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Dec 24, 2007 10:34 PM

curdled italian buttercream

i have a recipe for italian buttercream. basically you cook a big cup of sugar with some corn syrup until it reaches about 270 or soft ball. then you pour the soft ball syrup into soft egg whites. then you beat the whites until stiff peaks and throw ina bunch of softened butter. i'm fine at this point but i decided to improvise and today i added cooled melted chocolate at this point and the whole thing curdled and turned into this syrupy curdled mess. after it cooled it hardened a bit and it became this wonderful consistency but the curded pieces were stiff there. what did i do wrong? maybe the syrup got too hot? did i put in the chocolate at the wrong time? any theories on my mistake would be so great. my chirstmas cake is ruined! well, almost, there's always tomorrow to make the fool proof ganache...thanks everyone and happy holidays!

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  1. "after it cooled it hardened a bit and it became this wonderful consistency but the curded pieces were stiff there." I meant STILL there and not stiff. i had two glasses of wine and trolley's typing skills go down the drain after one glass!

    1. My bet is that you didn't use cane sugar.

      Beet sugar always curdles/crystallizes in this type of frosting. Cane and beet sugar react far differently in recipes, and Italian buttercream frosting really shows up the difference.

      The chocolate just cooled the mixture down enough so the crystallization could appear.

      From "Sugar, Sugar, Cane and beet share the same chemistry but act differently in the kitchen" from the San Francisco Chronicle:

      "Carolyn Weil and her crew at The Bake Shop in Berkeley were hard at work one morning, boiling down large pots of sugar syrup to make buttercream for the day's buns, cakes and confections. It was a task the staff had done hundreds of times. But this morning the normally silky syrup crystallized into large, chunky granules. Weil tossed it, along with plans for most of the baked goods she wanted to sell that day. Not happy with a day's work and income wasted, Weil investigated, checking her equipment and ingredients and determining the one variable. Sugar. Weil's supplier had substituted another brand and, as it turns out, another type of sugar altogether. Weil thought she was getting cane sugar, but instead she got beet. Despite what sugar industry officials claim, beet and cane sugar are not alike. And the sugar industry isn't bothering to tell."

      7 Replies
      1. re: maria lorraine

        i used superfine C&H. isn't that cane?

        1. re: trolley

          Yup. So much for the beet sugar theory.
          Next guess: sugar syrup was too hot and cooked the eggs (scrambled them)
          Third guess: chocolate was too cool

            1. re: maria lorraine

              It's hard to know what's going on here from the description and I'm no expert at Italian meringue buttercream - I always make Swiss because it's less fussy. However, if the buttercream broke because the chocolate was too cool, it probably could have been salvaged - I have salvaged many a Swiss buttercream that has broken into a lumpy eggy mess. You should turn up the gas burner on your stove, and then without setting the bowl down on the burner, swirl it around several inches over the flame to warm the bowl and contents gently, and then try beating again. This procedure may have to be repeated several times.

              Also, I think that flavoring agents should go in after the butter is emulsed, and not while adding the butter.

              1. re: CathleenH

                instead of dumping this curdled mess i put in tupperware and put it in the fridge. the good news is that the frosting is the perfect flavor and consistency, with one exception, the small specks of curdled whatever. i thought that you couldn't curdle egg whites if the syrup was added in slowly but maybe i got ahead of myself. maria lorraine i think your guess is correct. i got the syrup a bit too past the ball stage and so it be came this soild speck or your guess is that b/c it was too hot the egg got cooked.

                i've been learning about frosting this morning. there's a recipe in fanny farmer that combines the chocolate and the syrup together before adding into the egg mixture. there's also the cake bible neo buttercream. these both use egg yolk which i was trying to avoid. i was also trying to avoid the butter/powedered sugar/chocolate type of frosting. i find them boring in taste and too sugary with not enough depth. in any case, learning about buttercream this morning is my chirstmas present. merry christmas!

                1. re: trolley

                  You should gently rewarm it by swirling it over a flame or putting the bowl in some hot water - whisk it gently to get it to an even consistency, let it cool - then put it in the kitchen aid and re-whip it.

                  The butter has to be added gradually to the mixture of egg whites and syrup and allowed to fully absorb before anything else is added. The time to add the chocolate would have been after all of the butter was fully emulsed- as Cathleen said above. It should be salvageable though!!

                  1. re: Alice Q

                    hey, good news! i made this again and it came out great. this time warmed the sugar up to only 220 degrees. i also waited patiently and added the butter slowly. i cooled the chocolate to room temp and added it in after i made sure the butter was mixed in well. i do think the curdled culprit was the sugar that got too hot past the soft ball stage. thanks for all your input. you guys are the best! once i get a hand held mixer i will try the swiss buttercream. sounds easier and more foolproof.