In previous posts, I have given you recipes for the best (in my opinion) chocolate, white and yellow cakes. As I am making a birthday cake for Glambaby #1 (chocolate, with chocolate icing, long sprinkles and round sprinkles, and a Power Ranger on top; in case you were wondering), I realized that cake is not really cake without icing! To be honest, I was never a fan of the icing as I always found it too sweet, but then I discovered buttercream and I was won over. I am going to teach about the various types of buttercream (not all buttercreams are created equal) and share my favourite go-to icing recipe for Swiss Buttercream.
Simple Buttercream - For me, this is not even buttercream, however if you google buttercream recipes you are likely to find a recipe for Simple, Basic or American Buttercream. In its simplest form, it is icing sugar and butter beaten together. Flavouring extracts such as vanilla are usually added and milk is sometimes used to adjust the thickness. I find this frosting too sweet and its texture quite coarse. Since it is mostly butter, it does not stand up well in warm temperatures (not good if you are hosting an outdoor summer party)!
Flour Buttercream - Sometimes called, Ermine Frosting and often seen as a frosting for Red Velvet Cakes, Flour Buttercream is made by making a pudding base of flour, sugar and milk that you add to beaten butter once the base is cool. Flour Buttercream is less sweet and smoother than Simple Buttercream. It also has a lower fat content and extra structure from the pudding base, so it holds up better at warm temperatures.
Italian Buttercream - This and Swiss Buttercream are a buttery, smooth and not too sweet. They have light mouth-feel (but not light on calories). Italian Buttercream is based on Italian Meringue. Egg whites are whipped and then a hot syrup is slowly added to make the Italian Meringue, into which butter is incorporated. This buttercream is the most stable and since the syrup can be made with liquids other than water (Champagne Buttercream, anyone?) it allows for some creative flavouring.
Swiss Buttercream - Swiss Buttercream is my go to frosting. It is simpler to make than Italian Buttercream but still starts with a meringue (you guessed it a Swiss Meringue) so it is quite stable. To make a Swiss Meringue, egg whites and sugar are cooked over a double boiler and then beaten to resemble soft marshmallows. At this stage, the meringue is cooled and softened butter and flavouring are added in.
French Buttercream - French Buttercream can be made in the same fashion as Swiss or Italian Buttercream, however it usually made using a hot syrup (the Italian method). The difference with this buttercream is that is uses whole eggs, not just whites as in Swiss and Italian Buttercream. This means it has a higher fat content than Swiss and Italian Buttercreams, so it is less stable at warmer temperatures (again, not good for a summer party).
German Buttercream - German Buttercream (or Crème Mousseline) is not as common as the others, but it is delicious. It starts with pastry cream (made from milk, sugar, eggs, butter and cornstarch) into which softened butter, and sometimes icing sugar and additional flavourings, are beaten. This buttercream tends to be quite soft and usually is used as a filling.
Buttercream can be a base for any flavour you want to create. Here is a guide for adding flavours. Except for chocolate, just beat them into the buttercream.
When adding chocolate to buttercream, first mix it with about one-quarter of the buttercream. Then incorporate the rest.
- Chocolate: Melt 150g of dark chocolate (not unsweetened) and cool slightly. It must not be too cool or it will solidify before it is completely blended into the buttercream. Blend the chocolate with about ¼ of the buttercream and then blend into the rest of the buttercream.
- Coffee: Dissolve 10g (about 3 tbsp) instant coffee in 30ml (2 tbsp) of water and blend into buttercream.
- Caramel: Add 150g (about ½ cup); adjust to taste.
- Flavour Extracts: Start with about 3g (½ tsp); adjust to taste.
- Spirits and Liqueurs: Start with about 45g (3 Tbsp); adjust to taste.
- Fruit: Add 115g (about ½ cup) fruit purée; adjust to taste.
I will be honest, it takes a lot of beating to work the meringue and butter together, no big deal if you have a stand-mixer, but if you are using a hand mixer be prepared for a bit of an arm work-out! There is a point where your buttercream may look like a curdled mess, but just keep beating and you will be rewarded with creamy goodness! If you make Swiss Buttercream often enough you will come to know the “slapping” sound that happens the moment your mixture turns into buttercream!
This recipe is easily doubled in the stand-mixer. Left-over buttercream freezes well (and is delicious by the spoonful) so if you are worried about not having enough icing, double-up! Just leave frozen buttercream in the refrigerator overnight and then beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment until it is light and fluffy again (about 2 minutes).
(Makes about 5 cups - Enough to generously fill and ice a double layer cake)
125g (4) egg whites
225g (1 cup) granulated sugar
454g (2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2.5ml (½ tsp) lemon juice
3.75 (¾ tsp) vanilla, more to taste
pinch of kosher salt
Make sure all bowl and utensils are clean and free of any grease.
Whisk egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water until all sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm (about 50°C).
Place mixture in the bowl of a stand mixture and whip on medium-high speed until egg whites are cooled and the mixture looks like marshmallow cream.
Add butter a little at a time and beat until all butter is incorporated. Add salt, lemon juice, and vanilla.
Continue to beat until buttercream is light and fluffy. Use immediately or store at room temperature up to one day. Refrigerate for up to one week or freeze up to six months. Let refrigerated or frozen buttercream come to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment until light and fluffy before using.