The Essential Guide to Perfect Buttercream Frosting
Do you whizz up some butter and icing sugar for frosting, but it’s just not right? Do you see photos of cupcakes on Instagram with sugar filled clouds on top and wish your Buttercream was as light and airy? Well, here is my Video and Blog Tutorial for Buttercream 101.
Buttercream, the easiest frosting in the world to make. However, whilst anyone can make it, not everyone can make it well. When made properly, just 2 ingredients can be transformed into the most delicious cake condiment. Eating it should make angels sing, unicorns fly by, and rainbows light up the sky. However, when made badly the angels and Unicorns will stay far away!
I am on many cake groups and forums, and next to sinking cakes and slimy ganache, one of the biggest worries for people is their Buttercream Frosting. The concerns I see most are: It’s too gritty, it’s too greasy, it’s too stiff, it’s not light and fluffy, it’s got too many big air bubbles in it, or it’s not white enough.
So here are my top tips to making the Perfect Buttercream Frosting
1. Essential ingredients
Now I’m not being a cake snob when I say this, I say it for a reason. To make Buttercream you need butter! Not a baking spread, a butter substitute or margarine – but real BUTTER! This isn’t because I’m the cake police, it’s because it’s the right thing for the job. I prefer Unsalted, as it gives you more control to add salt if you think it needs it.
Butter has the correct quantities of fats and moisture. It stands up to being whipped and will form the necessary crust that buttercream creates.
If you try to make buttercream with a substitute, like ‘a spread’ the moisture content required to make it spreadable will play havoc with your buttercream consistency. You’ll have all sorts of problems and may need to add so much icing sugar your teeth will itch with the sweetness. It’ll also never crust over, and will be floppy, greasy and hard to work with
(or Powdered Sugar depending on where you live). The need for a good quality icing sugar cannot be understated.
Surprisingly, expensive or top brands aren’t always the best for the job. Icing sugar should be clump free, soft and fluffy.
Sadly, one of the biggest brands in the UK recently changed its anti-caking agent and now many bakers, including the very biggest and best, have turned away from it because it has a grainy consistency due to the maize they are using in its mix.
Find a brand that comes free flowing out of the bag, doesn’t have big clumps and when you pinch some between your fingers is soft and silky.
Although not ‘essential’, flavourings certainly help. I would recommend not using bottled flavourings as they can give an artificial taste in the mouth.
My favourite flavourings are Vanilla Extract, Strawberry Jam, Peanut Butter, Lemon Curd, Cocoa, Gingerbread Syrup, Strong Espresso Coffee and Marshmallow Fluff. Some may need a little extra icing sugar to counteract the extra moisture content, but play around with flavours, it’s a whole new world of experimentation.
The video shows me making buttercream on a winters day when it was -2 outside. I didn’t need any extra liquid because my butter was soft. If you feel you buttercream is too stiff you can add a dribble of either room temperature milk or water – add a little at a time as once its in you can’t take it out.
Make sure your ingredients are ready. Butter needs to be soft!! Not runny, not melted but soft. I would say if you could spread the butter on a slice of fresh white bread, without it pulling the bread apart, you’re in the right place.
Softened butter is essential in order to get the right whipping onsistency. If it is too stiff it won’t breakdown and combine with the icing sugar properly (and also it won’t do the gears on your mixer any good). If it’s too runny your Buttercream won’t be ‘cream’, it’ll be more like a sludgy mess.
There are a few ways to get butter to the correct softness, but my favourite is to cut it into cubes and place in a bowl. Pour lukewarm (not hot, not cold) water over it and let it stand for 5 minutes. Drain the water and you should be ready to go.
Next sift your icing sugar. You may be lucky and get a bag of icing sugar that is completely clumpless, but that’s rare. The finer and silkier you can get your icing sugar before you start, the better.
This is the easiest recipe to remember – its 2:1.
2 parts Icing Sugar to 1 part Butter.
In the UK butter usually comes in 250gm blocks, and Icing Sugar in 500gm bags – 2:1 already measured for you – what could be easier?!
4. Your mixer
If you have a stand mixer use the paddle attachment, the whisk just isn’t man enough for the job.
If you have a hand mixer use the whisk attachments.
If you have to hand mix use a good set of arm muscles.
5.Mixing it up
So onto making the buttercream. First put the butter in the mixer bowl and whip it on high speed for a minute or so. You want it all broken down and ready to make friends with the icing sugar.
Next put in the icing sugar. If you have a mixer with a cover, then lucky you! Use it!! If you don’t, place a damp tea towel over your mixer, because when you turn it on you are will be covered in a cloud of white sweetness.
Mix on low while the icing sugar and butter are getting to know each other. Mixing slowly will make sure the two ingredients become fully combined. As it all comes together the mixer will start to slow down and struggle a bit, work through this as your buttercream will soon start to look like it should.
6. The Secret to Success
When it looks like a yellowy, creamy mix turn your mixer to full and mix for AT LEAST FIVE MINUTES – the longer the better. And this is the secret.
Whipping it on full speed will achieve 2 things. Firstly, the sugar will dissolve into the butter, eradicating any graininess. Secondly, you’ll add air. This is what makes it light in texture and colour. The longer you whip it the brighter it’ll get.
This is when the magic happens and a thick buttery mix turns into a light, pillowy, cloud like frosting. You’ll be grateful to turn the sound of the mixer off, because believe me it hurts your ears, but it’ll be worth it, I promise!!
7. Use it or Store it
At this point it can be piped onto cupcakes, spread as a filling or used to cover a cake.
Buttercream will last several days (I’ve even kept it for a couple of weeks) covered in the fridge, or up to 3 months in the freezer. To bring it back to the consistency you want, allow to come to room temperature and give it another good blast in the mixer.
Just for the record
You will never get bright white buttercream because you started with a ‘cream’ colour butter, but the more air that goes into it, the lighter it becomes. There are tricks to get it whiter, but that involves adding colours….message me if you want to know these tricks.
This buttercream is ideal for filling cakes, piping on cupcakes and crumbcoating and covering cakes. It may have too much air for piping flowers so cutting down the whipping time or beating the air out with a spatula would be recommended.