Buttercream frosting is made from a combination of butter and sugar whipped together to create a light, airy and delicious finishing touch for cupcakes and cakes. All but the American version add eggs to the base and instead of powdered sugar, use granulated sugar instead. There are six different types of buttercream frostings: Italian, Swiss, German, French, American and Pudding-Style. American buttercream tends to be the most sweet as it relies heavily on the use of powdered sugar. The other variations of buttercream tend to be a little lighter and less sweet. (Click below on each variety of buttercream for the recipe)
When making buttercream, there are a few general guidelines to be aware of to ensure a delicious finished product every time!
- Use room temperature ingredients. Cold butter and eggs will make it difficult to incorporate the ingredients into a smooth, silky buttercream. Butter should be just soft enough to break off pieces easily but it shouldn’t look melted and greasy.
- Separation during mixing is common. Buttercream can sometimes look a little curdled and messy at certain points, to solve this problem simply continue to vigorously whip the ingredients together.
- Buttercream can be flavored and tinted. Choose pure extracts for the most flavorful result. Tinting works best with a buttercream that is whiter in color.
- Buttercream can be made ahead of time. Stored in an air tight container, buttercream will keep for up to a week in the fridge. To bring buttercream back to its smooth, spreadable consistency first bring it to room temperature. Then, in a slightly warmed bowl, mix the buttercream using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer and whip until it becomes nice and smooth.
TYPES OF BUTTERCREAM
AMERICAN BUTTERCREAM – This is thick, dense frosting that is very sweet and rich. It’s very easy to make, simply cream together butter and powdered sugar until smooth and silky. Vanilla extract is added for flavoring.
This is a good choice when not a lot of frosting is called for. Due to its sweetness, it might be unappealing in large quantities.
SWISS BUTTERCREAM – This uses a Swiss meringue as its base. Egg whites and sugar are heated over a pot of barely simmering water until the mixture reaches a temperature of 160ºF, this is the point at which the eggs will be considered safe for consumption and no longer raw. The egg white mixture is slightly cooled and then whipped until it develops “stiff peaks“. Room temperature butter is then added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.
This is the perfect choice for layer cakes and especially for frosting that needs to be tinted. Its bright white color means it will take nicely to the addition of coloring.
ITALIAN BUTTERCREAM – This is similar to Swiss buttercream only it uses an Italian meringue as its base. Sugar and water are cooked together until it reaches a temperature of 240ºF. It is then carefully added to egg whites that have been whipped to form “soft peaks“. The hot syrup will cook the eggs enough so they are no longer considered to be raw. The combined mixture is whipped until “stiff peaks” form. Room temperature butter is then added and the mixture is whipped until smooth and silky.
This is a great choice when making layer cakes, it’s perfect for both the filling and the outside. It also has a beautiful, glossy appearance thanks to the meringue base.
FRENCH BUTTERCREAM – This is made in a similar fashion as the Italian buttercream only it uses both egg whites and egg yolks for its base, this is know in the pastry world as a pâte à bombe. Because this buttercream contains egg yolks, it has a much richer flavor, color and texture. A mixture of sugar and water is cooked to a temperature of 240ºF. It is then poured into the egg mixture while the mixer is running. Once the mixture is fully cooled, room temperature butter is added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.
This is a great choice for making layer cakes. Because of it’s slightly yellowish hue, it is not the best choice for tinting.
GERMAN BUTTERCREAM – This is made using a pastry cream as its base. Cooled pastry cream is whipped, room temperature butter is added and the mixture is whipped together until smooth and silky. To improve the texture, occasionally a small amount of powdered sugar is added.
This is a great buttercream to use for in-between the layers of cakes or to fill cupcakes.
PUDDING-STYLE – This starts with a thickened dairy base that is similar to pudding. The cooled pudding base is whipped with room temperature butter until it is light and smooth.
This is a good buttercream to use for making different flavored fillings for cakes and cupcakes. Good choices for flavorings are chocolate, caramel and butterscotch.