Probably one of my most favourite, and most reliable, icings to use on the go to or for flavour and texture is buttercream. It is probably just about everyone else’s favourite also, no matter what age or gender they are.
I have literally seen grown men wanting more buttercream than cake. Therefore, this post is about all things buttercream and what I consider the six best to use in cake artistry.
Buttercream is a mixed consistency of fat (dairy or animal fat – watch this video on my previous post to know how to add tallow) and icing sugar (also known as, powdered or pound, confectioners sugar). Other ingredients that can be included are sugar syrups, eggs, flour and milk.
This icing is used for filling, frosting, covering and decorating. I have used different variations, although I tend to stick to the most basic and less time-consuming of the recipes. I only use the other types, when there is call for extreme extravagance.
Some of the best recipes are not found online, I have gone to libraries and even listened to friends, family members and strangers I have met, give their verbal versions, while writing furiously on anything I have on hand (even my arm! yes, even my arm).
At the end it will be your own taste bud that will guide you to which is the best, and these are my six best buttercream variations.
The final choice of buttercream to use, will depend on the following factors: how many people will be eating the cake/s; the seasonal weather conditions; the environment that it will be displayed in; and the hours it will take from delivery to when it is to be eaten.
If you would like to find your own recipes or learn from professionals then I recommend an online baking course that I have found to be of great use and works around my time, Cakerschool. They teach everything that you would want to learn about cake artistry on-line.
However, if you do not think that you can make these yourself or cannot be bothered (yes it is okay, to feel this way – we are human and it is something to be not ashamed of) there are store bought, pre-made buttercream available for you also, yay!
Some Guidelines First
Once you have made buttercream a few times, you will soon find out, what not to do and here a few guidelines that could be of great use:
- Always try to use ingredients at room temperature
If your ingredients are too cold or too hot, your buttercream will turn out either too thin or too thick. What you want is a beautiful, light yet fluffy ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ consistency.
- Avoid using butter that is too soft
Butter should be soft enough to break or cut into cube form but not too much that it creates an almost oily like consistency. This will there are cause separation or give a curdled looking result.
Trust me it doesn’t look good and you will understand this when your icing does not look as pale as it should. I have had a lot of failures to know so.
Another option is to use tallow or vegetable fat (see my previous post on this).
- Do not freak out if separation happens during the process
While mixing your buttercream curdling or separation may happen, this usually, is a natural process and can be easily fixed by further beating/mixing. I threw away quite a few good mixtures before I made this discovery.
- Storage of buttercream
Home made buttercream can be stored after initial use, for up to several days in the fridge or three weeks in freezer.
- Always use fresh ingredients
Using the freshest eggs, milk or fat/butter can definitely give better quality to your buttercream taste, consistency and texture.
- Flavours and colours
Any flavour or coloring can be added without affecting the texture or consistency. Cream cheese, can also be added to give a touch of saltiness – and goes well with carrot or red velvet cakes.
I strongly suggest using gel colours rather than water based however, and pure essences rather there are just so that buttercream remains vibrant.
- You can use buttercream to decorate on top of royal or fondant
Okay – I am not really a fan of mixing icings, but there will be rare instances where it is practical to do so. However, I try to use only one type of icing per cake – so that the flavours taste right.
- There are variations of recipes
You will find so many variations – like I have and some will not work out and others will. Steal like an artist and make those recipes into your own.
This buttercream is more suitable as a filling or piped decoration rather than a covering. It is a rarely used icing because of how it is made. I only made this a few times to fill my creme doughnuts with as it is delicious.
The secret to its deliciousness lies in the fact that it is first prepared as vanilla pudding/custard before it is whipped with butter and a little icing sugar to create an icing with strong stability and lovely vanilla taste reminiscent of a MacDonald’s soft serve cone. Yum!
This icing will hold in its form in the weather, however because of its dairy content would not encourage it being on display for long hours in the sun or in heat, or you will have guests soon queuing at the rest rooms, if you get what I mean – not fair if they blame it on the catering company either.
I have yet to come across a pre-made store bought product of this icing (the only ones sold are normal buttercream tubs) though, however nothing beats homemade German buttercream.
This buttercream recipe is probably the most mentioned buttercream and a very popular one. I have found many variations to its basic recipe.
American buttercream is also the easiest Icing to make. It is made by mixing twice as much icing sugar and fat together (butter, margarine or vegetable shortening), with a little coloring/flavouring.
This icing creates a thin layer of frosting when it is in a cool dry environment, which prevents it being sticky. However, despite its simplicity to make, it is also the sweetest of all the buttercream types.
I personally use this icing more than the others, as there is no cooking, or long mixing involved. If you did not read my previous post for ‘My Best Money Saving Tips for Cake Artistry’ (I suggest you read it, if you want to save money), I mention there how I use tallow (100% pure beef fat) or animal shortening as part of my buttercream recipe.
Italian Meringue Buttercream
This icing adds a sugar syrup (heated sugar and water) to the mix, with the addition of glucose or corn syrup to help stabilize it. Sugar and water are heated to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, while egg whites are beaten to form soft peaks.
The sugar syrup is there are added slowly to the egg whites to cook them (making them no longer raw). While it is beaten back to room temperature butter is added and beaten to form a lovely and soft consistency.
This icing has a glossy sheen to it, when it is whipped and holds its shape well in air-conditioned environments.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Over a saucepan of barely simmering water, egg whites and heated until they reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is another way to slowly cook the eggs, so that they are safe for consumption.
Very much like the Italian Meringue, the egg whites are there are whipped to room temperature and into soft peaks. Butter is finally added, and beaten until it forms a thick but smooth and spreadable consistency.
Again, very much like the Italian meringue this icing hold its shape but only in air-conditioned environments.
French Meringue Buttercream
French is very much like the Italian and Swiss Meringue Icings. However, the French Meringue utilises a mixture of a whole egg and egg white as its base making it much more rich in color, flavor and appearance than the other two.
It is very much choux pastry base used for profiteroles and eclairs – yet uncooked.
This recipe is rarely used, because of Food Safety limitations in raw food consumption (especially egg or chicken products).
I have only used this recipe once but it was included in an ice cream cake, so that it was kept at a very a cool temperature. It was for an adult function and it was small enough to be eaten within an hour with a lot of alcohol to kill off any salmonella (I am writing this with a grin).
Therefore, I would not use this recipe for hot or humid environments or for children’s cakes.
This icing, is also understood as Ermine buttercream and is a very old-fashioned buttercream. Like the other buttercream icings, there are several variations to this one.
I am a great fan of the boiled buttercream only for the simple fact that it, not only withholds its shape, but it lasts well in any weather condition.
Why? because flour is included and is cooked with milk to first of all make a custard (at this stage sugar can be added, which is my preference), and there are beaten with soft butter and castor sugar (granulated sugar – beating it last, leaves a grainy feel though, hence my preference).
It is easy and really delicious, not to mention that you can vary the flour types for gluten intolerance as well.
No matter what buttercream you prefer, any of the six I have listed will be all delicious, if made with your own personality and special touch.
If you are only a beginner in cake artistry and have never graduated from just plain icing sugar and butter mixtures, I encourage you to take the next step forward and make one of the above icings – even if its for a trial. The guidelines will help you.
Remember also, that the amount of people, the environment of display and the time it is kept out (from delivery to display) will determine what type of buttercream you use.
If you wish to learn how to make these butter creams or want some recipes, then Cakerschool can help. I commend their courses for reliability and professionalism.
And…at the end of the day, if, for whatever reason, you do not want to make these yourself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing the store bought buttercream, as long as you and I understand that, all should be fine.
Again it is my pleasure to have you on my site, my next post will be: All about Fondant. Please feel free to comment and to share your own tips or experiences.
Visit again soon to read about more cake artistry tips.