A Complete Guide to Buttercream
Let me start by saying that buttercream and frosting are the same things, and we usually use one word or the other interchangeably and sometimes together. There are many types of frostings to cover cakes, such as buttercream, ganache, icing, whipped cream, etc., but buttercream frosting is one of the most popular types. It’s usually made from butter, sugar, flavoring, and sometimes eggs or flour. You have endless possibilities for flavoring and coloring frostings to create beautiful and delicious cakes and cupcakes. Let’s break down the most common types of buttercream out there.
American Buttercream is the simplest type of frosting. I love to teach beginners because it easily comes together, is less problematic, and is easy to flavor and color. It uses butter, sifted icing sugar, and flavoring. The result is a creamy and delicious frosting that is easy to fill and smooth over cakes, and it’s very stable for decorating buttercream and fondant cakes. You can also read this “Seven Secrets to Smooth American Buttercream” post and download my favorite recipe.
Meringue buttercreams can be Swiss or Italian, made from granulated sugar, egg whites, and butter but using different methods. They both involve more techniques than the American. However, Swiss meringue is slightly easier to make than Italian. Both give a light and fluffy frosting that is less sweet than American and tastes more buttery than sweet. Meringue buttercreams are not very stable for cake decoration and under fondant, especially in warm weather like our region, but they’re great for filling cakes and creating smooth sides. You can read my six tips for successful Swiss meringue buttercream.
- You can make Swiss meringue by beating the egg whites and sugar over a double-boiler until the sugar has dissolved completely, then it’s taken to the stand mixer and beat until cool. Then, add cubed, room-temperature butter and mix until it forms the frosting texture.
- Italian meringue is more technical as you heat water and sugar without stirring, then pour the hot syrup onto frothy egg white while beating constantly. Add the butter and beat until smooth when the mixture has thoroughly cooled.
French Buttercream. French buttercream uses whole eggs rather than only egg whites, making it taste a lot richer in flavor, but it’s not as stable. Like the Italian meringue, you start with hot water and sugar syrup and add it to the eggs (whites and yolks), and when completely cooled, you add the butter slowly until smooth and creamy.
Ermine or flour buttercream. It’s very light, not as sweet as American, nor as buttery as meringue frostings, and it has a deliciously subtle flavor. Ermine frosting colors and pipes beautifully, but it’s not stable enough under fondant cakes. However, I love pairing it with fresh fruit cakes because the lightness compliments fruits so well. To make Ermine frosting, you start by preparing a pudding mixture made of flour, mix, and granulated sugar. When the pudding is thoroughly cooled, you add it to whipped butter to make a smooth and delicious frosting.
German buttercream. It’s like the Ermine, but instead of making a pudding, you will make a custard made of milk, sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks. When the pudding has completely cooled, slowly add it to the whipped butter and keep mixing until it forms the frosting texture. German buttercream is also light and fluffy and less sweet than Ermine. But it has a more yellowish tone due to the custard.
If you’d like to try my favorite buttercream recipes, head to this page and enter your details for either American or Swiss meringue buttercream recipes, or both! They’re available in both English and Arabic.
I hope you will experiment and try several types of buttercream before choosing your favorite. I have different uses for different buttercream frostings. I mainly make American buttercream for decorated and themed cakes, French buttercream for Swiss rolls or Christmas Yule logs, and Ermine for light and fluffy home-style cakes. So try them and let me know your favorites.