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Feb 3, 2009 05:49 AM

Buttercream Frosting -Swiss, Italian & American

I normally make the American also known as Simple buttercream and while it sure lives up to simple and can be quite tasty I can sometimes taste the grit of the sugar. I want to get as close to perfect smooth frosting as I can. I am not really a sugar person so a smooth finish would make it easier for me. Everything I have read is pointing me towards the Swiss or Italian meringue versions. Which do you prefer and why? Also can they be altered? Currently the two flavors I need most would be a coconut cream cheese and coffee flavor I have made both the American way and while tasty I am trying to ensure a smooth finish every time. Can they be converted to Swiss or Italian methods?

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  1. My personal favorite buttercream recipes are from Rose Levy Beranbaum's book The Cake Bible. I love both the Mousseline Buttercream recipe which uses the egg whites and the Neoclassic Buttercream which calls for just the yolks. They both come out perfectly smooth and are a delight to use - especially for piping as they hold up beautifully. As for the coffee flavor, either recipes would work, I'm not sure about the addition of cream cheese to either these recipes though.

    1. I just made the Italian meringue buttercream for a vanilla chiffon cake and it is a wonderful rich icing. The ingredients and technique are basically the same for both except some "Swiss" recipes add flavoring (extracts, etc.). You may also want to consider a French buttercream which uses egg yolks instead of egg whites.

      Nonetheless, there's no reason you couldn't add either of the coconut or coffee flavors at the end of the mixing. If you're going to add actual cream cheese make sure you wait until you're adding the butter as fats keep egg whites from whipping.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Den

        i just made italian meringue buttercream for the first time tonight. i must say that i am really impressed!
        the buttercream that i usually make uses cooked flour and milk that then must be completely cooled. while it is quite yummy, it needs to chill overnight so you really need to plan ahead. not to mention the fact that the color is quite off and does not take to color well either.
        i used warren brown from cakelove's recipe (he has a vid on youtube) and i have to say, in a matter of about 20 minutes i made a pretty excellent buttercream. i am hoping that it will be easy to pipe as that was the main reason i went in search of another buttercream.

        and den, i may be wrong, but i think that the swiss recipe has you heating the egg whites and the sugar in a double boiler and then beating them with the butter and sugar and the italian has you bringing sugar and water to soft ball and adding it to the already whipped whites. but i am not the expert and could be wrong. (c:

      2. I'm a huge fan of Italian buttercreams. I can't stand American-style frostings mostly because of how heavy, sugary, and texturally unpleasant I find them. Italian buttercreams are not that difficult to make if you have a little experience in the kitchen. They feel light, look lovely, and have a nice, smooth texture. You can use any flavoring agent that you like with excellent results. I'm not so sure about the cream cheese part, but for coffee I would use a some instant espresso powder diluted with a bit of hot water.

        3 Replies
        1. re: rockycat

          Yesterday I finally stepped my whole life up and made Rose Levy's neoclassic buttercream. As someone who was never interested in frosting from a personal standpoint let me say that my whole world has changed. I finally get the licking the frosting thing. What has me even more concerned about my weight is that I am about to try the mousseline because I have read that it is even better in texture and flavor. I will report back shortly. I can't believe I hesitated for so long.

          1. re: kayEx

            How would you classify the neoclassic (Italian or Swiss or something else)?

            1. re: karykat

              I think it is comparable to a French buttercream

        2. Reviving this thread with my own buttercream question. I've never made my own buttercream. My go to frosting is a whipped chocolate ganache. However, for an upcoming birthday, I'm going to take on a vanilla buttercream. I have two very different recipes in mind, both from Cook's Illustrated. One calls for eggs cooked over simmering water to 160 degrees then beaten in a stand mixer with vanilla and lots of butter added slowly. The other involves no eggs, just confectioner's sugar, butter, vanilla, a bit of corn syrup and a dash of heavy cream. I'm tempted to go with the second recipe as it seems more fail-safe than the first and this needs to be easy and as risk-free as possible. Can anyone with buttercream experience advise? Any reason not to go with the eggless recipe?

          Advice much appreciated!

          2 Replies
          1. re: GSM

            Sure there are reasons. 2 biggest to me are texture which then leads to taste. I made the mousseline which is supposed to be harder but found once you review the recipe and keep the directions clear it was super simple and the only thing that was different was length of time. Also the classic and neoclassic (egg yolks) as well as Meringue buttercreams (egg whites) are easy once you have your mise en place ready. Everything just flows.

            1. re: kayEx

              Also, the simple American frostings (GSM's second option) are much, much sweeter than the egg- and egg white-based buttercreams. If you've ever found frosting super sweet, that's the kind you were probably eating.

          2. I've made a typical american buttercream (butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, some milk) with heavy cream instead and it's MUCH MUCH less sweet. I didn't pipe or decorate with it, but it was deeper tasting than the 'oreo filling' taste that typical buttercream has. not that there's anything wrong with oreo filling, lol!

            5 Replies
            1. re: ediecooks

              care to share your recipe edie? Also is the texture gritty at all, that was mainly what I was running away from in American buttercream, as you can always put less sugar for the sweetness.

              1. re: kayEx

                I would think that using confectioner's sugar, and less of it, would remedy the grittiness factor and help moderate sweetness. Is that not the case?

                I suppose I could try to make the egg-based version the day before so if it flops I can make the eggless recipe instead. Is there any reason not to make the egg version a day ahead? Will it keep?

                1. re: GSM

                  the recipe is in a williams-sonoma cookbook i borrowed and returned so i don't have it in front of me....but i looked on their website and this one seems (from my memory) to be very close...

                  6 cups confectioners’ sugar

                  16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter

                  4 1/2 Tbs. milk, plus more, if needed

                  2 tsp. vanilla extract

                  1/4 tsp. salt

                  Sub in heavy cream for the milk. their instructions have you dump it all in the mixer at once but i usually cream the butter, add in the sugar a little at a time, incorporating it well after each addition, and then at the end adding in the liquid a little at a time until it reaches the consistency you like.

                  this recipe will 'crust' if you're looking for that.

                  i sift the sugar also, don't know if that makes a difference.

                  AND, i use salted butter b/c that's what i have in the house

                  1. re: GSM

                    confectioners sugar is what causes the gritty texture. I use a heck of a lot less of it when I am forced to use it than any of the recipes call for but I am never truly satisfied because it is not as smooth as I think frosting should be even when beat for ages. If you try the egg based version just make sure everything is set up ahead of time. Have a candy thermometer and to be sure it will be smooth goings even temp check your better. It sounds like a lot of factors to worry about but once you have it in your mind the order of steps it really is simple and I can't imagine going back.

                  2. re: kayEx

                    If you put in less sugar, you'll just end up with nasty sweet butter, not buttercream icing. You have to have the icing at the right consistency to get even reasonably good decorating results. If you don't want super sweet icing, don't make American buttercream. Messing around with the proportions will just lead to frustration.

                    Adding salt does nothing to diminish sweetness, either. You're not reducing the sugar, after all. What it *does* do is enliven the tastebuds that are particularly focused on salty flavors. (Remember that experiment we all did in early grade school, mapping out the different sections of the tongue?) By adding salt, you're just activating more tastebuds more completely, making a more robust taste experience, not making anything taste less sweet.

                    Since fat is a flavor carrier, using cream (rather than a liquid lower in fat) should *enhance* the taste--in this case the flavor of the butter, sugar, and any flavoring. It wouldn't make it less sweet, though it would affect the mouth-feel of the icing. My microbiologist-turned-pastry-chef mother always chooses cream for the mouth-feel.

                    If you want something smooth, less sweet, and actually enjoyable, definitely experiment with IMBC and SMBC. It's a lot fussier to work with for decorating, and has much more precise refrigeration needs, but it is worth the effort. Just let it come to room temp before eating it (but not so warm that it melts!)--otherwise it tastes like biting into a block of sweet butter. Blech.

                    As a side note, I once accidentally made the meringue buttercream for a dobostorte with 1/2 cup of sugar instead of 1 1/2 cups as the recipe called for. The texture was still perfect, so you can clearly monkey with sugar content in at least some of these cooked recipes more than with American buttercream.