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Feb 1, 2009 11:18 AM

Buttercream Help: How Do You Make It?

Yesterday, I set out to make the vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. The cake turned out delicious - bright vanilla flavor in a sweet, dense cake. Perfect. The buttercream, unfortunately, was a whole different story. It was very sugary and almost runny. It slipped off the top of my cupcakes and wouldn't hold its shape at all. The flavor was sweet/sugary and I couldn't even taste the vanilla flavor.

I am looking for a recipe for thick, rich, creamy vanilla buttercream, and any tips on method would be helpful, too. Thanks so much!

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  1. It is possible that the butter was too warm when you made the buttercream. Also, a stiffening-up rest in the refrigerator, about 45 minutes or so, should firm it up enough to spread easily, yet it won't be too stiff. I find buttercream too greasy and don't really care for it.

    However, I love the cream cheese icing from The Barefoot Contessa that accompanies Ina Garten's recipe for Coconut Cupcakes; it calls for a pound of cream cheese to 3/4 pound butter. The recipe makes an enourmous quantity of icing, but is easily cut in half. This icing has the right texture, a mouthfeel that isn't like eating a tablespoon of butter, and while it is sweet, you could probably cut down on the quantity of sugar with little loss of quality. The cream cheese counters the fattiness of the butter, but there is enough butter to still provide that lovely buttery flavor. While the recipe includes both almond and vanilla extracts, and that's the only way I've made it, it would be superb with just vanilla extract, or even vanilla beans. Here's a link (which I also posted on the favorite cupcake thread):

    3 Replies
    1. re: janniecooks

      Thanks for your comment on Contessa's cream cheese icing! I too, love that one but haven't figured out how to make it. I have the: 1 lb. cream cheese, 3/4 lb/ butter (unsalted or salted), vanilla extract, but would you happen to know how much sugar is needed? And any other ingredients?

      1. re: hearts4u

        if you click on the link at the bottom of my reply that will take you directly to the recipe. it calls for 1.5 lbs confectioners' sugar, though as I recall I used maybe a pound or less. also includes almond extract. just click on the food network link.

    2. It sounds as if you might prefer a true buttercream to the powdered sugar-butter type that Magnolia uses. These are extra rich (lots of butter), very creamy, and not so super sweet, but are a bit more work to make, as they involve beating eggs and hot sugar syrup. Rose Levy Beranbaum's neoclassic buttercream is a definitive recipe modified to be a bit easier (no candy thermometer needed) with good instructions (this is a PDF):

      There's lots of advice, and a number or recipes, on RLB's web site,

      Another icing you might like is this "custard buttercream": This isn't quite as rich as real buttercream, and it's got a fluffier texture, but it's very good and easy to make (sift your powdered sugar). Half a recipe is enough to generously frost a dozen cupcakes.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

        I was taught the custard-based buttercream from an Austrian pastry cook. It's is tricky if the butter is too warm, but it can be fixed by cooling. SO good!

        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          I very much enjoy Rose's Mousseline Buttercream and it's my go-to for anything that's not chocolate. Chocolate requires her chocolate buttercream which is also epic and tastes like not too sweet milk chocolate.

          I'd suggest a real or "European style" buttercream if your powdered sugar based isn't cutting it (i can't stomach the stuff....too sweet and grainy!)

          1. re: LaureltQ

            hope you read this - Rose has another buttercream out there with yolks and corn syrup "neoclassic" - have you made that? Why do you prefer the mousseline to the neoclassic?

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. In addition to the butter being possibly too warm as mentioned, you might not have needed as much of the liquid that the recipe calls for. I don't use as much powdered sugar as the Magnolia recipe calls for and I also don't add all the milk called for in the recipe, but intead I add milk a little bit at a time while the mixer is running (and let it run a bit before adding more because the frosting gets looser once the powdered sugar mixes into the butter) until I get the consistency I'm looking for.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cheesepowder

              Thanks all for your helpful advice. I think I did add too much liquid and my butter was too warm! I'll have to try it again, but I also appreciate the recommendations for other types of frosting. They all sound great. I will especially try the RLB buttercream. Thanks again all!

            2. what are the storage recommendations for cupcakes frosted with "real" buttercream frosting?

              4 Replies
              1. re: Shrinkrap

                I think you can just store them in the fridge - I don't think it's the same as 7 minute frosting or marshmallow that don't handle the cold so well....

                1. re: jenhen2

                  I much prefer to store them at room temp, but wonder how long "buttercream" can keep that way.

                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                    While probably advised against, I've kept a cake frosted with a Mousseline Buttercream for 5+ days at room temperature without any detriment in flavor and nobody got sick. That said, only my husband and I ate the cake after day 2, just to be on the safe side.

                    1. re: LaureltQ

                      It's been interesting finding out which frostings will hold up and which ones slide right off. Such a shame when I've spent hours preparing, chilling, decorating, and drying the cupcakes when eventually the frosting just won't stay in place. I've tried refrigerating some to set the frost- and as soon as they sit out for 2 hours they're untouchable or become messy. Others laying out uncovered - room temp are fine, while another set is covered- room temp and stays wet without setting. I hate to refrigerate for so long bc it dries the cakes out.... any tips on what ingredients to use or to avoid? any techniques whipping longer, butter/cream temps, order of mixing ingredients, etc?

                      Currently, I'm using powdered sugar, butter, cream cheese, van extract and sometimes with a minimal amount of heavy cream. When making frostings without cream cheese, the frosting tasted like pure powder- awful.