Buttercream is commonly used in baking to fill cakes, to cover cakes and also to decorate cakes and various desserts. There a several types of buttercream out there categorized based on the method that is utilized to prepare them. The essential ingredients composed of fat,can be sourced from butter and/or vegetable shortening, and sugar,can be icing sugar or sugar syrup. AND that is why buttercream is tasty 🙂 Flavours and colours are often added to create versatile buttercream to suit all occasions and all purposes.
All buttercream vary from each other slightly from their finished colour, their firmness or melting points and degree of sweetness and creaminess. One common practice for all is serve all desserts with buttercream at room temperature. When stored in fridge, buttercream hardens and if serving straight away, this will taste like sweet cold butter… not very appetizing. That’s the reason for waiting for them to come up to room temperature when buttercream is softer, fluffier and more creamy!
American Buttercream (no eggs)
In its simplest form is what’s known as American buttercream made of just butter whipped with icing sugar until desired consistency. Some variations include using vegetable shortening to replace some or all of the butter part. This high sugar content also makes American buttercream the sweetest of all. Having said that, this makes good decorating buttercream and it “stands” firmer and is known to be able to withstand high temperatures, especially when all butter is substituted with vegetable fat.
The ratio of sugar to butter varies from 3:1 to 4:1. I noticed from many recipes out there when shortening is used, the sugar amount is reduced – because vegetable shortening is quite stable. The buttercream made using more of or just vegetable shortening is whiter in appearance and less sweet than the original buttercream. It is a great and more practical choice commercially as it is easiest to make, easy to add colour for decoration purpose and is quite heat-resistant, meaning less worry about your beautiful hard work turning into a puddle when exposed to the sun or prolonged room temperature exposure.
Buttercream can be enriched in taste by introducing eggs in addition to butter and sugar. There are 2 general methods: merigue-based buttercream using egg whites such as Italian and Swiss buttercream and the egg yolk-based such as the French buttercream. Buttercream made this way are more balanced in terms of taste and is definitely less sweet. The merigue-based ones form quite light buttercream, very suitable for piping compared to the egg yolk-based one which has a lower melting point due to higher fat content.
In this method, sugar is usually boiled until it reaches 118°C/ 240 °F. It is then added to egg whites which has been whipped to soft peak. This high temperature will cook the egg whites. This meringue is whipped continuously until it reaches room temperature then butter is added and whipped until smooth.
Swiss Buttercream is made similar to Italian buttercream but the meringue is made by whipping egg white together with sugar on a double boiler until the temperature surpass 60°C/150°F. This is then taken off the heat and whipped until stiff peak. Once the temperature is cool, butter is added and whipped until smooth.
This is probably is richest tasting buttercream due to the presence of egg yolk, which is whipped until fluffy and pale, then sugar syrup reaching 118°C/ 240 °F is added. The mixture is whipped until it cools to room temperature and then butter is added and whipped till smooth. As this type of buttercream has higher fat content due to the use of butter and egg yolk, it is very rich in taste but also is the easiest to melt making it less suitable for decorating.
Of note, there is also a French meringue based method to make the buttercream and of course, it uses egg whites. However, this meringue is made uncooked as egg whites are simply whipped with sugar until stiff peak. Unlike the Italian and Swiss meringue which although via slightly different methods, bring the egg whites temperature to above 60°C/150°F, a point where common bacteria such as samonella is killed thus making them safer to consume.
Click to view more details and recipe for each type of buttercream
The recipe and method for the remaining buttercreams will soon follow…
In the mean while, happy baking!