How To Make Buttercream Like A Pro.
Whether it’s a cake or a batch of cupcakes, nothing takes your bake to the next level like a super smooth buttercream.
Perfect buttercream is full of flavour, perfectly compliments your sponge, and melts in the mouth.
When it comes to making buttercream, basic or, American buttercream as it’s sometimes known, is the quickest and easiest.
Buttercream vs Frosting
It’s important to note that buttercream and frosting are very different things. Anything labeled as frosting contains no butter and is made with vegetable based fat or a shortening like Crisco in the US or Trex in the UK.
Frosting is made following more or less the same method used for making buttercream.
But the flavour and mouthfeel are very different.
What’s the difference?
Butter has a melting point of around 35c, your normal body temperature is roughly 37c. When you bite into that slice of cake your mouth is at the perfect temperature to melt the butter and release all that glorious buttery flavour.
Shortening, on the other hand, has a much higher melting point at 47c. This is why it is commonly used in buttercreams made in warmer climates. What this means is it doesn’t melt in your mouth, leaving you with a blob of icing with a meringue-like consistency.
Which can feel a little odd.
vegetable based fats have lower melting points than butter so no meringue blobs to deal with as frosting made using these fats melt quickly in your mouth. They do however tend to leave an oily film in your mouth without the benefit of that creamy buttery taste.
Common mistakes to avoid when making buttercream.
So what can you do when making buttercream to ensure your perfect sponge isn’t spoilt by a batch of gritty, unpalatable goo.
These are the most common mistakes people make with their buttercream and how you can avoid doing the same.
The comments and tips that follow apply to the making of basic buttercream where the core ingredients are butter and icing sugar.
Mistake # 1: Using butter that is too firm or too soft
The consistency of your butter is crucial when making buttercream. If your butter is too firm it will be difficult to combine with your icing sugar and you’ll end up with lumpy buttercream. Too soft and your buttercream will be runny and oily, unable to hold it’s shape particularly if you intend to use it for any kind of piping.
Remove your butter from the fridge a couple of hours before you need to make your buttercream, bearing in mind that more or less time may be required depending on the temperature of your room. Your butter is the right consistency when pressing a finger onto its surface easily leaves an indentation.
If time isn’t on your side, give your butter a quick blast in the microwave, but be warned it only takes a few seconds to go from solid block to oily pool, and at this point, it will be completely useless for the purposes of making buttercream.
An alternative method to quickly soften butter is to place the amount you need onto a saucer or plate. Fill a glass heatproof bowl with just-boiled water and carefully swish this around the bowl. Pour out the water and place the overturned bowl over the plate with the butter. Leave for about 5-10mins. The heat from the bowl will warm the air molecules trapped under the bowl via convection and this warm air will soften the butter. You may need to repeat if the first attempt the butter is still firm.
Mistake #2: Incorrect butter to icing sugar ratio
This refers to the amount of butter being used relative to the amount of icing sugar. The ratio that works best is 1:2. Which is twice as much icing sugar as butter. For every 250g butter, use 500g icing sugar, which works out as one pack of standard-sized butter to one pack of most supermarket sized boxes of icing sugar.
This ratio will make what’s referred to as a crusting buttercream, which is very versatile and can be used for filling and coating cakes and also for piping swirls and flowers that will hold their shape.
If you use more butter, or less icing sugar your buttercream will be softer which might be OK for filling and covering cakes but may not be suitable for piping with. Using less butter or more icing sugar, will not only result in an extremely sweet buttercream but one which may be too firm to easily fill or cover your cake and you may end up destroying the delicate crumb of your cake. It will also be very difficult to pipe with.
If you’ve made your buttercream and it’s on the firm side, you can always add a couple of tablespoons of cooled boiled water to soften the consistency and make it easier to spread. Chill buttercream that is too soft for 15-20mins to achieve a firmer consistency.
Mistake #3: Throwing it all in a bowl and hoping for the best 🙏🤞
Making buttercream may only require two core ingredients, butter, and icing sugar but you still need to be mindful of how you combine these ingredients. A lot of recipes will instruct you to add both ingredients to your bowl and give them a good mix. Don’t do it! Not unless you want a huge icing sugar cloud to descend upon your kitchen, messy work surfaces, and lumpy buttercream.
A foolproof method for making buttercream.
This method makes the best and smoothest buttercream quickly and with minimal mess.
- I highly recommend using a stand or handheld mixer for this. Using a stand mixer means you can get away with your butter being slightly on the firmer side as the power of the mixer will warm and soften the butter as it beats. If you are using a handheld mixer your butter will need to be on the softer side.
- Make sure you are using the beater attachment for your mixer and not the whisk. The whisk is better suited for making meringue-based buttercreams.
- Beat your softened butter, and only the butter, in the bowl of your mixer on high for about 3-5mins. This further softens your butter and begins to incorporate air which will make your buttercream light and fluffy. Butter tends to have a yellow colour, the strength of this colour will depend on your brand of butter. Trapping air in the butter has the added benefit of lightening its colour. This is useful if you need to make off white buttercream particularly if you are planning to colour it, as you will achieve a truer colour. Adding blue food colouring to buttercream that hasn’t been sufficiently beaten can result in a green colour, or adding red can result in peachy or orange shades.
- Add 1/3 of your icing sugar to the beaten butter and continue to beat for 1-2 mins. There is no need to sift the icing sugar unless it looks particularly lumpy.
- Repeat step 4 twice more.
- Once all the icing sugar has been added scrape the bowl and beat on high for 2 mins. DO NOT overbeat at this point as the butter will become too warm and the fat and water in the butter will start to separate and you will have cottage cheese instead of buttercream. 🤢 If it does split you should be able to save it by popping the bowl in the fridge and chilling for about 15mins then mix with a spatula by hand to bring it back together.
- If your buttercream is too firm it can be thinned with a couple of tablespoons of cooled boiled water.
- Store your buttercream in an airtight container in the fridge with cling film touching the surface for up to 4 weeks or use by the date on your butter wrapper.
Mistake #4: Adding too much liquid to your buttercream
Once you’ve made your buttercream you want to make sure the consistency stays the same so it’s appropriate for the purpose you intend to use it for. Anything you add to your buttercream whether that’s flavour or colour needs to be concentrated to avoid adding too much liquid which can change its consistency.
Citrus flavoured buttercreams can be made by adding the zest of the fruits, instead of the juice. But a quicker and better way to include these flavours is to make your buttercream using flavoured icing sugar. Use the same quantity of icing sugar as you would use plain icing sugar. It’s a quick and consistent way to add flavour when making buttercream.
Adding liquid colours to your buttercream will also change the consistency so invest in some good concentrated gel colours and you will be amazed at how a small amount can produce such strong results.
Mistake #5: Leaving your buttercream uncovered
If you’ve followed all of the advice and tips above you’re almost a buttercream-making master. The only thing left to do is to make sure your batch of perfect buttercream stays perfect for as long as possible. Uncovered buttercream will form a surface crust that will result in gritty buttercream that can blog icing tubes.
Even whilst you’re using your buttercream keep it covered with a layer of cling film, this will prevent a crust from forming on the surface. Keeping it covered keeps it fresh and smooth.
My top tips for making buttercream:
- Use butter of the right consistency, not too hard, not too soft.
- Use the correct amounts of butter and icing sugar.
- Beat the butter first and add the icing sugar in installments.
- Avoid adding too much liquid.
- Keep it covered.
If you use these tips the next time you make buttercream I’d love to know how you get on, feel free to let me know in the comments or let me know by email.