There’s a few different kinds of buttercream:
Meringue Buttercreams-includes a cooked sugar syrup, eggs, butter/shortening, and some kind of flavoring. Less sweet than American buttercream and has a silky texture. Can be used for decorating but is very soft and melts quickly. Also a cake frosted with this kind of buttercream must be refrigerated. There are variations for each country, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, Italian Meringue Buttercream, French Buttercream, etc.
American Buttercream-includes shortening/butter, powdered sugar, some sort of liquid to thin the consistency, and flavoring. It’s considered one of the sweetest frostings worldwide but is a favorite in America. Depending on the amount of shortening in the frosting it can hold it’s own in hot/humid weather and in general does not need to be refrigerated. Some decorations can be made ahead of time using this frosting, dried out, then placed on the cake.
There are pro’s and con’s to both of these frostings but so far I like American buttercream the best. In my experience it can be tempermental with changes in the weather and downright annoying at times. In spite of this though I love working with it, and once you know the in’s and out’s you know what to do when trouble comes up.
So, let’s start with the recipe I use, here’s a video on youtube showing how to make it.
I came up with this recipe as a twist on Wilton’s Buttercream. They use a 1:1 ratio of shortening and butter. Mine is a 2:1 ratio, more butter than shortening. Breaking this down by ingredients:
2/3 c. Shortening-Two reasons why I add shortening to my buttercream; stability and creaminess. You could use more shortening but when I tried that there was a kind of greasy feeling left in my mouth-yuck! There are recipes out there that use ONLY shortening (such as bakeries and grocery stores), and depending on the shortening used they could be very good. But….I’m biased
1 1/3 c. (22 tbs.) Butter-I like to use salted butter, this helps to cut down on the sweetness of the buttercream. You could use unsalted and then just add a little salt if you need to. Using butter also ensures a delicious buttercream ;D
1/4-1/2 c. Heavy Cream/light cream/half and half/milk- out of all these choices, I use half and half the most because it’s something I always keep in the house. Whichever you choose, keep in mind that the higher the fat content, the better it will bond with the butter and shortening.
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract-I like to use clear vanilla, it’s sold in craft stores or you can order it online from Wilton.com. You can use regular vanilla but you’d need to mix your buttercream longer, for some reason the longer you mix the lighter it becomes.
8 c. (2 lbs.) Powdered Sugar-I like to buy these by the 2 lb. bag. I never sift unless the bag has been opened for awhile. Also make sure it says ‘Pure Cane Sugar’ on it, sometimes the generic brand will slip in beet sugar. I also don’t like to buy bags that feel dusty. That means that one of the bags has a hole in it and is leaking sugar. For some reason the generic store brand that I buy is never dusty but Domino brand always is
1-4 tbs. Light Corn Syrup- I use this as a thinning agent in addition to the cream but it also adds elasticity to the buttercream. Strings can droop without breaking, there’s less of a tendancy for the frosting to crack as it dries, and I think it adds a little to the creamy texture.
The amount of each ingredient is what makes frostings work a certain way. I like to use a crusting* buttercream so I can smooth my cake using a paper towel. If I add too much butter, shortening, or cream, my frosting will not crust. If I add too much sugar my frosting will be too stiff to frost the cake. There is a definite balancing act going on, and I never seem to make my frosting the same from day to day. One day will be rainy and I’ll need less liquid. One day will be cold and the amount of liquid needed to thin the frosting is almost doubled.
*Crusting means that the frosting will dry enough for you to gently touch it with your finger without the frosting sticking.
On to the method of mixing. I like to beat the butter and shortening until there are no more lumps. Once that is done I’ll add about 1/4 c. of half and half and the vanilla, keeping the mixer going and making sure they’re well incorporated before adding the powdered sugar. The powdered sugar needs to be added kind of slowly, otherwise most of it will end up back on you or the floor. I use both my splatter shield and a towel placed over the top of the mixer, but I still get *some* powdered sugar flying through the air.
Once the sugar is all in I’ll scrape down the bowl, making sure any bits of sugar at the bottom get stirred in. Also at this point I can check the consistency, if I have a tough time getting the spatula through the frosting I know I can add 2 more tbs. of half and half and a tbs. of corn syrup to start thinning it down. Here’s what I’m going for.
I can’t always make this happen though, it depends on how much humidity there is. Over the winter my kitchen is too cold and dry, I’m working on how to compensate without raising the heating bill
From here it’s just a matter of getting the frosting to the consistency I want. Some people like a very thin consistency for frosting, stiffer for flowers, medium for borders. I, on the hand, am lazy, I don’t like trying to get three different consistencies so I aim for medium. How can you tell the difference?
-Stiff consistency means the frosting will hold a stiff peak, it’s also difficult to stir and if you have it in a bag and try to pipe, it will be somewhat hard to squeeze out.
-Medium consistency means the frosting will hold a slightly droopy peak. I like this because I have such hot hands, by the time I’m done decorating all my bags go to thin consistency anyway. I came up with this to combat that though.
-Thin consistency, I don’t like to use this too often, it won’t hold a peak and the longer I hold the bag the more quickly it melts and before long it’s just dripping out without me squeezing it.
The different consistencies can be seen here. by me, or in this video by my friend Nivia (be sure to check out the rest of her videos!).
Special Note to those outside of the USA:
Not all countries have shortening and corn syrup but you can still make this recipe without those things. Here’s what the ingredient list would look like:
2 cups (1 pound) salted butter
8 cups (2 pounds) powdered sugar (also called icing sugar)
1/4 c. -1/2 c. whole milk, half and half, light cream or heavy cream
2 tsp. clear vanilla (regular vanilla is also fine, just beat longer after you add it)
Mix the same way I do in the video, keeping in mind that if you live somewhere very hot and humid you probably won’t need ANY liquid other than the vanilla.
Frequently asked questions:
Can I use all butter?
Yes, but cut down on the amount of liquid you add, all butter buttercream is a lot softer and will melt quicker if you have hot hands (like me!)
What is Crisco?
Crisco is shortening, or hydrogenated vegetable fat. Here are some names shortening goes by in other countries-Manteca Vegetal, Trex, Copha, Cookeen
My frosting turned out too thin, what should I do?
Add more powdered sugar until it’s the consistency you want.
My frosting turned out too thick, what should I do?
Add more liquid until it’s the consistency you want.
Will this hold up in heat and humidity?
Yes, but I’ve never tried it in full sunlight.
Will this be white?
It’s more of an ivory color due to the butter, not yellowish at all though.
Can I use something other than heavy cream?
Yes, you can use light cream, half and half, or whole milk. Just beware, the less fat in the liquid, the thinner the frosting will be. Watch your consistency….
Why corn syrup?
Corn syrup add some elasticity to the frosting, allowing it to bend some. It is also a thinning agent but it won’t add to the sweetness.
Can I use this to make chocolate buttercream?
Yes, add 6 oz. unsweetened chocolate that’s been melted and cooled to room temp. Add this just before adding the sugar.