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Apr 2, 2005 06:08 PM

Best butter for buttercream frosting...and how do I use a piping bag?

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I made my first batch of buttercream frosting this weekend. The texture is fine, but it tastes too much like eating a stick of butter.

I used generic Safeway Lucerne unsalted butter, not wanting to dish out too much cash on my first try. I also used Safeway confectioners' sugar.

What are people's suggestions for the best butter and sugar for frosting? I assume that quality ingredients counts for a lot in frosting, since it's really just two ingredients.

Alternatively, could I just substitute some of the butter with shortening and/or cream cheese to cut down on that butter taste? I love cream cheese frosting, but it doesn't set up hard enough for me to use on cakes and cupcakes.

PS. Are there websites out there with outstanding advice about how to use a piping bag? At this point, I'm pretty good at writing letters with the little round tip, but awful at piping fluffy edges or a swirly cupcake top with the star tip. I haven't even attempted roses or leaves.

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  1. h
    Hanzo Brunoise

    I don't know, there's something about your post I really like. Naturally, the better the ingredients, the better the final product. To that end, you'll want to use a European style butter for your buttercream (however I think it was wise to conserve money on your 1st attempt). Plugra is the most readily available European style butter but it's expensive. If you have access to a Trader Joe's, buy it there since it's much cheaper. As for the confectioners' sugar, any brand will do. They are interchangeable.

    What you're attempting to make is the most basic buttercream & even with the best ingredients its going to taste...uh...ok. My advice is to google "swiss meringue buttercream". You'll find lots of recipes, & the technique needed to make it is pretty simple. I think your buttercream will come out MUCH better than simply beating butter & sugar together.

    Don't use shortening. It's used as filler by many lower end bakeries & will leave a filmy taste in the mouths of all who you love.

    As for piping, it's definitely a skill that comes from instruction & practice. I guess it's possible to learn it from a book or on the web but if you're really into it to the point of wanting to pipe roses, shells, pearls, etc... find a local cooking school & take a class. It will be fun & will make your life so much easier.

    Best of luck on your future baking adventures!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Hanzo Brunoise

      "and will leave a filmy taste in the mouths of all who you love."

      What a great line!!! Speaks volumes to me.

      1. re: Hanzo Brunoise

        Excellent advice!

        Shortening is also used (by some) because it's whiter and because it lasts longer.

        I'm all for butter. :-D

      2. You could check out buttercream recipes on Epicurious; they'll give you the swiss meringue buttercream recipe another poster mentioned (egg whites are incorporated into the butter-sugar mixture).

        Contrary to most recipes, I prefer to use SALTED butter, or to add more than a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter. It makes the buttercream less cloying, and the salt enhances the flavor, just as it does unsalted butter.

        Here's another recipe from Cooks' Illustrated which I've posted 'in my own words':

        Vanilla Buttercream (approx. 4 cups) - you need to have ready 4 sticks (1 lb.) of softened butter, each cut into quarters.

        In a mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water, whisk together gently 4 large eggs, 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 tsp vanilla extract, and a generous pinch of salt until the mixture registers 160degF.
        Take mixture off heat and, on medium-high speed, whisk for about 5 min. till mixture is airy and light and cools to room temp.

        At medium speed, beat in butter quarters, one at a time. If at any point the buttercream looks curdled, don't worry; it'll smooth out as you add more butter. ONce all the butter has been added, beat on high for a minute more till thoroughly combined. You should have light and fluffy buttercream.

        Good luck!

        1. it's funny, I agree with the previous poster (Ju) that it sounds as though you're making an American buttercream (no eggs, just butter, confectioner's sugar, flavoring and some milk). Many people find those quite sweet, but the butter isn't as strong a flavor. On the other hand, many people find the European buttercreams (those with eggs, either whole or just whites) like sticks of butter on a cake. So, I'm surprised you found the American buttercream too butter-y. It makes me a bit hesitant to recommend trying the swiss or Italian buttercream (I prefer italian, personally), but it may be worth a try.

          Definitely, do NOT add vegetable shortening, no matter what you do. The mouthfeel is disgusting (it's that filmy, inside of the mouth can't get clean, feeling--blech).

          Sorry, I'm a terrible piper, so no recommendations there. I think the idea of taking a cake decorating class may be worthwhile (if you're really into it), or just practice, practice, practice.


          5 Replies
          1. re: Smokey

            I was going to say the same thing...when I read that it tasted to much like butter, I expected the recipe to be a "real" buttercream. I find many meringue based buttercreams to be too buttery...and if you look at the recipes...there's a reason for that. But, I often find the powdered sugar frostings i grew up with a little too sweet.

            My favorite (so far ) buttercream is a Cake Bible recipe that uses meringue AND a custard. It adds stability and some eggs and milk that help cut down the butter percentage.

            1. re: danna

              Thanks for the heads up. I'll have to try it. Does it hold up for decorations?

              1. re: chowser

                I don't know how well you can see this pic (if at all) but I used abour 4 batches of RLB's buttercream that i can't remember the name of. (might be silk meringue, wouldn't swear to it). I made dots and shells and strings, only the simple stuff that I'm borderline capable of, but it held up quite well. I did keep it in the fridge up until a few hours before the event, but I did successfully transport it by car to the venue (45 minutes in South Carolina July).

                I've had other buttercreams completely melt off the cake, so this one made me very happy.

                1. re: danna

                  That's beautiful, Danna. I'm sure they loved it but no one can appreciate the work it must have taken, unless they've done something similar. I'll have to check out the recipe--I can just look for the one that looks like a meringue, custard mix.

              2. re: danna

                My solution for the too buttery buttercream is mixing them. I make a half batch of "Cake Boss" Italian buttercream and a batch of regular buttercream (1 cup butter/4 cups icing sugar etc) and then I mix them together. The mixture is less sweet than regular buttercream and a bit less buttery than Italian buttercream.

                The only thing you should use shortening for is to practice piping!!! But you have to wash out your bags really well or use disposible bags. That is what I used to practice when I started at 12 years kept me from eating it as I would have with icing!

            2. c

              What Smokey said.

              Sometimes people find frostings to be too buttery if they haven't been beaten properly (the frostings, that is). Aeration is key.

              As for piping, practice does make perfect. That's the only reason for using shortening in frosting - to make practice frosting. It will hold up well and mimic the texture of something edible. Other tips for piping - remember, if you're a righty, you're sqeezing with your right hand while guiding with your left. Don't put too much frosting in the bag all at once; you'll have more control with a small bag. When you get further along with piping, you'll be able to fill the bag more, then make a twist and work with just half the bag at a time. You never want to work with a very full bag. Practice using larger tips, and work down to smaller ones. Using guidemarks can make things much easier. Rather than trying to get a particular effect, mess around at first with the effect that come from different motions and pressures. One of the defining elements of an effect is whether you release the pressure before pulling the bag away or while pulling.

              1. First, sorry if I have spelled anything incorrectly... I'm a baker, not an English major. Ha, ha! I have found that Land o' Lakes, unsalted butter is the best tasting for recipes where butter is a main ingredient. I also found that the best powdered sugar is C&H... every time I've used store brand, my buttercream has turned out with a weird chemical sacherine-like taste. We bake and learn!! (o;

                Using shortening is a personal preference. Some people don't want the use of Crisco in ANYthing. Crisco can add stability to your buttercream (see ratio below).
                As far as using a pastry bag and tips... use a 40% off coupon and go to your nearest Michael's or JoAnn craft store and purchase the Wilton Method of Cake Decorating Course 1: Discover Cake Decorating book. I actually took the class, and I didn't learn anything I couldn't have gotten from this handy-dandy little book.

                Another great book, if you love to do cupcakes... the Wilton Cupcake Fun! book.
                Hope that helps. I see the date posted was a while ago... but maybe someone else doing a search will find this helpful.

                For the buttercream, if you want to use a bit of shortening to "cut down on that butter taste" or to provide a bit of stability (helps them not mush in warmer weather), use the following: If a recipe calls for 1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter, use 6 Tb. of butter and 2 Tb. shortening instead. If a recipe calls for 2 sticks (1 cup) of butter, use 1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter and 1/4 cup (4 Tb) shortening instead. Use a shortening that does not have butter flavor...
                An excellent source for recipes and reviews & tips, visit: