Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Buttercream Low-Down

I looove frosting. I'm the one at the birthday party who wants the corner piece with all the roses piled on top and I'm not afraid to admit that when I'm done making frosting, I eat the scraps out of the bowl.
The world of frosting is big and beautiful- there are hard royal icings, cooked fudge frosting, marshmallowy meringue frostings, glazes, ganaches, and of course, buttercreams. Buttercream is probably the most popular frosting (in America, at least), but there are so many varieties...

My personal favorite is simple buttercream(sometimes referred to as "American" buttercream.) It's easy to make, is uncooked and pipes like a dream. It is, however, so sugary it makes your teeth burn. Most bakery "birthday" cakes- the kind with roses- are iced with simple buttercream. It's also what I used in my yo-yo cookies- you can find that recipe here.
Simple buttercream is made by creaming a fat with confectioner's sugar and flavorings. For the fat you can use butter, shortening or a 50/50 of the two. All butter tastes the best, but doesn't pipe as well because the butter gets soft at room temperature, also, the icing is a little ivory in color. All shortening tastes the most "fake", but pipes the best, is pure white and holds its shape best if it's a little warm. I like a half-and-half of butter and shortening, as you get the nice buttery flavor, but also the stability of the shortening. I also add an egg white to mine. It may sound gross, but the egg white really helps give the frosting a nice, smooth mouth feel. You can leave it out and use a tablespoon or two of cream, but the frosting is a little grittier. They sell pasteurized egg whites in a carton, as well as pasteurized in-the-shell eggs if you don't want to take your chances with food borne illness.

If you want something that's a little less dense and a little less sweet,but that still pipes well, Italian buttercream is a pretty good choice. It's a little more complex, as it has a cooked meringue base, but it is much less sugary tasting. It pipes quite well, and I like it better on very sweet cakes. (Sorry, this is a by-weight recipe...if you don't own a food scale, I highly recommend them. Not only does it make European recipes a cinch, but baking is so much less messy when you weigh it. They're only about $20. It's a good investment.)

Italian Buttercream

8oz sugar
2oz water
4oz egg whites
10oz butter, room temp.
1tsp vanilla extract

In a heavy bottomed saucepan heat sugar and water until they reach 240F. While the sugar is heating, put your egg whites in your mixing bowl. When the sugar is at about 200ish, start whipping the egg whites to med-stiff peaks. Once sugar reaches 240F, reduce the speed on the egg whites to low and slowly and carefully whip the hot sugar into the whites. Once all the sugar is in, add the vanilla and turn up the speed and whip the mixture until it is cool. (No warmer than body temperature!) Turn the speed down, and add the butter in chunks, waiting until one chunk is incorporated to add the next. Once the butter is all in, whip a little longer, until fluffy.
(Be sure your meringue is pretty cool before adding the butter, or it'll just melt and make buttery sugar soup.)

French buttercream is similar in preparation to Italian buttercream, but is made with yolks instead of whites. It's very rich, but just lightly sweet. It's pretty soft, and doesn't really pipe that well. You could get a border and some filigree out of it, but not roses. It's very delicious, though.

French Buttercream

8oz sugar
2oz water
3oz egg yolks
10oz butter, room temp.
1tsp vanilla

The preparation is basically the same as for Italian buttercream, so I'll give you abridged directions. Whip the yolks until they are light and thick. Cook the sugar and water to 240F. With the mixer on low, slowly drizzle the sugar into the yolks. Add the vanilla, and whip until cool. Add the butter in small chunks while still whipping. Whip until fluffy.

Last, and definitely least (in my opinion) is Swiss buttercream. It pipes really well, but tastes exactly like the "honey whipped margarine" that they put in little paper cups on breakfast buffets. Seriously, it tastes primarily of butter, and then, as a faint aftertaste, a tiny bit of sweetness. I love frosting, but Swiss buttercream is where I draw the line. I'm telling you about it, so you are aware of its existence, but I'm not going to post a recipe. I can't in good conscience inflict it on others. If you're really passionate about eating butter, you can scour the internet and find a recipe yourself.
Hopefully, these recipes are helpful, and will provide you with a bit of direction in the vast and varied land of frosting options. Don't be intimidated by the cooked frostings, because the flavor and textures are truly divine, and really, they aren't that hard to make. Happy frosting, my friends!

8 comments:

Fitnessista said...

ooooh what an awesome collection of frosting recipes! THANK YOU!!! i'm also a huge fan of frosting (it's the best part about eating cake) and i totally eat whatever's left over in the bowl.. my favorite is using butter, confectioners sugar, cream cheese and marshmallow fluff-- it tastes AMAZING on red velvet :D
have a happy saturday and i LOVE your hair, btw :D

Bertha P said...

Thank you for explaining and describiing the different types of buttercream. I'm going to keep the recipes on file for my next cake.

I've only done "regular" buttercream (shortening and conf. sugar) because I was never sure about the other options.

Foodie (Fab and Delicious Food) said...

Love all the recipes! Thanks!

Ingrid said...

YEA! You're the bomb! Thank you so much for posting the recipes and descriptions of the various buttercreams. Where's my cake recipe to go along with them, ha-ha-ha?! How long would they last if I made a batch of either one? After frosting the cake would it need to be stored in the fridge if not completely eaten?

For the record I'd race you to the cake and fight ya for the corner of it! :-)
Thanks again!
~ingrid

Emiline said...

I LOOOVE frosting too. I will eat it from the bowl, like you said.

I've never tried making an Italian buttercream before. Swiss is my favorite so far.

Pumpkin said...

In a covered container in the fridge, simple buttercream will last for almost as long as butter would. I'd say maybe two weeks, though it freezes very well. It'd keep for months in the freezer.
Unless you go the all butter route, a cake iced with simple wouldn't need to be refridgerated. I would refridgerate cakes made with Italian or French, due to all the butter and eggs. Italian and French will keep covered for about a week in the fridge. If you chill them, bring them back to room temp, then re-whip them a bit to revive them before using.
Glad I could be of service!

sportsnutritionliving said...

I love frosting.. i am def a sweet eater over a savory eater... I guess there is no healthy way to make buttercream right?

Cindy said...

Interesting, when I was small I developed a taste for the shortening version of frosting because my mom was learning the Wilton's decorating techniques and used it on ALL our birthday cakes. Funny how that happens, isn't it? I just love frosting roses to this day.

Cindy