10-20 minutes and then try whipping again. The buttercream should thicken nicely.
SMBC is sensitive to warm temperatures. Cakes and cupcakes should be completely cooled before frosting. Decorated cakes or cupcakes that have been refrigerated for storage should be returned to room temperature before serving for the best texture and flavor. Resist the temptation to speed up this process by microwaving; you’ll risk melting your buttercream!
This buttercream is dyeable. I prefer to use gel colors, added after all of the butter is incorporated.
SMBC can adapted by substituting different extracts or liqueurs for the vanilla. Various flavorings have different strengths, so I usually start with 1/4 teaspoon of extract or 1 tablespoon of liqueur and adjust to taste from there. Some of my favorites include almond, orange (extract or liqueur), and coconut. I also like to substitute vanilla paste for the extract to make Vanilla Bean Buttercream.
For this recipe, you’ll need a stand mixer and a candy thermometer. Store marshmallow crème in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- In a deep saucepan, combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture reads 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Reduce mixer speed to low and carefully pour a few tablespoons of the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites. When combined, add the rest of the sugar syrup to the mixer in a slow, steady stream. When all of the syrup has been added, slowly increase speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form, about 5-7 minutes. Beat in vanilla and use crème to top pies, make cookie sandwiches, or eat on a spoon!
Icing, Ermine (Boiled Milk)
For photos, see A Tale of Three Frostings: Vanilla Edition
Lightly-sweet with a whipped cream-like texture, Ermine Icing is a delightful topping for many cakes and cupcakes. It’s the original favorite to adorn Red Velvet Cake!
Yield: about 3-1/2 cups frosting
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (do not microwave)
1 cup granulated sugar
- In a small saucepan, whisk together flour, milk, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes, until mixture is very thick. If small lumps develop, whisk vigorously until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract. Transfer to a small bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the mixture’s surface to prevent a skin from forming. Set aside to cool completely.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar for about 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until very smooth, light, and fluffy. (Insufficient creaming of the butter/sugar will result in a gritty frosting.) Stop and scrape bottom and sides of bowl about halfway through.
- Gradually beat cooled flour mixture into the creamed butter and sugar a few tablespoons at a time. Icing will begin to lighten. Gently scrape bowl, add vanilla, and beat until mixture is fluffy and resembles whipped cream. (This takes about 3 minutes in my mixer, but time will vary based on your unit’s power and the temperature of your ingredients. I’ve heard it taking anywhere from 1-8 minutes. Keep an eye on it.) The mixture might look curdled when the flour paste is first added; additional whipping will smooth it out. Pipe or frost as desired.
Ermine Icing is susceptible to temperature fluctuations and will break down above 70 degrees F. It’s best when freshly-whipped. Cakes and cupcakes should be completely cooled before frosting.
Yield: about 1 cup onions
2 large onions (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon water
- Slice onions crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Melt butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until foaming subsides. Add onions and a pinch of kosher salt and cook until onions begin to soften and release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Lower heat and cook, stirring often, until onions are soft and brown, about 30 minutes longer. Deglaze the pan with 1 tablespoon water and stir for an additional minute.
Pie Crust, All Butter
For the flakiest crust, I like to use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour by hand. This can also be done in a food processor, using short pulses (about 10), stopping when the butter is the size of peas. I always mix the ice water into the dough by hand.
Yield: 1, 9-inch double crust pie, or 2, 9-inch single crust pies
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspooon salt
1/2 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar*
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3-6 tablespoons ice water (plus more, as needed)**
To make the dough
- Place butter cubes in the freezer for 15 minutes before making the crust. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and sugar. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut chilled butter into flour mixture until butter is the size of peas. (For flaky crust, small pieces of butter should remain visible in the dough). Drizzle 3 tablespoons of ice water over the butter/flour mixture and fold to combine until dough is just moistened throughout. If needed, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, just until dough is moistened and holds together when pinched between your thumb and forefinger.
- Divide dough in half, shape into disks about 4-inches in diameter, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, before rolling and baking. Wrapped dough keeps for up to 4 days in the refrigerator, and in the freezer for 3 months. If freezing, defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using. Chilled dough should sit at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes before rolling.
To roll a pie crust
This tutorial from Cooks Illustrated demonstrates the method I use and makes rolling crust a breeze!
To blind bake a single crust:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F with rack in center position. Roll one prepared dough disk to a 12-13 inch circle. Fold the dough into quarters and gently fit it into a 9-inch pie plate without stretching the dough. Trim dough to a 1/2-inch overhang and tuck to make a double-thick edge flush with the circumference of the plate. If desired, flute or crimp the tucked edge. Refrigerate (30 minutes) or freeze (15 minutes) until dough is chilled and firm.
- Line pie plate with two large squares of parchment paper or foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until edges are light golden, about 15 minutes. Gather edges of parchment or foil and remove weights (be careful; they’ll be very hot) and continue baking until the bottom of the crust looks dry, about 5 minutes. If the crust is not going to be baked again (i.e. for a pie with a chilled filling), continue baking until the bottom of the crust is light golden brown, usually less than an additional 5 minutes. Follow filling instructions for your recipe.
*Amount of sugar depends on whether you’re using the crust in a sweet or savory pie. For fruit or sweet cream pies, I use 2 tablespoons. For something like a Chicken Pot Pie, I’ll only use 1/2 tablespoon.
**Amount of water will depend on the moisture content of your butter, humidity level in your kitchen, etc. This will vary from baker to baker and even batch to batch.
Adapted from Walter Staib, City Tavern Cookbook
A delicious, mayonnaise-based sauce that’s fantastic served alongside crab cakes, shrimp, fried oysters, or even burgers. Sweet, tangy Jamaican Pickapeppa sauce is available in the condiment section of most grocery stores.
Yield: 1 cup sauce
2 tablespoons finely-chopped cornichons or dill pickles
1 tablespoon finely-chopped shallots
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon (1-1/2 teaspoons) Pickapeppa sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely-chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients until combined. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least an hour. Store, refrigerated, up to 3 days.
Béchamel is a creamy white sauce made from milk whisked into a blonde roux (flour cooked in melted butter, without browning). It’s a standard in French cooking. You’ll see it used a variety of recipes from savory soufflé bases and Mornay (cheese) sauce, to lasagna, scalloped potatoes, and regional American gravies. The ingredients below are a guideline, based on the thickness of the sauce you need. For 1 cup of milk, a roux of 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of flour will yield the thinnest, most pourable sauce, 2 tablespoons butter/flour, a sauce of medium-thickness, and 3 tablespoons butter/flour, a thick sauce. This recipe is unseasoned (and as a result, will be very bland), allowing the recipe in which you’re using the sauce to determine the seasonings (salt, white pepper, nutmeg, onion studded with whole cloves, etc.).
1-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup milk*
- In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Cook for about 1-2 minutes over medium-low heat until smooth and bubbly. You want to cook out the raw flour taste, but don’t want the roux to brown. Carefully add the milk (all at once, or gradually, depending on milk temperature—see note), whisking constantly. Continue cooking, whisking, until the sauce is smooth, thick, and glossy, about 5 minutes. If not using immediately, remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and place a layer of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming.
*Milk temperature can be a somewhat polarizing topic in béchamel preparation. (Google it—you’ll find a ton of opinions on the subject!) Some find that the smoothest sauces are created by adding cold milk to hot roux. Others hold with just as much conviction that warming the milk (to hot but not boiling) before adding it to the hot roux in one addition is best. Honestly, I think this comes down to personal preference and which method you were taught. I’ve used both with good results. Béchamel made with hot milk tends to thicken more quickly. To prevent lumping, cold milk needs to be added more gradually than hot milk, whisking until each addition is smooth. Regardless of milk temperature, I find that whisking constantly (and vigorously if you see any lumps forming as you’re adding the milk) is key. Try both methods and find which you like best!
Yield: About 3/4 cup
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons room temperature water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to just warm
Kosher salt and white pepper or cayenne, to taste
- In a heatproof bowl, or the top of a double-boiler, whisk together egg yolks, 2 tablespoons water, and lemon juice until fully combined. Set over a pot of barely simmering water over low heat (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water) and whisk constantly until increased in volume and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3-5 minutes. Don’t allow the mixture to get too hot, or the eggs will begin to cook and scramble.
- Remove from heat and whisk melted butter into the egg yolk mixture one teaspoonful at a time (be patient and don’t rush this step so the sauce doesn’t separate), leaving as much of the white foam/solids in the butter behind as possible. If the sauce starts to cool too much as you’re whisking in the butter, you can briefly move the bowl on and off of the pot of hot water to warm, as needed. When all of the butter is incorporated, season the sauce to taste with salt and white pepper or cayenne.
- Hollandaise is best served immediately, but if necessary, you can keep it covered in a warm place for up to 30 minutes, re-whisking before serving.
Depending on the dish you’re serving, you might prefer a thinner consistency. You can adjust the sauce after incorporating all of the melted butter by whisking in a little warm water, a teaspoonful at a time, until you reach your desired thickness.