Everything you need to know about Buttercream – Buttercream Basics
Making a good batch of buttercream frosting isn’t hard, even if you are a novice or new baker. It gets easier one batch at a time especially if you know buttercream basics. Understanding the ingredients and how they work with each other is helpful. Today I’m going to share how I take care of some buttercream problems and give you a good buttercream 101, so you can use it as a buttercream guide.
When I started cake decorating, people weren’t so open about sharing, so it was a difficult time. Some of us learned tips, tricks and troubleshooting the hard way by experiencing it ourselves. There is a more natural way – reading and learning from other’s experiences. However, these days everyone claims to have a solution to your problem, so filtering out information these days has become a bigger issue for me. Do you feel the same?
Today, I’m going to answer some of the many questions I often get asked about buttercream. Having been making buttercream for so many years, I hope you will trust me to share a few basics with you. If you do use my tips or find my information useful, please do let me know in the comments below. Of course, if you have a question about buttercream, yes, feel free to ask away. I may even add some to this list below.
A basic buttercream has three main ingredients mainly fat, sugar and liquid. When mixed these can give you the best buttercream frosting ever. Things start to get interesting as you play with these three ingredients. Change the proportions of ingredients, fat ratios, or change the type of liquid.
Honestly, this can be a fun experience if you know what you are doing. Or what to expect with a specific outcome. It’s when we experiment in unfamiliar territories that’ when things get complicated and disasters happen.
I’m usually not afraid of disasters, some of my favorite recipes have been a result of a few setbacks but when accidents happen at the wrong time they can be frustrating. Right? For example, if you are making a birthday cake, you want a good, perfect buttercream frosting with the right consistency and not grainy or gritty.
What are the different Types of frostings?
I know the number of buttercream and frosting recipes can be overwhelming and sometimes confusing. In general, we can categories these as
- Butter-based buttercream – simple all-purpose buttercream like my velvet American buttercream, Vanilla buttercream (eggless)
- Decorators buttercream frosting – often with all or some vegetable shortening to prevent the frosting from melting easily like my Bakery style frostings – Vanilla and Chocolate frosting
- Cream Cheese based frosting– made with cream cheese often with or without butter like my classic cream cheese made with butter which adds more stability and my no-butter cream cheese frosting when you want a more luxurious dessert type frosting.
- Meringue buttercream – made with the addition of whipped egg whites. Less sweet than the classic butter-based buttercream like my Swiss Meringue or Italian Meringue
- Egg-based buttercream – like this French and German buttercream made with egg yolks and whipped to make a light and fluffy frosting with the addition of butter.
- Whipped Cream Frosting – the lightest of them all is, of course, simple whipped cream. I shared 5 different methods to make whipped cream at home. As well as a whipped cream buttercream frosting.
Let’s talk about the five main categories these fall under? (Save/Pin)
American Buttercream (AMBC) (recipe here)
- Sweetest of them all.
- Most common & easiest to make
- Usually made with Fat (Butter/Veg Shortening) + Powder Sugar + Liquid (water, Milk or cream) + Flavoring (vanilla or other)
- Has a long shelf life and doesn’t need refrigeration for up to a few days unless stated otherwise
Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) (recipe here)
- A lighter and fluffier meringue-based buttercream.
- It is made with Egg whites and sugar cooked in a double boiler + Butter & flavoring.
- Is perishable and needs to be kept refrigerated.
Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC) (recipe here)
- Lighter and Fluffier meringue-based buttercream very similar to SMBC
- Made by pouring hot sugar syrup over egg whites + Butter & Flavoring
- Is perishable and needs to be kept refrigerated.
French Buttercream (FBC) (recipe here)
- Rich, Creamy & Luxurious
- Contains egg yolks
- Less sweet than American buttercream
- Usually made with egg yolks, butter, sugar, flavoring.
- Is perishable and needs to be kept refrigerated at all
German Buttercream (GBC)
- A custard /vanilla pastry cream based buttercream
- Usually made with custard /Vanilla pastry cream + Butter and flavoring
- Can be made with eggs or without (use my eggless vanilla pastry cream to make an Eggless German Buttercream)
- Is still Perishable and needs to be kept refrigerated at all times.
How to make frosting with Crisco?
Crisco is a brand of vegetable shortening in the US. You can use any local vegetable shortening you find in your local supermarket. Some of the familiar brands found are Trex, Short Bright, Dalda, etc.
Recipe – A good ratio to use is 1:4 parts fat to sugar.
- So for every 1 cup vegetable shortening add 4 cups of powdered sugar and 1 tbsp vanilla extract.
- Add from 1 to 4 tbsp water depending on the consistency you need.
Is frosting made with vegetable shortening better?
That’s not true. It depends on the project you need to use it. Shortening based buttercream is considered better only in some conditions. It has a longer shelf life and can be kept out on the counter for over a month if stored well. Is non-dairy, as well as parve.
How to make fluffy frosting? What to do if my frosting is too runny? How to make frosting thicker?
There are many ways to thicken the frosting. It mostly depends on how runny or how thick you want it.
- Most commonly used practices are – add more powdered sugar which tends to make the frosting sweeter.
- Another suggestion often used is meringue powder which does help build volume just like adding whipped egg whites to the frosting.
- Whipping cream – I love this one very much, but often people do not do it right. The purpose of adding whipped cream as a thickener works if you beat the buttercream until the cream combined builds volume. If not, it will make your frosting runnier.
How to fix grainy buttercream frosting?
How many of us have had to deal with grainy buttercream/ gritty buttercream? (Save/Pin)
Me too! It can be, so frustrating, right? When I started, cake decorating people weren’t so open about sharing, so it was a difficult time. So we had to learn the hard way. The hard-way has been a massive part of my baking career which is why I started this whole Tip Thursday sessions on my Facebook Page. And I’m so happy that they are so well received.
One of my earlier issues with buttercream was grainy buttercream, and I kept thinking I should add more liquid. Then I’d have another problem that my frosting would be too soft. Of course, if that wasn’t enough sometimes I’d end up with broken, split or separated buttercream. Gah!! just thinking of these days makes me wanna scream.
People often say adding liquid helps with taking away the grittiness but then how much liquid you add to your batch of buttercream? But what if you wanted to make stiff buttercream frosting for piping flowers? The consistency for piping roses is not the same as the consistency for crumb coating your cake.
Ah well, that’s all in the past. Now I know correctly what to do with my buttercreams. Over the last few years, I’ve read enough and made enough buttercream to come up with my fixes. Today I’m going to show you my method to fix gritty buttercream or grainy frostings.
How to avoid grainy buttercream/ gritty buttercream frosting?
The type of sugar used – Often the biggest culprit.
All powdered sugar is not the same. Some powdered sugar is made with beet sugar, while some are with cane sugar. Some powdered sugar uses cornstarch as an anti-caking ingredient, some use potato starch, and then a few use tapioca or others as well.
While they all work for buttercream – they all work differently. For example, powdered sugar made from beet sugar doesn’t dissolve as quickly as powdered sugar made from cane sugar. The possibility of a grainy buttercream is higher in powdered sugar made from beet sugar. So, the next time you need to buy powdered sugar read the label and make sure you purchase powdered sugar made from cane sugar.
Adding liquid-Don’t be afraid to add liquid to your buttercream. Understand that it is an essential ingredient in helping things all come together or as we like to say marry all the flavors. A liquid can be water, milk, cream, juice.
How to fix grainy buttercream?
If you have the right sugar and the right amount of liquid, mixing the two should give you a good buttercream. If it’s gritty, first try mixing it some more to make sure you have given the sugar enough mixing time. If it’s still gritty perhaps you need a little more moisture.
- The most common solution people give is to add more liquid to your buttercream as this will help melt the sugar. Do this with caution.&
- Another proven method has been to let the buttercream rest for a few hours or overnight. Then whip it again, and it should help fix it. The resting softens the sugar granules which then melts away with re-mixing.
- You can also add melted, cooled chocolate to the buttercream (white or dark chocolate). This usually works great to mask the grainy buttercream.
And How to make stiff buttercream icing? When to use stiff buttercream frosting?
Stiff buttercream is always best made from scratch. If you need to pipe ruffles, frills or defined patterns you need stiff buttercream frosting. To make the best buttercream flowers use stiff buttercream. You can find my recipe for stiff buttercream for piping flowers here along with a video on how to make it and use it.
How to fix soupy buttercream? Broken buttercream? Curdled buttercream?
My buttercream has separated. How to fix separated buttercream?
This usually happens with meringue-based buttercream frosting. It breaks my heart when people write a comment that they threw away their buttercream because it became a soupy mess. There is a simple and easy fix to this soupy, broken, curdled, separated buttercream.
- As a precaution – always make sure the meringue is COOL before you add the butter. If you are not sure don’t add the butter – give it a minute or two more.
- If butter is added too early, the warm meringue will melt the butter turning the mixture into a meringue soup. DON’T PANIC.
Here is how to FIX it –
- Place the whole mixer bowl in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes.
- When chilled, whip the hell out of that cooled mixture with a paddle attachment. The buttercream will start to come together again and before you know it – it will be smooth and velvety again.
- 99% of FAIL MERINGUE BUTTERCREAMS ARE A RESULT OF ADDING BUTTER TOO EARLY!! If necessary walk away. If you not sure give it 5 more minutes but add butter only when the meringue is cooled.
Why does my buttercream split when adding color?
Different brands work differently, and while will blend beautifully there are those that will split or break the buttercream as soon as you add color — there are many ways to fix this problem.
- The simplest is, of course, add a little more powdered sugar. This will work great if you have used a few drops of gel food color. However, if you add supermarket type water-based food colors, you are going to need more than a few tablespoons of powdered sugar.
- Meringue powder – works as a thickener in the buttercream by adding some volume, just like whipping some egg whites into the buttercream.
- My fix – Cornstarch – my favorite way to thicken buttercream is cornstarch. Works like magic. For every 1 pound (1/2 kg) powdered sugar add 1 tbsp cornstarch and whip the buttercream well. The cornstarch will combine with the fat and sugar creating a beautiful homogenization.
How to fix air bubbles in buttercream? Remove air from your icing?
Air bubbles are a problem in buttercream when you want to frost smooth sides or when you want to do some piping. Ideally what you want to do is remove the air pockets in the buttercream. We cake decorators often refer to this as down beating your buttercream. What this means is to take a big flat spatula and paddle the buttercream in a smoothing motion — flattening the buttercream in the bowl. You will feel the volume of your buttercream gets lesser.
How to fix dry buttercream? (Save/Pin)
This is often an issue faced with new bakers. They are afraid to add too much liquid in the buttercream but instead, they add too little or none at all.
The buttercream looks ok when it is fresh, but as it rests in the bowl, it starts to look dry and cakey. On the cake, it will begin to crack and often you will see crack lines on the finished cake. If you try to make flowers, they will have too many cracked edges which don’t make for pretty flowers.
First, don’t be afraid to add liquid to your buttercream. Understand that it is an essential ingredient in helping things all come together or as we like to say marry all the flavors. A liquid can be water, milk, cream, juice.
The most common fix suggested is to add a few tablespoons of liquid (water, milk, cream, juice). This can sometimes lead to splitting or separating.
Tips to avoid buttercream disasters – Buttercream Basics
- Use room temperature butter – Cold butter will give you a thick lumpy buttercream frosting. Melted butter will give cause separation, curdling etc. So always take the butter out of the fridge in winter an hour or two before and in summer 20 to 30 minutes may be just fine.
- Fat ratio – Buttercream is supposed to be made with butter which is high in fat. It’s the fat in the butter that combines with the powdered sugar and liquid to create a delicious frosting. You can substitute, but, with caution.
For example, if you use margarine instead of butter – note that margarine has more water content in it. Which means you need to adjust the recipe accordingly.
If you use vegetable shortening instead of butter again you need to adjust; otherwise, it can split or break.
- The type of sugar used – All powdered sugar is not the same. Some powdered sugars are made with beet sugar; some are made with cane sugar. Some powdered sugar uses cornstarch as an anti-caking ingredient, some use potato starch, and then a few use tapioca or others as well.
While they all work for buttercream – they all work differently. For example, powdered sugar made from beet sugar doesn’t dissolve as quickly as powdered sugar made from cane sugar. The possibility of a grainy buttercream is higher in powdered sugar made from beet sugar.
- Type and quantity of liquid – This depends on the type of buttercream you are using. Buttercream needs fluid but in just the right amount. Add too much, and you have a runny buttercream. Add too little, and you have a dry, broken buttercream.
The liquid can be – water, milk, cream, juice. Water, milk, and juice work quite the same and must be used cautiously. Cream on the other is thicker and works differently.
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Have you seen or tried any of my buttercream or fondant recipes?
- Velvet American Buttercream
- Stiff Buttercream for piping buttercream flowers
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream – Italian Meringue Buttercream
- 5 -Mins Vanilla Buttercream Frosting or Bakery-Style Vanilla Frosting
- and 5-Mins Chocolate Buttercream Frosting or Bakery-Style Chocolate Frosting
- One buttercream recipe – many different flavors – how to
- Classic Cream Cheese Frosting or NO-Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- Best homemade Fondant Recipe
- Vegetarian Fondant
- Marshmallow Fondant
- Best Vanilla Sugar Cookies
- Royal Icing Basics