Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Buttercream Frosting

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You scream I scream for buttercream.  For many years I did not eat buttercream frosting, I would remove it from my cakes and cupcakes. Yup, you read correctly. 

The main reason is, when I was growing up I loved buttercream so much I ate it right off the spoon.  Not to mention, my aunt was a cake decorator and we were her testers.  One summer while she was finishing up her class on wedding cakes, my older sister and I ate so much buttercream and royal icing that we were literally sick of it.  My older sister recovered, but me not so much.  I believe it was a bit too much for my young palette.

Fast forward to seven years ago when I started cake decorating, I realized that one needs buttercream on cakes.  Shocker.  It’s like having socks without shoes you can get along fine but eventually, you need shoes.  Well, maybe not that extreme.

I was only familiar with American buttercream.  So guess what?  That’s what I used.  No doubt American buttercream is sweet.  I needed something else. Nevertheless, I did some research.  I found out there are many different types of buttercream.  Did you know that?

Buttercream frosting is very versatile.

If you have made cakes or cupcakes, you have used buttercream frosting whether it’s in a container or homemade.  The buttercream that you use may be based on your taste or what is the easiest to make at that time.  This guide is here for you to choose which one of these buttercream frosting is best for you:

  • American buttercream i.e. cream cheese, crusting etc.
  • Flour buttercream, also known as Ermine’s frosting
  • Lauren’s Kitchen buttercream
  • French buttercream
  • Italian buttercream
  • Swiss buttercreamultimate buttercream guide

Things to keep in mind.

  • Make sure eggs and butter are at room temperature.
  • Room temperature butter does not mean close to melting.  Taking the butter out about thirty minutes before should be good enough.
  • Also, make sure your buttercream comes to room temperature before you eat or try to use it to frost a cake.
  • I suggest you use a stand mixer for meringue based buttercream.

American Buttercream

American buttercream  frosting is made with softened butter and powdered sugar also called confectioners’ sugar.  Adding heavy cream and vanilla bumps up the flavor and makes it more workable.  The more liquid you add, the thinner the buttercream.  This buttercream is very very sweet.  Regular American buttercream does not hold up very well in warmer temperatures and will melt off the cake.

American buttercream made with shortening is called a crusting buttercream.  The buttercream forms a crust and can be smoothed out with a viva paper towel.  It can be used if someone doesn’t want fondant.  This buttercream is extremely sweet, but it holds up very well to the heat.  Shortening doesn’t melt in the heat.  Perfect for summer cakes.  However, shortening gives it a slightly greasy taste.American Buttercream

Cream Cheese frosting is an American buttercream that is made with cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar.  It is sweet and tangy and delicious.  This buttercream is best when paired with carrot cake and red velvet cake.  It can also be made as a crusting buttercream by adding shortening.  I learned the hard way DO NOT use as the final buttercream before covering with fondant.  Take my word for it, don’t do it.  I used it on a cake I brought to Christmas dinner and I watching the never-ending condensation.  Now, I use it as a filling if I am going to cover the cake in fondant.

Ermine’s Buttercream Frosting

Ermine’s buttercream frosting is made with flour, sugar, vanilla, and butter.  You mix milk and flour together to form a base like pudding.  Then add butter that has been creamed with sugar to the mixture once it is completely cool.  What I have learned is it is better to melt the sugar with the flour and milk.  Otherwise, you will have to keep mixing to take the grittiness out from the sugar.  Surprisingly, it does not taste the flour.  It is not sweet at all, however it became soft and gritty at room temperature.  It does pipe beautifully.  From what I have read it was traditionally paired with red velvet. I have not tried it.Ermines Frosting

Lauren’s Kitchen Buttercream

Lauren’s Kitchen buttercream is a meringue buttercream except it does not require the hot sugar drizzle or the time it takes to make.  It is basically pasteurized egg whites that have been beaten with powdered sugar until it’s nice and fluffy. Then butter is added for a stable buttercream.  It takes about 10 minutes to make and is not super-sweet.  It can be used under fondant and can be used to pipe beautiful flowers.Lauren Kitchen's buttercream
Craftsy Cake Decorating Class

French Buttercream

French buttercream is a rich buttercream that is very soft.  It is made with egg yolks that have been beaten until it is thick and foamy, then by drizzling a hot sugar syrup mixture that has been heated up to 235 degrees.  The process is like the Italian Meringue Buttercream and Swiss Meringue buttercream in that the butter is added after the mixture is cold to touch or room temperature.  It has a higher fat content and is yellow in color.

I was surprised that I did not get the volume that I normally get from the beating egg whites.  However, it is buttery, delicious and not sweet at all.  It is too soft and best if used as a filling, when I piped this buttercream, it almost fell over when I moved it.  After a couple of hours it became a puddle.  It will not work well under fondant.French Meringue Buttercream

Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC)

Italian Meringue buttercream is my favorite.  It tastes like ice cream, it is silky, smooth and is not sweet at all.  IMBC is made with egg whites that have been beaten to soft peaks and then drizzled with hot sugar that has been brought to a soft ball stage (240 degrees).  The butter is added once the hot sugar and meringue is cool to touch or room temperature.

This buttercream is not for the faint of heart because it takes some time to master.  If you are not careful and the buttercream is added too early, you will have a soupy mess.  But, it is well worth the time.  It is smooth, delicious and holds up well in warmer temperatures.  It is my go-to buttercream for every season, especially summer.Italian Meringue Buttercream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is another favorite of mine.  It is not my go-to buttercream, but it is a great option when short on time.  This is made by mixing the egg whites and sugar over a hot water bath until the sugar dissolves and it is warm to the touch or reaches 140 degrees.  It is much easier to make than the Italian Meringue buttercream and is velvety, silky, smooth and not sweet at all.  I have seen various versions of this buttercream including adding shortening and powdered sugar.  But, I believe that by adding powdered sugar it changes it from the traditional Swiss Meringue buttercream.  It does, however, soften in warmer temperatures and works great under fondant.Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Every once in a while you encounter some trouble with meringue based buttercream.  Here are some solution:

Problem Solution
My Italian meringue buttercream or Swiss Meringue buttercream is curdled and looks like cottage cheese. Add a tablespoon of the meringue buttercream in a microwave-safe cup and microwave for 10 seconds. Then add the meringue back to the mixing bowl on high and watch the buttercream come back to life.

 

I have been mixing my meringue with the hot sugar for a long time and the Meringue is still hot. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 10-20 minutes then beat the meringue for a few minutes, then add butter
My meringue buttercream is broken and is a soupy mess. This happens when you place the butter in before the Meringue mixture gets to room temperature Place the meringue in the refrigerator for 10-20 minutes, and then beat again.  The only problem is this broken buttercream might not be as great as it was if it came together on its own.
When I color my buttercream it has speckled colors inside. Take a small portion of the meringue and color that the preferred color.  Once the buttercream is finished add the colored meringue to the buttercream.  Should not have any speckled color.

ultimate guide to choosing the best buttercream frosting

What is your go-to buttercream frosting?  Let us know why you like it by commenting below.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Susan Block | 19th Oct 17

    This is a very helpful summary of buttercream frostings! Do you have a link to the recipes for these types?

    • G | 19th Oct 17

      Of course recipes are going up soon

  2. Liz | 21st Oct 17

    I am a hobby baker, and have tried SMB, works fine with me. I would like to try the IMBC. Thank you for the info on all these buttercreams.

    • G | 21st Oct 17

      Hi Liz the IMBC is labor of love. It’s just a different method from the SMB. But it is very stable and delicious. Recipe will be up soon.

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