Blissful buttercream: the beautiful side of baking

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When it’s time for a cake to put on its party clothes, only one frosting will do: buttercream.

For those who lust for the silky, smooth, pipeable and luscious texture of great bakery frosting, there’s simply no substitute for this magnificent emulsion of eggs, butter and sugar. Let’s face it, buttercream is dead sexy. It belongs on any list of foods of love; there’s a reason no wedding cake should be without it!

There are also a number of reasons home bakers don’t go into this territory. Buttercream frosting can be confusing, intimidating, and time consuming, and when you can cover a cake with a quick combination of soft butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a little milk and vanilla, why wouldn’t you?

Let’s tackle that list of scary adjectives, one by one.

Confusing.

Italian? Swiss? French? German? Simple? Decorator’s? Fondant? Too many names and techniques. How do I choose? Here are the differences. I’ve organized the types in order from most to least likely (for me, anyhow) to make.

American: For any culinary school graduate, this one doesn’t really “count” as real buttercream. It’s the combination of butter, confectioners’ sugar, milk, and some flavoring referred to above.

Italian: A meringue is made with egg whites and sugar, and sugar syrup cooked to at least the soft ball stage (240°F) is poured into it with the mixer running. This sets the egg whites and forms a stable base for the frosting. Once the meringue is cooled to 80°F (with the mixer running the whole time), soft butter is added, a lump at a time, until the frosting comes together.

Swiss: Egg whites and sugar are cooked together to 160°F over a hot water bath, then transferred to a mixing bowl and whipped before adding the butter.

French: The method is the same as for Italian buttercream, but whole eggs or egg yolks are used instead of whites. VERY rich, and if you’re not coloring the frosting, a very pale golden color. French buttercream has a lower melting point, because of the extra fat from the egg yolks.

Fondant: Fondant mixed with an equal amount of butter.

Decorator’s: Some would call this “practice” frosting: a mixture of vegetable shortening, butter, flavorings, and confectioners’ sugar, adjusted with milk as necessary. The higher melting point of shortening makes this mixture better for decorations that need to hold a hard edge, such as roses.

Intimidating: There’s usually an awkward stage just before the frosting comes together when it looks broken and hopeless: more on this shortly.

 

Time consuming: This isn’t a spur of the moment project. You have to remember to take the butter out to soften. You have to be able to stay with the sugar syrup and monitor it as it cooks. And you have to wait for the meringue to be cool enough to add any butter. See confessions below.

Still game? Let’s make my favorite frosting: Italian buttercream.

First move? get the butter out of the fridge. It doesn’t hurt to do this the day before you make the frosting, depending on the temperature in your house. 65 to 70 degrees is the ideal range. Like Goldilocks, you’re looking for a certain texture.

Too hard

Adding hard lumps of butter will mean a frosting with smaller hard lumps of butter in it; this is a real pain if you plan to pipe the frosting, because the lumps can be small enough to escape detection, but still be plenty big enough to clog your pastry tip.

Too soft

This butter is so warm it’s starting to melt and break. If you added this to warm meringue, you’ll have a sad, greasy mess. Emulsions tend to break at extremes of hot and cold, and this one’s no different.

Just right.

The butter should be soft enough to be indented with a light touch of your finger.

Next: hunt and gather equipment. This is really a recipe for the stand mixer. You need both hands to do what you need to do, and most hand mixers don’t have the horsepower to accomplish this task. My 5-quart Viking has been my champion for more batches of frosting than I can count.

You’ll need a candy or digital thermometer that can register up to 400°F; a small (non-stick is best if you have it) saucepan; a flexible ice pack or a large zip-top bag that can hold crushed ice, and a nylon spreader to scrape the bowl. A cup of coffee for yourself wouldn’t hurt, either.

This next bit is somewhat tricky, since it involves some kitchen rhumba with two partners at once. The idea is to have your meringue up and ready at the same time the sugar syrup hits its temperature window. I do this by getting the egg whites or meringue powder and water ready in my mixing bowl first.

I use the mixer’s whisk attachment to moisten the powder (no reason to make another tool dirty), then set up the mixer so it’s ready to go. A little pinch of salt here makes a big difference between a frosting that’s cloyingly sweet and one that’s downright intriguing.

Measure out the sugar for the meringue and have it handy next to the mixer.  Now get ready to head for the stove.

Put the sugar for the syrup into your small saucepan and add the water.

Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.

Soon your syrup will be boiling.

Put the heat on low to medium, and hie yourself hence to the mixer.

Turn the mixer on high. First you’ll see the mixture begin to get foamy.

Remember the nylon spreader I said you needed? Time to get in here and scrape the bowl.

Next the egg whites will become opaque and start to build in volume as more air is beaten in.

Time to sprinkle in the sugar, with the mixer running. Once it’s all in, time to look at our sugar syrup.

Still has a way to go, but at 218°F most of the water has now cooked off.

Let’s see how the meringue is doing.

There we go. At this point I’ll stop the mixer and focus on the syrup until it’s ready to bring over.

Not yet, but it won’t be long now.

This is how the syrup looks at 248°F. Time to pull it off the stove and take it to the mixer. There’s no time to lose between these two steps; you have to move quickly (but carefully, please!)

Pour the syrup into the sweet spot between the edge of the bowl and the shoulder of the whisk. You don’t want it to get thrown all over the place. The syrup can be pretty thick, and it hardens quickly, which is why I prefer a non-stick pan for this. It slides out of the pan without needing to be scraped.

Once the syrup is in, the whites get pretty warm:

The mixer is running this whole time; after the syrup is in you can turn the speed down a bit, to medium-high. After 5 minutes, this is what your meringue will look like:

Big and fluffy, and silky smooth. So far, so good. Now we want this to cool down so we don’t melt or break the butter when we add it to the bowl. I will often give the process a little help with an ice pack.

A few minutes more… how are we for temperature?

Butter ready?

Yup, standing by.

This is another turning point in the process. I need to take a moment here to tell you that I worked very hard to get photos of what can happen to a buttercream.

Specifically, I wanted to break it on purpose to show you how to fix it. Andrea and Frank can vouch for the fact that it took me a week to finally make a batch that broke. The whole thing made for an absurd, upside-down existence, where every time I made a successful buttercream I was stomping around in a huff.

I did EVERY SINGLE thing I tell you not to do in this blog, and I still couldn’t ruin the stuff. Meringue powder, fresh egg whites, butter as hard as a rock, soft butter thrown into 100°F meringue, nothing. It all worked.

I turned into my mother at one point, hearing myself say, “Oh, for crying out loud!” in exactly her voice.

But back to how to get it right if you’re new to this stuff.

When you first put the butter into the meringue, it will deflate some.

As you keep adding butter, the mixture will likely go through a stage where it looks broken and curdled.

This is where you must trust yourself (and me) and soldier on. As you keep beating and adding butter, the frosting will start to come together around the whisk, almost like magic.

See how the center is shaping up, while the outside is still yucky? Another minute or two will finish bringing the frosting together.

Gorgeous, eh? Now I’m adding some vanilla. This is the point where you can go crazy in flavor land. In summer I’ve often taken some of the frosting out for the outside of a cake, then taken the rest and mixed in a couple pints of fresh raspberries and used that frosting for between layers.

You can add citrus zest and 1 to 2 tablespoons of juice. Or some melted, cooled chocolate (no more than 2 ounces, or the frosting can’t hold it). Espresso powder? Sure. You might want to dissolve it in a tablespoon of cream first, otherwise your frosting will have freckles. I’m a big fan of coconut milk powder and coconut flavoring. Makes fabulous buttercream that’s nice and stable.

Before I finish my tale, let’s cover a few more bases.

Storage: Buttercream will keep up to 1 week in the refrigerator (longer than that, and you could see some mold start to form). It freezes beautifully, though. I recommend dividing up the batch into 2 or 3 containers. That way it will temper more quickly when you want to use it.

To use from the freezer, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then let it come to room temperature before using. I know some people who have successfully thawed buttercream in short, low bursts in the microwave, but I’m not that brave. In any case, if you see any weeping or separation, throw the frosting in the mixer and beat it briefly to bring it back together.

Secrets and confessions: I love the flavor of an all-butter buttercream. But when I’m making a wedding cake that has to sit on a table in the summertime for a few hours, I’ll frequently sneak in 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening when adding the butter. The shortening has a higher melting point and will keep things more stable under to0-warm conditions.

Shortening can also “save” a curdled frosting when nothing else seems to be working. Now that most of the trans fats have been removed from vegetable shortenings, I don’t feel as guilty about this “insurance policy.”

Waiting for the meringue to cool down is a pain. There. I’ve said it. Other than the ice pack trick, and if I’m feeling particularly defiant, I’ll ignore my own advice about butter being too cold and throw half a pound of frozen butter chunks into the warm meringue at first, trusting the heat to melt the butter and the cold to bring down the meringue’s temp at the same time. This is, I repeat, a high-risk strategy.

Now, to finish the tale. In my quest to make bad buttercream, I tried adding soft butter to hot meringue. This is what happened:

Butter soup. But not broken. All it took was some more, colder butter (not hard, just cooler) to bring everything back in line.

I finally begged Frank to tell me how his pastry cooks had achieved broken buttercream. He told me to let my meringue cool completely, then hit it with lots of cold (barely plastic) butter. So I did. FINALLY I got some awful-looking glop.

At the Ritz, Frank would go for his blowtorch at this point. I reached for the at-home version:

A little warm air on the outside of the bowl with the mixer running, and voilà:

The frosting at the edge looks a little melted. The whisk keeps bringing it back in to the center, raising the temperature for the whole bowl just enough to make the emulsion come back together.

By now, my mixer is getting a little pooped. I’ve actually had it shut itself off because the motor got too hot while it was going… going… going to cool the meringue. When that happens, I get another icepack.

After a week of butter, sugar syrup, and lots and lots of egg whites, I finally had the pictures I needed. And well over 2 gallons of buttercream.

Hopefully this amount of information can spare you some angst and some time. If you’re interested in learning what you can do with this wonderful stuff, click on this link and scroll down to “Cake Decorating with Susan Reid.” A .pdf will download to your computer, which you can open, print, and use for reference whenever you need to get your cake bakin’ game on.

Please read, make, and rate the recipe for Italian Buttercream on our site.

Print just the recipe.

 

Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...

comments

  1. Renee

    Wonderful! Thank you for taking the time to break that down!
    I would love to have that in the freezer for future cake endeavors.
    How long can I keep it frozen and at what point would there be a breakdown in texture and/or quality?
    In a sturdy container, 6 months. Remember, the key to texture and quality from frozen is really in thawing the frosting slowly in the frige and then bringing it to room temperature for at least an hour before you use it. The consistency will be your guide; if you can spread it easily, it’s ready to go. Susan

    Reply
  2. TJ

    How much sugar is to be sprinkled into the egg whites?

    Ahh, thanks for the catch TJ, I missed that when I entered the recipe. 1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) sugar for the meringue; I’ve corrected the online recipe. Susan

    Reply
  3. EY

    Susan, Why oh why does something called “buttercream” have eggs in it? I don’t get it. Any ideas on the origin??

    THAT is a very good question, and I’ve been spending some time on researching an answer. I found this very relevant quote from Auguste Escoffier: “If it had been an Italian instead of a Frenchman who codified the world of cuisine, [cooking] would be thought of as Italian.” The base of most of what we think of as classic haute cuisine came to France from Italy with Caterina de Medici.
    In searching for the origins of Meringue, I came up with some references in England by Lady Elinor Fettiplace (now there’s a wonderful name for you) in 1604, another from Lady Rachel Fane in a cookery book manuscript from 1630, and another in a book from Francois Massialot in 1692. How the meringue got married to the butter I have yet to uncover. The 1700s were a time of astonishing invention in the world of food, where the upper echelons of society went to great lengths to outdo each other at table, with showier and more elaborate banquets all the time. My guess is that’s where Italian Buttercream was born, but I’ve yet to track down a source to really answer your excellent question. Perhaps some of our other readers are ahead of me on this? Susan

    Reply
  4. Joann

    Susan- THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I have been making cakes for years with the American version and I have been wondering about Italian for months now. But I haven’t tried it for a few reasons: using raw egg whites and the shear fact the process seemed so confusing. I can’t wait to use your tips to make my own batch this week. One question, at what temperature is an egg cooked? Does the hot syrup cook the eggs enough or should I stick with the meringue powder to be safe? I often make baby shower cakes and I want the mom-to-be to be able to eat the frosting.

    If you want to be absolutely sure, stay with the meringue powder (which also solves the problem of wondering what to do with 8 egg yolks). While the fresh egg white version is safe as long as it’s handled properly, there are more opportunities for trouble if it’s not.

    Reply
  5. fussybritches19

    I promised everyone at my work (and my husband’s work–I like to spread the love of baking as much as possible) that I wouldn’t bake anything sweet for the month of January so as not to derail their New Year’s resolutions. This blog post is sorely testing that promise since I’ve always wanted to try an Italian buttercream and you’ve laid out the steps so wonderfully. And I mean, really, cupcakes don’t count, do they? It’s not like it’s a whole cake… *sigh* How long exactly will the buttercream keep in the freezer?

    I’d be comfortable using a buttercream from the freezer (as long as it was in a very sturdy, non-porous container) for up to 6 months. Susan

    Reply
  6. Irene in TO

    For people who have to worry about raw eggs, the recipes that add boiling sugar syrup to egg whites or yolks also cook those eggs. They get all-the-way-hot-enough.

    Butter–take its temp with the instant reader, eh? Room temp should read 70F all the way to the middle. If you are careful, you can SLOWLY warm the cold butter up in a microwave as long as you then cream it by hand to the correct temp.

    I prefer the Boyajian citrus oils and the LorAnn extracts that you sell for good true icing flavours. Not to mention Fiori di Sicilia. People always comment on how GOOD the icing tastes…
    Great thoughts, Irene! We have a LOT of flavor “weapons” in our flavorings section! Susan

    Reply
  7. rdjcooley

    Great post! I made this type of meringue butter cream once, but it melted as I was piping it. Very messy. Will adding a little shortening as suggested in the article help?
    Yes, the shortening is of great help when it comes to having the frosting hold itself together and its shape; you can always refrigerate buttercream that’s very soft for 15 minutes to make it behave better. Also, if you’re frosting a cake, it’s always a good idea to have the layers chilled if not frozen; if the cake is too hot, you can run into the trouble you describe. And it’s also quite possible that you just have nice, warm hands. Mine are more toward the ice cube end of the spectrum. Susan

    Reply
  8. brightbakes

    Wheeee! I adore Italian buttercream. I find it equally amazing licked off a spoon, versus on top of a cake!! ;)
    love,
    cathy b. @ brightbakes

    Cathy, I second your glee. As does Sue Gray, who never fails to stop, and in a breathless voice full of awe and hope, ask, “is that buttercream?” before ever so politely asking for a taste. Ahhh, there’s nothing like an appreciative audience, is there? Susan

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  9. Jennifer

    I am just loving your blog! I had always wondered about all the different types of buttercream……Y’all are awesome!

    We aim to please. Susan

    Reply
  10. Dawn in DE

    An old cake decorator’s trick for a temperature stable icing is to use Dream Whip. You get a lovely texture, and it can withstand an outdoor reception in July with high humidity. I used it on my niece’s cake several years ago and it held up very well. I’m looking forward to trying the Italian version to compare. Many people prefer the half butter/half shortening version that Wilton promotes as it is less sweet than most bakery icings as so many use corn syrup.

    Hi, Dawn. I remember Dream Whip. Mom used to keep it around for spur-of-the-moment desserts, but I hadn’t heard of the icing idea. That’s pretty cool; thanks for sharing!
    Susan

    Reply
  11. lmcteer

    LOVE this post! Thanks for all the education and clear breakdown! The pictures are great!

    My pleasure. Especially since all those batches are in the rear view mirror, now!

    Reply
  12. lmcteer

    Susan, i have a friend who’s baby is allergic to egg-whites & dairy. Any chance you can make something like this with just yolks? or any other good frostings come to mind?

    I would investigate the Dream Whip idea above, after checking the ingredients panel. Or try the French buttercream, using yolks (or reconstituted dried yolks, to be sure there are no traces of whites) instead of whites.

    Reply
  13. vcallahan

    Susan, I’m so excited- now I know how to make Italian Buttercream! Glad to see you using meringue powder- what a great product for this.
    Question: When you add the berries are they folded in or do you use the mixer to break them up a bit? Would love to use for my granddaughter’s birthday cake!
    Thanks for this post!
    Valleri

    Valleri: I just use the paddle at low speed and watch, hypnotized, as the berries plop in and begin to add color to the frosting in beautiful swirls. When I have a color I like and there are still discernable chunks of berries, I stop. Susan

    Reply
  14. RennieBaker

    OMG, #1 this is a great recipe, than you so much Susan. #2 the humor made the whole set of instructions a great read – as did the mixer with the ice pack and the final shot of you with your 2 gallons of butter cream. Thank you!

    Most welcome! I hope it does well by you for your next cake. Susan

    Reply
  15. Ginny

    Okay – so what do you do for a sister who has asked you to make her wedding cake and is seriously allergic to dairy (not just lactose intolerant). I’m at a loss, because my fave buttercream is Swiss but she can’t have the butter. Am I just going to have to do the fake version of American with shortening? (blech)…

    Ginny: wow, that IS a tough one. If she’s open to other than the classic white-frosted cake, I’d consider doing either a raspberry or chocolate glaze (you can make a hot water glaze with good chopped chocolate and boiling water). Then you could do some piped work with a shortening based version for the bells and whistles, without coating the whole cake with the stuff. Another thought is a non-dairy version of German Chocolate frosting. I’d try the recipe substituting a non-dairy margarine and some soy milk, and see what happens. Email me at susan.reid@kingarthurflour.com if you want raspberry and/or chocolate glaze recipes….Susan

    Reply
  16. meowmellow

    I have made both swiss & italian buttercreams – not sure which I like best but I am definatly making this recipe for next weeks bridal shower! Love the details – you mention adding 1/2 c. shortening – is this in place of 1/2 c. butter or in addition to??

    Also – in the definitions above you mention “fondant” buttercream. Do you really mix butter with fondant and how does that effect the fondant?
    Thanks!
    Lisa
    Hi, Lisa. I add the shortening in addition to the butter; you don’t really notice it, but it does do the job. As for the fondant, first you work the fondant to make it pliable, then whip the butter into it. You end up with something that can be spread, not rolled like you would fondant alone.

    Reply
  17. wingboy

    Thanks Susan! Great photos.

    I’ve always shied away from buttercream. Not only was I afraid of the process, it’s generally to sweet for me. Are dried egg whites and meringue powder the same thing?

    (Happy New Year, too!)
    Hi, Tom! I agree, that a lot of buttercreams are just too sweet, but you’d be amazed at what that teeny bit of salt can do. Dried egg whites are different than meringue powder. Dried whites don’t have any sugar or acid in them like the meringue powder does, but you can certainly use them with a pinch of cream of tartar and get to the same place the meringue powder takes you to.

    Reply
  18. bellesaz

    How handy is that… whenevr I need a fix of buttercream, I can just whip one out of the refrigerator.. Holy smokes, that looks good. I love how you used your culinary creativity in cooling down your mixer.. good job! Now, if I could just stop licking my monitor.. time to go walk the doggies.

    Reply
  19. mom244evermom

    Thank you! I’ve always been too intimidated to try italian buttercream before. Now, seeing it like this, broken down bit by bit, I think I can do it.

    Also, thank you for educating me. I had no idea that what I made wasn’t buttercream and couldn’t quite figure out what all the fuss was about.

    Yeah, all those culinary-trained food snobs (I stand guilty myself sometimes) can take the fun out of things if you don’t know how to speak their dialect. Happy to translate whenever I can! Susan

    Reply
  20. Brenda

    The ice pack idea is too obvious; of the “Why didn’t I think of that?” variety. Maybe now I can make two batches of bread one right after the other!
    My husband calls that moment “the head smack” :-) Susan

    Reply
  21. dadbakes78

    Thanks for the recipe and the clarification between French and Swiss buttercream (I’ve tried both techniques before but both recipes were labeled the same). The one question I have is about storing the final product (cake or cupcake) after you frost it with this kind of buttercream. Should it be refrigerated due to the egg? My wife has good restraint and my kids are still pretty little, so whenever I bake the cake or cupcakes usually last for a few days.

    As a general rule, I put plastic wrap up against the cut surface, and refrigerate the cake (or if it’s on cupcakes, put them in a rigid, tall container with a lid). You can also frost the cut edge if you have extra buttercream, and freeze the leftovers that way for a good long time; like up to 2 months. Susan

    Reply
  22. arwenb

    I have tried a couple of times to make Italian buttercream. The problem I run into is that I can’t find the “sweet spot” you mention to pour the syrup into. As a result, some of the syrup gets whipped into the meringue but the rest ends up on the side of the bowl where it instantly hardens and is not incorporated.
    Any advice on how to keep the syrup from splattering and get it to go where it should??

    I freely admit that it can be a tough spot to get right, depending on the mixer you’re using. It might be easier if you had a greased, pyrex measuring cup handy; as soon as the syrup is ready, go from the pan to the pyrex cup, then use the spout to help you pour more accurately. A few more gymnastics, but you’ll have more control for the pour…Susan

    Reply
  23. Sue

    I love your tips! The ice pack around the bowl. Brilliant! The next time I want “fussy frosting”, I’ll try to remember this is here.

    Reply
  24. winkle

    Thanks for the laughs! This is a great post all the way around: informative, honest and funny. The hair dryer is what got me. :-) I’ve had luck with Swiss buttercream in the past… I always feel so special when it’s finished because it’s so purdy. :-) Why do you prefer the Italian to the Swiss?
    The Italian is a little more “bulletproof” in my experience. As witnessed by my sad tale of trying to break the stuff! But I have it on my list to do Swiss for the recipe archive next. Also, to do Swiss correctly, you really have to get your hands into the whites to check that the sugar is dissolved before you move it to the mixer. I’m not generally squeamish, but after about the third time of checking I start to get a little grossed out….Maybe, in reference to your wonderful screen name, “I need to get another hat!” Susan

    Reply
  25. meganchromik

    This is an awesome tutorial! I actually do alright with regular buttercream now, but chocolate buttercream always breaks on me. Any chance you’ll be doing a tutorial on chocolate buttercream next?

    And thanks for the hairdryer tip! I wasn’t sure what to use at home in place of a blow torch.
    The trick with chocolate buttercream is to have the chocolate melted but cool, which is a tough state to wait for, but oh, so necessary! Susan

    Reply
  26. dadbakes78

    Thanks for the great blog post. I’ve tried Swiss and Italian buttercreams before (though I didn’t know that’s what they were each called until now), but I’m eager to try this recipe.

    One question I have is how should you store the final product once you’ve applied the frosting? If you are using the meringue powder do you need to refrigerate your leftover cake?

    If you’re using meringue powder, you can keep the cake (well covered) on the counter for a day or so, but it will last longer in the refrigerator. Susan

    Reply
  27. milkwithknives

    HA! Buttercream frosting IS dead sexy, now that I think about it! And your fellow bakers will thank you the next time one of them needs frosting for a project. They can just take some from the Susan-high stack in the freezer. Actually, 7 cups of frosting from a single batch sounds like a truckload. How much cake can you frost with that? A couple of layer cakes, or just one? So good to know it can freeze and be used later. I have to confess, I don’t have any cakes on my horizon, but this looks like a fun Saturday afternoon project just to see if I can do it. Thanks for the brilliant lesson.

    You’re entirely welcome! 7 cups is a lot; you can do a 3-layer 8- or 9-inch cake, or a double layer 10-inch with leftover for piping and other fun. I’ve never worried overmuch about having leftover, since it freezes so well, and there’s always a birthday out there waiting for a bit of buttercream to pipe salutations with! Susan

    Reply
  28. Mishell

    @Ginny and Susan – I recently went to a vegan and gluten free wedding and they used a product called Earth Balance to make the frosting. I’m not sure if it was the vegan buttery sticks – http://www.earthbalancenatural.com/#/products/vegan-sticks/ – or the shortening sticks – http://www.earthbalancenatural.com/#/products/shortening/. Might work for someone dairy free.

    For the record, I’m ok with vegan or gluten free, but both was a little much.

    I’ve used the Earth Balance shortening, and I’m not sure where they’d be for flavor, but the buttery sticks sound like a promising avenue. Thanks for the heads up. Susan

    Reply
    1. Amy

      I have to be gluten free because I’m anaphylactic allergic to wheat and gluten. My daughter is allergic to milk so we have to be gluten free and vegan. It is very tough. But we’ve found a great frosting recipe. 1/2 cup soy margarine (Earth balance), 1/4 cup soy milk (I always use Silk vanilla soy milk), 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla. This makes a generous amount. It’s delicious and is either very soft or for a thicker texture, refrigerate, and I’m about to freeze some and I bet that works well too!

  29. MerleApAmber

    I hate to admit it, but, I’ve been studying Alton Brown’s recent show on meringues the past couple of days and your article is spot on – timing wise! As milkwithknives just put it; this looks like a grand Saturday afternoon experiment/experience in the joys of cooking. THANK You!

    I had the pleasure of knowing Alton when he was a student at the New England Culinary Institute when I was teaching there. He’s a good egg, and his show is a great service to people who want to know more about how food works. There’s no substitute for getting in there and having at it! Good luck. Susan

    Reply
  30. puppycupcakes

    This is the best IMBC tutorial I’ve ever seen. I’ve been wanting to try making this type of icing for ages, but I was terrified of those egg whites…and the candy thermometer…and the just-the-right-temperature butter! Scary, I tell you, scary!!!! But you’ve convinced me that it’s actually pretty difficult to make a bad batch. I’ve got a cake-worthy event coming up this weekend, and I’m going to make the chocolate version. Thank you very much!!!

    go forth and make great frosting!!! Susan

    Reply
  31. Jessalyn

    Before getting a stand mixer I made one batch of buttercream by hand (and got quite the arm workout from whisking). After all, I told myself somewhat naievely, what did they do to make buttercream before electricity and stand mixers? Happily I now own one and can attest that it is much easier to make (I recently made Swiss buttercream). But I left the cake at room temperature for a couple days after frosting it, instead of refrigerating it. Is that a big no-no? Fortunately, no one was sick…
    If the frosting was made with meringue powder, I’d be more comfortable with the room temperature storage, but obviously there was no harm done. Everyone has their own comfort level with this kind of thing, and if it’s weighing on your mind, you can always find some refrigerator or freezer space next time. Susan

    Reply
  32. Rebecca Grace

    This is EXACTLY the information I wish I had a week ago! I just baked the worst cake of my life last week for my 10-year-old’s birthday. Not only did I underbake the cake (gross!), but my buttercream frosting was a disastrous mess. I followed Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from The Cake Bible, similar to your Italian Buttercream recipe, but I think maybe I didn’t boil the syrup long enough, then didn’t get it from the saucepan to the mixing bowl fast enough because it started to harden to the sides of my mixing cup, and then I stopped mixing and started glopping the goo on my cake when it looked like your “intimidating stage.” If you want a good laugh at my expense, you can see pictures of the Ugliest Buttercream Frosting Cake Ever here: http://cheekycognoscenti.blogspot.com/2010/12/happy-half-baked-birthday-lars-of-ours.html.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to giving Buttercream another try, but next time, I’m going to have your directions and photos in the kitchen with me on my iPad. For those of us who haven’t been to culinary school, terms like “soft ball stage, “soft peaks” and “hard peaks” can be pretty ambiguous. Your pictures are worth a thousand words, and THANK YOU for working so hard to wreck your frosting so you could show people how to fix it. I’m feeling inspired and encouraged to get that mixer out and try this again. Wish me luck! :-)

    Wow, Rebecca, thanks for your kind words. And for having the good humor to share your troubles! Now maybe we can bring it back around to a happy ending together. I’m right behind ya, sister! Susan

    Reply
  33. argentyne

    Aaaah, that makes so much sense now! I wondered why I didn’t like the buttercream on the bakery cupcakes I bought recently. It’s probably because they did the shortening instead of butter (decorator’s). It never tasted BUTTERY, just hard and somewhat sweet. The cats like it a ton, though. :D

    I will have to try this recipe and see if I can muddle through it. :D I have to see about replacing my KitchenAid, though. It makes me sad, but its clutch seems to no longer work. At least not unless you press the back of the engine in. If you don’t, then you turn the mixer on and it’s at medium speed if you are LUCKY. :D

    (And Susan, you gave me a little happy puppy wiggle when you said you knew Alton Brown at Culinary school. I have a huge Idol on a Pedestal type of crush on him just because he is doing the science food thing. :D It hasn’t (quite) rendered me speechless when I get to meet him, but it’s a really close thing! My brain does go onto fan-girl autopilot.) :D

    I, too, remember bakery buttercream as a kid, which we had on white cake with lemon filling. I remember the impossible blue and pink of the flowers on those cakes, and the stark white color of the frosting. Also the way that grease seemed to seep into the cardboard of the cake box, wherever the frosting touched it.
    And when you meet Alton, don’t worry, he’s busy but very real. And tell him I said “hi” :-)!

    Reply
  34. Talia

    !!
    Growing up, birthday cakes were always homemade, and frosted with my favorite, “buttercream”…until in college I tried to make my own and found recipe after recipe of what you call American-style here. I hate that stuff – too sweet, and the texture was all wrong. And I knew that powdered sugar was not a major player, but I couldn’t remember anything beyond that. Presumably my mom made one of the other versions here. Now I just need to bake some cakes and experiment til I figure it out…
    You’re in for a fun journey, Talia. We’ll be here if you have any questions. Susan

    Reply
  35. marcin

    For many years, I have been using a recipe I cut out of some newspaper (I wish I knew when and which newspaper) called “Eileen Worthley’s Old-Fashioned Buttercream Frosting.” Its ingredients are butter, flour, milk, vanilla, and granulated sugar. It is made by starting with a simple white sauce. I then put the white sauce into my stand mixer, and then I add a cup of cold butter a bit at a time to the hot white sauce. The resulting frosting looks just like the one you have in your picture. The white-sauce frosting is probably not stable enough for decorating, and I have to store it in the fridge–I just take the cake out a couple of hours before I want to serve it. But it is so light. And I do freeze it successfully. Everyone loves it. After reading your blog, I want to try the Italian buttercream. I have always wanted to make it but tried it once and ended up with a disaster. I, like other readers, now plan to take this post into my kitchen with me the next time I need to frost a cake. I’m curious, though, if you have ever heard of a type of frosting like “Eileen Worthley’s Old-Fashioned Buttercream Frosting”?

    I am aware of the roux-based frosting, and we’ve run recipes for it in the Baking Sheet once or twice over the years, but you’re right, it’s not as stable and doesn’t hold its shape for piping like a buttercream does. I haven’t has as much luck with it as you have; it can be touchy in warm environments, and our test kitchen is one of those….Susan

    Reply
  36. JuliaJ

    Susan, just love those icepack photos and the last one of you with your buttercream stash! Ditto argentyne’s comments about “bakery buttercream” which I always found cloyingly sweet (read, yucky!)–the real stuff sounds divine! Just one question–I have powdered egg whites, not meringue powder. Is there some “recipe” for meringue powder using powdered whites? Thanks for a great tutorial!

    Powdered egg whites are fine to use; just hydrate them as the package directs. The only thing you might want to do is add 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar or a bit of lemon juice to them when you first start the meringue going. One small advantage to the powdered whites is they don’t have any sugar, and the frosting will be a little less sweet as a result. For those who think buttercream is too sweet, this is a viable alternative. Susan

    Reply
  37. sharon15632

    Susan,

    Besides another thank you for a great post, i just want to go on record saying “You are ADORABLE!”
    and good work!

    Thanks Sharon! My mom thinks so too…Susan

    Reply
  38. angrobts

    Great tutorial on Italian Buttercream! I learned how to make both Swiss and Italian in culinary school and love them both. I have a question about adding champagne to either of these. We tried out a strawberry champagne cupcake parfait at work to use in a bridal show and it used American Buttercream which was way too sweet. Do you think adding a small bit of champagne to the buttercream for flavor would cause it to break down. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Wow, what a cool thought! Two very sexy foods in one at that. I think it’s certainly worth a try. I’d take a cup of buttercream and try mixing in a tablespoon of the bubbly; if there are no ill effects, go for the rest of the batch. Another way to get more of that flavor into the frosting would be to reduce the champagne and add it as a gastrique. Thanks for the idea; I’ll be trying that one myself! Susan

    Reply
  39. edandclaire

    Wait….wait…..you were a TEACHER when Alton Brown was a STUDENT??!! But, you look so, so, so young!!!!

    And thanks so much for this recipe and those fab photos! Got a baby shower coming up soon and this will definitely be the frosting I will use!!

    I have a portrait doing all my aging for me in the attic :-) Susan

    Reply
  40. Amber

    Hi Ginny,
    If your sister likes coconut you could try a mixture of unfiltered coconut oil (which is quite solid at room temp) and some mild tasting and softer fat to replace the butter. I would imagine melting the coconut oil and blending it with a nut oil then letting it come to room temp would work) great. The coconut oil smells heavenly and some toasted shredded coconut would be a fantastic decoration addition to up the flavor. Just remember to have a warning next to the cake to possible nut allergy folks (had a close call at my own sister’s wedding
    Good luck! You are a good sister for doing this :)

    Reply
  41. Irene in TO

    Another non-dairy icing is rolled fondant that you make yourself from icing sugar, water, gelatine and corn syrup. Use the recipe from any old Wilton book, it works perfectly every time.

    If you have a large table, you could try real fondant–nothing but sugar, water and corn syrup. Real tricky to cook but makes beautiful smooth icing when poured over a crumb-coated cake.

    You could cook up a fruit curd with the coconut oil instead of butter for a filling. The large amount of fruit juice and egg makes it taste really good anyway. You can even add some to the buttercream if it doesn’t have to be fishbelly white–it comes a nice pastel shade. Lime and coconut is a dream combo.

    I would avoid butter flavouring altogether. Vanilla and citrus are natural nondairy ideas that leave nothing missing from a pastry project. Call the cake a Chefs Special instead of dairyfree and they will gobble it up.

    For people who can’t live without chocolate, melt unsweetened at the rate of no more than 3 ounces per cup of butter in your recipe, and cream part of the butter into it. This blends smoothly with the whole batch of buttercream and won’t break it.

    Irene: Excellent ideas, all, particularly the tip about creaming the butter into the melted chocolate. That’s the kind of little step that makes a HUGE difference in the quality of the finished product, and will ensure that no unincorporated clumps of chocolate are lurking in the frosting to clog up the piping bag. Thanks so much! Susan.

    Reply
  42. Margy

    I’ve always made American buttercream because it’s quick and easy. My tweak is that I use butter from a local farm, then refrigerate it for a few days and re-beat prior to using. It seem to make for a much silkier frosting, probably because it has time to hydrate the cornstarch in the confectioners sugar. This recipe looks awesome, and takes away some of the intimidation factor-I’ve always wanted to try it, but was always nervous that it wouldn’t turn out. Dous the type of butter matter? I assume you have used a nationally available butter. I suspect that my local butter may be higher in butterfat and lower in water content; will that make a difference in the result?
    Hi there Margy,
    We use Cabot Creamery Butter here in the test kitchen. It is very good quality butter, so give this a try with your local butter, it should be fairly close. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  43. kleslie76

    How does this frosting do with colors? I’ve made a Swiss buttercream, but all colors added turned out really pastel. Is it the same with an Italian buttercream?
    This icing makes fine colors. We recommend using paste or gel food coloring, not liquid. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  44. JuliaJ

    Do you have another recipe thread using all those leftover egg yolks??

    By the way, many brands of pasteurized egg whites in the dairy case say they’re not suitable for whipping–is there something in them that prevents whipping? I know that meringue powder takes a lot longer to whip than whites from whole eggs….

    You’re right, Julia, that the pasteurized whites in the dairy case won’t make a meringue, but I haven’t had any trouble with the meringue powder; once you whisk it with the water it comes up in the same amount of time as the fresh ones do. As for the egg yolks, if you bake bread you can always add two yolks for each egg any sweet bread recipe calls for. Custards, noodles or spaetzle, pastry cream (be still my heart), creme brulee and pots de creme, are the things I think of first for using up yolks.

    And flan…. be still MY heart! :) PJH

    Reply
  45. vel

    I have’t seen the roux based frosting actually used as frosting, but we do use it in making “gobs” (not whoopee pies!) and it’s phenomenal. It can be a challenge in making italian buttercream with a Kitchenaid but as has been said, Having the syrup in a pyrex measuring cup with spout does make it a lot easier.

    and Dorian Gray references, ah I love educated bakers :)

    And my dad wondered what I’d do with my liberal arts degree! —S

    Reply
  46. PlumLeaf

    An absolutely fabulous tutorial! Especially the ‘buttercream gone wrong’ & how to revive!
    My late grandad used to make buttercream with stork margarine & golden syrup and possibly something else. It was a bit on the sickly side and a pale ivory colour.
    Might have to give your tutorial a go! I usually make what you call American Buttercream, although here in UK it’s known as butter icing. I like it with lots of lemon juice and zest to make it more zingy!

    Happy to be of service. I like a bit of acidity in the frosting, too; keeps it from being too cloying, and lets the grassy notes from the butter shine through. Susan

    Reply
  47. Beth

    Hi Susan, do you happen to remember what size star tip you used to make the shell borders on the cake? And is that a 9-inch cake? I never seem to get the size of my shells correct. Yours are gorgeous. Maybe that could be part II of your decorating with buttercream blog. Thanks.

    Hi, Beth. I’m pretty sure that one’s a #7; it’s the one I use the most. The shell trick has to do with the generous squeeze and combining the letup in pressure from your hand with a bit of the “ta da” feeling as you do your tail-off. Think of it as a bit of a swoop. And you can always practice off the cake until you catch the rhythm, then move over and just keep going. Good luck. Susan

    Reply
  48. Dree

    THANK YOU!! I made the buttercream today (using another recipe) and it curdled like something awful. Your hairdryer trick saved the day!

    Don’t you love it when a common household item becomes just the right tool for such a specific task? Good for you!

    Reply
  49. Anne

    After I bought a carton of egg whites, I read in the recipe sidebar that they wouldn’t work in this recipe. Having nothing to lose, I tried whipping the equivalent of one egg white with my stand mixer–and it worked! Apparently the brand makes a difference. I made the recipe this evening, and WOW did I appreciate the tutorial and pictures! It curdled and splashed, but did, as you had promised, shape up into a silky, buttery wonder–and was one of the coolest processes I’ve ever seen!!! I’ve always wanted to make “real” butttercream–THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!

    Also, the picture of you next to your stack of buttercream containers is the cutest!

    Congratulations, Anne! Isn’t it wonderful to have that skill in your personal toolbox?

    Reply
  50. juthurst

    LOVE this post!
    As a young mother, I learned the W_lton way of cake decorating using American buttercream and made all my children’s cakes.
    A few year’s ago I picked up one of Dede Wilson’s books and my world was never the same.
    IMBC is now a staple for my cakes.
    I have tried the Swiss, but my eggs always seem to cook before the mixture reaches 160…
    Anyway, it was right back to IMBC for me.
    I teach food safety, so for me real egg whites were never even considered. I have tried both the meringue powder and the powdered egg whites. The only difference for me is that the powdered egg whites beat up to a fluffier meringue, at least in my humid climate in VA.
    I love the Vanilla Crush in this buttercream, and I don’t care about the speckles- they prove I use the Real Thing ;P and FLAVOR comes first!
    My favorite flavor combination so far is to use the Vanilla Bean IMBC in between the layers of Vanilla Bean Cake, then to pipe a frosting dam around the outside edge of the cake and then add a layer of cool fresh home made strawberry freezer jam sandwiched in between the frosting and the next cake layer.
    Mmmmm… heaven!

    Wow, I want to eat cake at YOUR house! Susan

    Reply
  51. Anton

    This post inspired me to try my hand at making some buttercream frosting. It came out pretty successful! I flavored it with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, with a dash of vanilla and a dash of cinnamon extract. Yum. Then I put it on gingerbread. I have never been so pleased with myself! Next up – coffee buttercream!

    We’re pretty pleased with you, too! Susan

    Reply
  52. stevend

    Great post and instructions, lots of detail and helpful photos.

    The recipe calls for meringue powder. Can this Italian buttercream frosting be made without it? If main purpose of using meringue powder is simplicity then I would just as soon save on the cost of the powder and shipping and use egg whites.
    Hi Steven,
    Here’s the info from the recipe on using fresh egg whites: If you want to use fresh egg whites instead of meringue powder, you’ll need 8 large whites, at room temperature, combined with 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. Pasteurized egg whites in cartons won’t work for this purpose. Hope this helps. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  53. krystinamarie

    I can’t wait to try this recipe! I’m just starting to mess with yeast (made my first pizza dough last week!) and bake from scratch. Now I’m going to have to detour into cake land so I can try this frosting… :)

    I’ve JUST found the KAF.com site about two weeks ago, and I just clicked on the blog tonight… I’ve been glued to my chair for an hour and have saved more recipes than I can count, including this one. Thank you all so much for producing such a wonderful resource for home cooks! Your products are amazing as well, I’m already on my second order…

    Glad you found us, Krystina – happy baking, and come back and visit often! Have you visited our community? How about our Facebook page? Both lots of fun… PJH

    Reply
  54. irleshay

    I am bookmarking this page! I’ve made both successful and unsuccessful batches of buttercream before, so I’m not confident enough. Thanks for taking all that time to break that buttercream, and the lead photo truly is dead sexy.

    Reply
  55. CarolynBakes

    Hi there:

    Can I use this buttercream to cover a cake and then top with Fondant? I have never tried to do it this way but am dying to try it… Next month is cake month for me since it’s valentines, mom’s b-day, baby shower…etc. so I wanted to try something better tasting than the regular standard WILTON buttercream? Please help! :0)) BTW, I love the cake…so awesome!

    Yes, a solid coat of buttercream will help create a base for the fondant to prevent “stripes” showing in the outside appearance of the cake, as well as creating smooth edges for the fondant. Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  56. junglejana

    very good directions! Mine never hit the curdled stage, perhaps I added the butter too slow. Well the cake was good, the icing was wonderful, but my husband said it was like watermelon and ketchup. The tastes did not go together. The cake was a very chocolatey one that I usually make a chocolate whipped cream type icing on. Do You have any good cake sugestions for this yummy icing? Oh and I had my daughter take out 3 stick of butter to come to room temp., and later read the recipe right only 2 sticks left in the fridge… I raided the butter dish.

    Reply
  57. Aaron Frank

    This is so cool.

    I almost never make real buttercream anymore because my wife prefers the American version (I always called it fake buttercream). If you ever need to break buttercream again let me know. I’m quite good at it. The first time I tried to make it my buttercream kept breaking. I was asiduosly following the directions of a very well known cake book to no avail. I called a pastry chef friend of mine who said “wait until the eggs/sugar mixture stops steaming” and since then my buttercream has not broken.

    For those who are piping with warm hands, I’ve found that keeping a bag of frozen peas nearby to cool my hands down works very well. People have walked in on me pressing my hands onto bags of frozen vegetables and it has been the source of much laughter.

    I usually will use leftover yolks to make custard or pastry cream.

    Thanks for a great tutorial!
    Buttercream can be the source of many frustrations whether it is in the mixing or the piping. I love the utilization of frozen vegetables idea, and think this could be the beginning of a buttercream support group! Thanks again for posting and happy baking!

    Reply
  58. Megan

    Hi,

    I made a cake today and used Swiss Buttercream. I wish I would have found this site earlier because I threw away an entire batch because I thought it was “broken”.

    My question is after I iced the entire cake and began decorating it, I noticed that the cake was “weeping”. Also I had some chunks of butter in the finished buttercream I used.

    It tasted good, and looked ok. It could have had a smoother appearance, but I felt it was fine.

    What causes the weeping? It seems that I should have whipped the buttercream longer to avoid the chunks, but it looked like it was breaking and I was too nervous to continue.

    What should I do differently in the future? I appreciate any feedback.

    Thanks!!

    From what you describe, I think a couple of things were happening. If you still had chunks of butter, it was probably not soft enough; it also sounds like you didn’t beat it long enough for a complete emulsion to occur, and thus the weeping. A buttercream is basically composed of drops of water suspended between fat particles. If you leave either part of the emulsion in a high enough concentration in the matrix, they’re going to try and “get back together”. That’s what you saw with the weeping. Extremes of temperature can also cause an emulsion to break, but your chunks clue leads me to believe it was the former. Susan

    Reply
  59. kathypest

    I made this for the first time two days ago and while DELICIOUS, it LOOKS like the “Mess” you purposely created when you added cold butter to meringue that had become too cool. But that is NOT what I did. I closely monitored the temp of the meringue and started to add butter when the meringue registered 80. At one point it took on the “curdled” look and then moved on to what you photographed on your blog. I stuck with it, hoping it would come together as you stated, but after about 5 minutes I decided to just use it in the state that it was. I did not want to toss due to all the ingredients (and TIME) invested. It could not even be spread on the cake, I had to “glop” it on. But everyone loves it and does not care about the horrid appearance. I still am not sure what I did wrong but I so appreciate your photos and commentary!!
    It sounds like things may have cooled down a little TOO much; next time if you find yourself in the same spot, give the hair dryer a try. Susan

    Reply
  60. tkmah

    I would also like to know which recipe you suggest for the cake that will best support this fabulous icing! I have three cakes to make this month…. How fun!
    Buttercream is excellent on all kinds of layer cakes. It’s a bit too heavy for angel food or chiffon cakes, but to die for on the classic butter cakes. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  61. tkmah

    Here I am again–I did a test run today, using the Tender White cake recipe and this icing. I made the mistake of using plain yogurt, so the cake does have that “tanginess” and the frosting is not nearly as sweet as I am used to. I wonder if I should add a little extra sugar to the cake. Also, the frosting doesn’t have much flavor–should I be a little more heavy handed with my extracts? And what flavors have any of you had good luck with? I’m particularly interested in Susan’s use of the coconut milk powder, as I have some on hand. Thank you all at KA for your tutelage!

    Hi; Susan here. For one batch of this buttercream I put 1/2 cup of coconut milk powder through a strainer to remove the lumps, then mix it in. I’ve also used as much 1/2 teaspoon of coconut flavoring at the same time. I’d recommend flavoring the frosting first, then adjusting for sweetness if you still think it needs it. If you’re going to add sugar, make it confectioners’, and sparingly. Straight granulated sugar into a buttercream that’s already formed is likely to pull the water out of suspension, and you’ll have broken (or at least weepy) frosting. Good luck!

    Reply
  62. misoranomegami

    Oh I could have shown you how to ruin a whole batch of buttercream! I once tried to make a cookies and cream icing and for some reason had the brilliant idea to add the cookies (which were ready) before the butter (which wasn’t) thinking that the hot sugar would have stabilized it. I deflated the entire pot of meringue in 4 turns of the mixer.
    OH, ouch!

    Reply
  63. pickyin

    Hi Susan, I’m intrigued by your preference for Italian versus Swiss and in your reply to winkle you mentioned it’s more “bulletproof”. Do you mean it’s more sturdy for decorating? I’ve worked with Swiss many times and love it but have never tried Italian. What about the difference in taste and texture? Is Italian lighter? Am sorry if you’ve previously talked about this but I can’t find the answers in the comments.

    Hi back. I find the Italian meringue to indeed be a little more sturdy for decorating; it’s a little tighter, and therefore more able to take on things like a half pint of fresh raspberries or passionfruit puree at the finish without any deleterious effects. As far as mouthfeel, it’s thicker, but when done correctly and with just enough salt, it’s incredibly silky as you eat it. So much moreso than American confectioners’ sugar frosting that some people have trouble with the texture if they’ve never had a “real” buttercream frosting. I hope this helps. Susan

    Reply
  64. Lala

    Hi Susan,

    I’ve tried making Swiss Meringue Buttercream and I cannot pipe a rose. With Italian Meringue do you think I can do roses? If not what can we do with it besides covering the cake and boarders? Thank you.

    Frank here. Both of these buttercreams may be used for decoration. However there is a big difference in the consistency between “icing” and “pipping”. The “tricks” to piping individually formed roses are:
    1) The buttercream must be the correct temperature, it needs to be almost plastic.
    2) If the buttercream is too airy and light, you will need to remove some of the air. Place a small amount into a bowl and beat is with a flat wooden paddle. This will help get the frosting to the correct consistency.
    Give it a try.
    Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  65. susanmcnamee

    can I use 1/2 powdered egg whites and 1/2 egg whites? I’d perfer not to use merengue powder. thanks! also, how much frosting does this one recipe make? I am making 4 dozen cupcakes.

    yes, that combination will certainly work; I’ve done it myself. The recipe makes at least 5 cups of frosting; depending on how much air gets whipped into it. If you’re piping with a large star tip, you’ll use more frosting than if you use a smaller one. You can also “stretch” the recipe by adding another 1/2 pound of butter. Susan

    Reply
  66. tkmah

    Hello, again. I’ve just made this icing again for the fourth (?) time this year, and it’s wonderful. I made a mistake today, and took the sugar syrup off the burner at 242 degrees instead of 248, and when I put the butter in (at the correct temp) it got very soupy, and I panicked and chatted with Amy, who reassured me it would be fine. I left the mixer running, and sure enough it pulled together and it absolutely marvelous! I also used 1/4 tsp of fiora de sicilia, which added wonderful, subtle, flavor. Thank you, KA, again!

    Reply
  67. Anita Jeffers

    I would like to put Italian Meringue on a cream pie like Butterscotch after the pie has cooled of course. Then brown the meringue just a little under the broiler for color. Do you think that would work ok?
    I am concerned about weeping. How could I make the meringue a little thicker or tighter?
    Would the meringue be safe to leave on the counter or in the frig?
    Thank you and Hugs for all your hard work!
    This sounds wonderful for a butterscotch pie! You can add about 1 tsp cornstarch per 4 egg whites to stabilize the meringue. I hope this is helpful. ~Amy
    If you’re doing an Italian meringue you’ll be cooking the sugar and it will be thoroughly dissolved, so that should keep things from weeping (undissolved sugar will take up water). Stir in a teaspoon of cornstarch to the sugar you rain into the egg whites when you’re whipping them (before the syrup is added). That make the meringue a little tighter and give you some weeping insurance.
    Susan

    Reply
  68. lex

    I’m wondering how long the buttercream can go before it needs to be refrigerated. Is it stable at room temp? and for how long? Great post!
    That depends on the environment in your kitchen or pantry. If it is relatively cool (62 – 64 degrees) you may keep it at room temp for up to 48 hours. You will always have to remix buttercream no matter how long it sits to “lift” it up. Apply a little heat (double boiler or very quick microwave) and use your paddle on your mixer or use a hand whisk. If the temps are like summer (75 degrees or more), buttercream should really be stored in the frig passed 6 hours at room temperature. Elisabeth

    Reply
  69. MayQueen

    I’ve made this butter cream twice now, however I am having lots of trouble with flavouring it. It always ends up tasting like PURE butter! I have no idea what I am doing wrong, but I know the frosting is not supposed to taste like a fluffy,whipped butterball! HELP!
    Hi. Without knowing what you’re using for flavor, I’m flying a little blind here, but one thing I’d advise is not to skip the salt. I’ve found it makes a big difference in the balance of the frosting. This recipe is pretty tolerant of flavor additions; I’ve successfully added coconut milk powder (up to 1/2 cup) and flavoring (ours is pretty strong, but you could go up to 1 teaspoon), espresso powder (1 to 2 tablespoons) dissolved in a tablespoonful of Kahlua along with 3 to 4 ounces of melted chocolate, citrus zest (as much as you want, almost), vanilla, almond, and vanilla-butternut flavorings. The strength of the flavors you get may depend on the age of your ingredients, too. I hope this helps. ~Susan

    Reply
  70. Vivian

    A long time ago an Austrian baker told me that he was taught to use a pudding base for his buttercream. This is somewhat the same process as is recommended by the Dr. Oetker people. Both the pudding (any flavour) and the creamed butter must be @ room temp to prevent curdling. It seems a lot less involved than the hot sugar syrup and meringue method but perhaps the trade-off is in the texture and pipability. I always loved the delicacy of the buttercream he made as opposed to the sugary one-note stuff of other commercial bakeries.

    Reply
  71. Francine

    Does this pipe well? I love the tutorial. I am looking for a frosting that is not too sweet and pipes well, not necessarily flowers, but stars and rosettes. Thanks.
    Yes, this buttercream is great for piping. ~Amy

    Reply
  72. PrincessPolkadot

    I do love buttercreams, and have worked my way through Swiss, Italian, French, roux-based (which is ALL of those in the “Baked: New Frontiers in American Baking” book), and German.

    Thus far, I prefer the German. It’s use of a constarch-thickened egg custard as the base is nearly fool-proof. AND I don’t mind making it when my kids are running around – which I’m not fond of doing with the hot syrup for Italian.

    My question – are there specific flavorings that should NOT be used in a buttercream? Will lemon or orange (fresh juice and zest) cause irreparable damange to the texture? I’ve used Nutella successfully, so I assume peanut butter would be OK. Just trying to save myself grief in the future…
    For lemon or orange, there are a some options. A citrus oil or extract is your best bet rather than using straight citrus juice. Added zest is always nice, too. For lemon, my go-to is fresh lemon curd. It does absolutely nothing to the texture other than flavor it beautifully (I am a Swiss or Italian Meringue BC user) and you do not need much. The only thing I have found a bit tricky is making chocolate BC. I gravitate towards dutch cocoa. I am careful to flavor a little at a time while sifting it in. I love the more mellow flavor cocoa gives. If you should add too much the BC can break. That is why you need to go at it slowly until you achieve the proper flavor and shade. Elisabeth

    Reply
  73. Hello Kitty

    You were not kidding about pouring a glass of wine! Wow, that took some perseverance. I do not have a stand mixer, so using a hand held mixer was probably my first problem. I also went the egg white/cream of tartar route. It seemed to turn to butter soup but not in the way pictured (soupy AND broken). I tried adding a little shortening, then I got out the hair dryer, I don’t know if it was the dryer or just mixing it a ton more, but it finally coalesced! May have to beg, borrow or buy a stand mixer next time I try this (and maybe just do the powder). Anyway, as has already been said by many others, thanks for breaking it down!

    Thanks for sharing your experience with this recipe – we admire your tenacity and creative winning ways. Happy Baking (or buttercream making?)! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  74. Hello Kitty

    I have a question – in this recipe, would it be possible to use just the dried egg whites you sell instead of fresh egg whites or meringue powder? The meringue powder has more sugar in it and I think the BC is quite sweet as it is. Or… if I use the meringue powder, is it OK to cut down on some of the sugar (either the 1/3 cup in the recipe that is added to the meringue powder when whipping or the amount added to water to make the sugar syrup)? Thanks.

    Yes, you can certainly use the dried egg whites. And I agree, you could cut the sugar. By using egg whites instead of meringue powder you’ll want to put a bit (1/2 teaspoon) of cream of tartar into them; use 1/4 cup of sugar with the whites when whipping, and reduce the sugar in the syrup by 1/4 cup. You can also drop the water in the syrup to 1/4 cup when you do so; it will keep the time for cooking it to temperature more in line. Susan

    Reply
  75. Tash

    Thank you so much for this post I was making a recipe of my mums which turned out to be just this and I was beginning to get worried when it looked like it was separating but seeing your pictures and reading the comments reassured me and I went back to it and it tastes and looks lovely thank you again.

    Reply
  76. Jordyn

    In the blog, you say you use 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening when adding the butter, to help the buttercream when outside in the summer. When you do this, do you change anything in the recipe? Like, add less butter?
    That is a great question, Jordyn. It may have been you I chatted with this morning in Livechat. Since then I have spoken to Susan Reid who is the author of this blog. Contrary to what I said earlier, Susan recommends adding the shortening in addition to the butter in the recipe. You could replace some of the butter with shortening and get the same result (more stable buttercream) but taste will be compromised. Butter just tastes better! Elisabeth

    Reply
  77. Barbara

    I’d like to add my homemade blueberry jam–would 1/2 cup about do it, or is that too much? Thanks.
    1/2 cup sounds like a good guess to me. You may want to add more by the spoonful to taste depending on level of flavor you are looking for. ~Amy

    Reply
  78. service

    Hi

    Why do you use meringue powder in this recipe instead of egg whites.
    You have the choice to use either meringue powder or fresh egg whites. If you want to use fresh egg whites instead of meringue powder, you’ll need 8 large whites, at room temperature, combined with 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. Meringue powder is pretty handy, though. It is easy to use. Elisabeth

    Reply
  79. poohbear72579

    I’m attempting to recreate my wedding cake (a two-layer version) as a celebration of our two-year wedding anniversary. Figuring out the frosting has been quite a stumper, though. It was called “almond buttercream” but the texture was very much like sliceable butter — melted in your mouth, but wasn’t really “airy” or “fluffy”.

    Would this recipe achieve that texture? How could I get maximum almondy-ness without adding too much liquid?
    Most traditional buttercream recipes are not fluffy. You could try our Fluffy White Buttercream Frosting and add almond extract in place of the vanilla if you’d like. ~Amy

    Reply
  80. poohbear72579

    Thanks, Amy. I’m definitely looking for something *not* fluffy. The ideal frosting would spread and then solidify to the consistency of slightly chilled butter. “American Buttercream” in my opinion, is a tad fluffy, but I’ve never tried Italian Buttercream. I think I’ll try it since it appears from the recipe photo the frosting has the consistency I’m looking for.

    Reply
  81. razastrakhan

    I’m inspired to give IMBC another try. I’m planning to make my daughter’s wedding cake (in March 2013, so I have time to experiment!). She wants mocha frosting. One of the previous suggestions was to add 1-2 T espresso powder dissolved in 1 T Kahlua + 3-4 oz melted chocolate, but another said to sift in Dutch cocoa (I assume I could add espresso powder to make it mocha). Which do you think would work best? Thanks so much!!!
    Using cocoa and espresso powder would be fine. The trick with using melted chocolate is that you have to have the chocolate cooled to the same temperature as the buttercream, or you will end up disturbing the butter temperature in the frosting, or end up with the chocolate hardening into chips as it is being incorporated. If you use ganache rather than straight chocolate, you will avoid these potential difficulties. I hope this is helpful. ~Amy

    Reply
  82. Eva

    I have recently become interested in cake decorating and have spent the past 2 months experimenting with different recipies for buttercream. Was hoping to find it soon as the “testing” is starting to make my pants smaller for some reason. Eureka! This is it! Hands down the best icing I have ever tasted. Not too sweet and the creamy texture is perfect. It’s like a little bit of heaven for the mouth. I’m not sure that I will ever make any other kind again. Thank you so much for the wonderful step-by-step directions. They make all the difference in the world when you are trying a recipe that timeing and temperature are so important. Labor intensive but worth all of the time and trouble.

    Reply
  83. Jessica

    I’m living in Italy right now and my Italian is basic, so I’m looking up the translations for “candy thermometer” and “meringue powder” so I can run to the store and buy them! I have cupcakes to frost for a baby shower tomorrow :) Thanks for the step-by-step directions, it looks like it would be much easier with a stand mixer…maybe I’ll try to borrow one from a friend.

    Reply
  84. trudy

    When I first learned to make Italian Buttercream my instructor told us to always change to the flat beater when adding the butter so that we would have a creamer icing and less air bubbles in the final product ….I notice it looks like you use the whip the whole time. Does it make a difference…just wondering…
    Would appreciate a comment.
    Hi Trudy,
    hmmm, I’ve only ever seen bakers and chefs using the whip. The beater idea does make sense for less air bubbles, but I wonder too about a less fluffy finished icing too. Anyone tried it both ways? ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  85. Gambles

    I’m getting ready to try this frosting for my mother’s birthday cake. I have 2 questions. First, can I use an emulsion instead of oil or extract to flavor it? After reading that food coloring in the liquid form will break it, I got very concerned about any other add ins. (I got obsessive and bought 8 emulsions!) That is actually for the future. For this cake, she asked for it to be orange flavor. So my 2nd question is: For that, what is the best way to achieve it? I have real oranges and zest, of course. I also have: Fiori di Scililia, orange Boyajian oil, Lorann orange oil, and KAF orange juice powder. (and possibly the Sweet Buttery Dough Emulsion since I love the slight citrus in that!)

    I’m really excited to try this. I’m looking forward to the Apple Spice Whoopie pies that use this buttercream in the future.
    Hi, Gambles. My first move for orange flavor is always fresh zest. You’d be amazed at how true the flavor will be from the zest of 1 orange, and it won’t compromise the handling quality of the frosting at all. A tablespoon of orange juice powder wouldn’t hurt. With any flavoring, it’s always a good idea to take a bit of the frosting (maybe a quarter cup) and mix in a teensy bit of whatever add in you’re considering to see how you like it. Susan
    And, thanks, of course, or all the help and info.

    Suzanne

    Reply
  86. Gambles

    Sorry, I forgot to ask: Does the cake I frost have to be refrigerated or can it be left out for a few days? We are short on space in the fridge!

    Thanks, Suzanne

    Suzanne: Buttercream shouldn’t sit at room temperature for more than 3 hours or so, but it freezes beautifully (both the frosting and cakes finished with it). Susan

    Reply
  87. Bonne Bouche

    The question regarding whisk vs paddle attachment– I did both making 2 batches for the same cake. The paddle batch was very compact and slightly difficult to spread. After the cake was cut the butter cream separated from the cake layers. It was not pretty. The whisk attachment layer just seemed to have a better texture, the butter was more incorporated and didn’t clog my piping tip. Now my question– can I add instant pudding to this butter cream to get a more mouse-like consistency? If so, should I make the pudding and add it in at the end, or just add some of the powder. If adding the powder, at what stage in the process?
    If you are looking for a mousse-like consistency, I would whip heavy cream in or fold whipped cream in at the end. The pudding mix will give the buttercream a more custard-like consistency. ~Amy

    Reply
  88. RainbowCakeMom

    Hello,

    I am in the process of making a fruity rainbow cake with white chocolate buttercream (American style). It is going to be a a 6 layer 9 inch cake. I want to use this buttercream recipe for the cake. Should I leave the white chocolate out and make just a plain buttercream (wondering about flavor overload)? Also, can I use powdered egg whites as a substitute for meringue powder? Can I refrigerate the cake after frosting? I don’t have enough room to put it in the freezer.
    I think the white chocolate will compliment the cake as long as there isn’t a wide variation of fruity flavors. If you want to use the powdered whites in place of the meringue powder, you will need to add about 1 tablespoon more sugar to the recipe and about 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar. ~Amy

    Reply
  89. Shannon M

    I just made this and it is incredible. Loved it. I think next time I’ll make it just a tad sweeter and make more of the sugar syrup. However, I was wondering if I could use just the meringue part; before adding the sugar syrup? I tasted it and it tasted like marshmallow. Yum!! Would this hold up as icing?
    Unfortunately, this would not make an ideal or stable icing

    Reply
  90. Dena Grant

    I AM ECSTATIC THAT THIS ITALIAN BUTTERCREAM CAN FREEZE!!!! BUT MY QUESTION IS…… THE SO CALLED PRACTICE BUTTERCREAM WITH TRANS FAT BEING TAKEN OUT OF “EVERYTHING!” THE PRACTICE BC WILL NOT HOLD COLOR BECAUSE IT SEPARATES W/O TRANS FAT. HOW DOES THIS DO ADDING COLOR???????

    We have not had any problems with the color separating from our practice buttercream. However, we do prefer to use a gel based food coloring, what do you use?-Jon

    Reply
  91. Venus

    I am making a 3 tiered layered cake for my niece’s sweet 16 on Sept 7. She wants the cake covered in fondant and was wondering what frosting would hold up to the added weight of the fondant and the humidity here in Hawaii. (I will have the AC on in the room that the cake will be displayed in.) I know the buttercream will be solid out of the fridge but I am concerned about it softening as the cake warms while on the table for the party. Will it start to droop from the weight? Would this IMBC be good for this purpose or would another buttercream be better? Also, as the cake warms do I need to be concerned about the cake “sweating”?

    I would suggest to give our Baker’s Hotline a call. I think this question will involve some conversation!-Jon 855 371 2253

    Reply
  92. Jen

    Is there a chocolate version of this?
    There are several different ways to flavor different buttercreams:
    The most basic flavor for this frosting is vanilla. But you can change it in all kinds of ways.

    *For coconut, add 1/2 teaspoon coconut flavoring and 1/2 cup coconut milk powder.

    *For chocolate, reserve 3/4 cup (6 ounces) of the butter from the recipe. Melt 1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate and cool to room temperature. Combine the melted chocolate and the butter until mixed, then add this mixture to the frosting.

    *For raspberry, add 2 tablespoons raspberry purée, or simply mix a half pint of fresh raspberries into the finished frosting.

    *For lemon (or orange), add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon (or orange) zest and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon (or orange) juice. You can also add 1 tablespoon lemon or orange juice powder to the egg whites before beating.

    Reply
  93. Shannon

    I am making a rosette wedding cake, and I’m wondering if this IMBC will be appropriate for the rosettes (piped directly on the cake using a 1M tip)? Will it be stable enough to hold the rosette form and shape without sweating or drooping or falling off the cake? (Wedding and reception are outdoors; temp will be around 75 deg F and quite humid) Do you have any tips to aid in this cake’s success? I was confident initially when I took the order, but I’m beginning to get “cold feet” (wedding humor).

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Shannon,
      Italian buttercream is excellent for wedding cakes. To help you get over the heebie-jeebies, check out one of our favorite resources; Wedding Cakes You Can Make by Dede Wilson. Excellent recipes, tips, and advice. Good luck!~ MJ

  94. dayna

    I’m planning to make a cupcake bouquet and want to try this icing for it. A few questions:
    1. will piped flowers–roses, hydrangeas, carnations–hold their shape? (I know to make sure my hand temp doesn’t melt the icing in the bag)
    2. will they stay on the cupcakes that are basically tilted 90 degrees (I don’t want the flowers to slide off!).
    3. If I ice them Sunday afternoon for an event Monday morning, do they need to be refrigerated (I don’t want the cupcakes to dry out)?
    4. If I DO have to refrigerate them, how long will it take for them to reach “good eating” temp again?

    this was such a helpful post! can’t wait to try it. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      In the words of another baker at KAF, the “tricks” to piping individually formed flowers are:
      1) The buttercream must be the correct temperature, it needs to be almost plastic.
      2) If the buttercream is too airy and light, you will need to remove some of the air. Place a small amount into a bowl and beat it with a flat wooden paddle. This will help get the frosting to the correct consistency.
      Yes, the cupcakes will need to be refrigerated – bringing them to room temp. around 15-20 minutes for best flavor and texture. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  95. ellie

    I am planning on baking a strawberry marble cake and want to use this frosting. It sounds so delicious and read great comments on it.

    I want to try somthing different but I do not have a mixer, as I always mix my cakes and frosting by hand. Saving $ to buy a professional mixer. But in the mean time I am having to mix by hand.

    Do you have any tips or advice on making this frosting by hand?

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Ellie,
      Well, my first thought was NO way. But in chatting with Betsy here at KAF and doing a little online research it seems like it could be possible. We would say that if you can, pick up an inexpensive hand mixer at the consignment shop. It will really help in making this icing.

      Barring that, I did find a little advice here on Daring Kitchen. The advice of two whisks should help, in our view. Betsy also recommends very, very soft butter. In fact, you’ll probably need to place the bowl in an ice bath every few minutes of whipping to get it to firm up. A large spatula for folding the icing over to cool it can be helpful too.

      Best of luck with this, be sure to let us know how it goes. ~ MJ

  96. Mary

    I have never made this before. Can i use half the butter and half shortening? or is all the butter needed. I know you said for piping to add 1/2 cup of shortening; or can it be possible to use butter flavor Crisco (1/2 the butter recipe and half butter Crisco?)

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Mary,
      While adding a little bit of Crisco can really help stabilize the icing, too much will give it a heavy, greasy feeling and taste. Stick with the 1/2 to 3/4 cup and yes, butter flavored it just fine. ~ MJ

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