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Oct 6, 2007 07:56 AM

Buttercream question


I'm testing some buttercream recipes for a wedding cake I'm making. I'm considering doing an 'American' buttercream, as honestly I don't have a stand mixer and last Christmas I tried to make royal icing and it just didn't fly. I can't peak those eggs, no way no how. Powdered meringue, equally sad. So, I'm doing unsalted butter-confectioners-milk (or maybe cream) and vanilla (have the colorless kind). THe one I made lastnight I made rather thick so it can stand up to being exposed for a time and all the sugar made it grainy. Any suggestions? and what do people think about adding a few spoons of shorteniing for stability? I added a bit to see what it would be like and didn't notice anything odd.


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  1. Not familiar with your royal icing recipe, but if you had diffficulty getting stiff peaks on your whites, try:

    1) whites at room temp

    2) absolutely no yolks mixed in

    3) a very clean bowl and beaters to avoid even a trace of fat

    4) pinch each of cream of tartar and salt for each white used, added after the whites start to foam.

    5) if adding sugar, beat whites first to soft peaks then add sugar by the teaspoon full. No dumping.

    1. Have you tried adding slightly beaten fresh egg white, and then beating the buttercream thoroughly? I use an electric hand mixer. Couldn't imagine doing all that mixing (and getting it smooth with good consistency) by hand and arm strength alone!

      Never had to make the buttercream in a large quantity (as for a tiered cake), but in a recipe for covering a 10-inch layer cake....I always add one fresh egg white. Learned this from my Dad who was a chef.

      1. You can do a mix of butter and shortening to make it stand up in heat longer. It doesn't taste as good and leaves that oily feeling in your mouth, but holds up and looks good, especially if you're making any kinds of decorations, scrolls, roses, etc. If I need it to stand up, I'll make a regular buttercream to frost the cake but use a shortening/butter mix for decorations.

        BTW, are you making that huge wedding cake w/out a stand mixer? Is there any way you can borrow one? The cake batter would be do-able w/ a hand mixer, though a little more challenging but butterceam takes time with a handmixer, especially a huge batch.

        In addition toodie jane's advice on getting stiff peaks, I also find it helps to have really cold beaters and bowl.

        6 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          Sadly, noone to borrow mixer from. just moved to Ct. and don't have people here-my peeps are in SF. Maybe I won't do the shortening mix, I personally don't like it. but do you think doing a buttercream with egg is really worth it?

          1. re: isabella_la_bella

            churches and women's clubs with meeting halls usaually have "commercial kitchen" setups they rent out on an hourly basis. They might be a contact for you. Do some checking aorund in your local town.

            1. re: isabella_la_bella

              I'm a safety freak when it comes to serving food that others will eat. I've used frosting w/ cooked egg, on a double broiler, but have only used raw eggs once in frosting. It was so good, lots of compliments (I can't remember the exact number but it used almost a dozen raw eggs) but I was nervous for the next 24 hours that I was going to get calls about food poisoning. I know a lot of chowhounds throw caution to the wind a lot more (given the odds are something like 1 in 10,000 eggs), and I'm less careful w/ myself but I'd hate the idea of getting all the wedding guests and bride and groom sick.

              1. re: chowser

                You won't. When I was at the CIA, they made us take a sanitation course. One of the assignments at the very beginning was to outline the steps you would take to make a potentially "dangerous" recipe safe - like cooling beef stock or making sure a chicken breast was cooked to the right temp. Being clueless, I asked the instructor a question about making buttercream safe. He laughed at me. "But the raw egg whites?" He explained first that the white is the safer part of the egg, then that the moisture content in something needs to be decently high to give bacteria something to grow in, then that the quantity of sugar in buttercream pretty much guarantees that nothing dangerous will ever grow in it. He gave me his deepest assurances that my buttercream is safe. And then I went on to work in a bakery where the egg-white based buttercream was left at room temperature all the time. All the time. You're fine.

                Oh, and eggs greatly improve buttercream. I can't stand the standard American powdered sugar stuff. Eggs. Sugar. Butter. Joy.

                1. re: curiousbaker

                  that explanation about safety isn't entirely accurate...the white isn't 'safer' or less likely to harbor bacteria. in fact, if the egg were to come into contact with bacteria [i.e. salmonella], structurally speaking, the white is more vulnerable and would become contaminated first. after all, the bacteria would have to get through the white and two membranes to get to the yolk - something that will only occur as the egg ages and the barriers weaken/deteriorate.

                  HOWEVER, once contaminated, the egg white provides a less hospitable environment than the yolk in which bacteria would thrive.

                  i'm a huge believer in practicing sanitary food handling procedures, and i confess i'm a bit of a germ-phobe. but even i don't get overly concerned about contaminated eggs. scientists estimate that, on average across the U.S., only 1 of every 20,000 eggs might contain salmonella - that's a 0.005% [five one-thousandths of one percent] that an egg is contaminated...resulting in the theoretical likelihood that the average consumer might encounter a contaminated egg once every 84 years.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I understand what you're saying - however, I think that fact that the white provides a less hospitable environment is rather important. Because, last time I checked, there had never been a case of salmonella poisoning related to white alone. Generally it's beaten eggs - white + yolk (at which point exposure is equal, membranes having been broken down). Of course, beaten eggs are used far more often. There may also be something to the way yolks and white are used in cooking - whites are generally mixed with large quantities of sugar, whereas yolks are usually mixed with milk, cream, etc.

                    Anyway, point is, she doesn't need to worry about her high-fat, high-sugar, egg white buttercream hurting anyone....

          2. Alice Medrich has a method for taking egg whites to 160 degrees F, which will kill any bacteria (including salmonella.) It's in her book Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts. You can then make them into a meringue and add them to buttercream. Here's a link with the method:

            2 Replies
            1. re: amyzan

              Correct me if I am wrong....if you are making a butter-cream frosting for a cake, why would you beat air into the egg white, making stiff peaks, before adding to the frosting mix? Isn't the frosting supposed to be smooth and no air bubbles? That is why I beat the egg white addition only slightly, or in some cases not at all. No matter what the actual recipe calls for (it's generally just confectioners' sugar, some sort of shortening, flavoring, and a bit of cream or moisture to make it spreadable), I add the egg white. It makes the butter cream easy to smooth out, and dries with a slight delicate crust on the surface. It also is easier to use in a pastry bag. I should think that adding additional shortening instead of the egg white to the recipe would make it greasy, and more apt to be too soft and not stand up well at a warm atmosphere.

              I could be wrong.....but these are my thoughts behind the adding a just slightly stirred up egg white. It truly works for me.

              1. re: Lisbet

                If you're adding the egg white unbeaten to a confectioner's sugar frosting, you could apply the same method, just don't proceed to make a meringue buttercream. Medrich came up with her methof for meringue buttercreams, sometimes called Italian buttercream. It's not the same frosting as that made with confectioner's sugar, as the ratio of butter to sugar is higher. I think whatever kind of frosting one makes, though, this technique could help ease the mind of an uneasy baker, deservedly uneasy or not. Sorry, I wasn't more clear.

            2. I did a test run of the icing in this post:


              It was pretty good, tasted like real buttercream. You could also beat in some powdered sugar to stiffen and sweeten it, depending on how sweet you like your frosting. In the end I choose a buttercream from the Cake Bible that used both custard and meringue, but this one was my 2nd choice.

              What are you using between the layers?

              1 Reply
              1. re: danna

                I'm doing a layer of ganache and a layer of raspberry cream (pureed deseeded frozen raspberries+raspberry jam, butter & sugar etc). Can someone give me a not too difficult buttercream with the aforementioned non-peaked whites? something a beginner can excel in in three weeks?