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Jun 8, 2009 12:17 PM

Egg white vs. Yolk Buttercream - Thoughts?

I'm somewhat new to making buttercream, and hadn't really developed an opinion on egg white vs egg yolk buttercreams.

Egg yolk buttercreams seem to be the most indestructible to me, and were my default for macarones because it uses up the yolks left by the egg white cookie shells.

Last weekend, I tried to make an egg white buttercream flavored with malted milk powder (replacing half the sugar in the recipe), but the cooked egg whites collapsed when I added the malted milk powder, perhaps because it does have some milk fat.

So, hounds, when do you use each type of buttercream, or does it depend on what parts of eggs you have leftover from whatever cake/cookie/pastry cream you were making?

Would my egg white buttercream have held up better if I'd cooked it to a higher temperature? Joy of Cooking said to heat to 140, which pretty much only ensures the sugar is fully incorporated, but doesn't give it the slightly cooked edge that seems to allow for a stiffer airier buttercream that is indestructible when you add fats.

I ultimately rescued the deflated but delicious malted milk egg white buttercream by making an equal sized yolk buttercream and adding back in the first one in small additions.

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  1. Funny, I had the opposite experience. I'm fairly new to buttercream as well - I've made them 3 times now, using whole eggs, egg whites and yolks. The best result was with egg whites, both in taste and stability/consistency. The one made with yolks only seems the least stable to me, perhaps due to the lower protein content to provide structure? Or could just be that I cooked it to 180 (here's the recipe I used ). I cooked to 160 for the whole egg & yolk versions. BTW, the recipe above is fool-proof and requires no separate syrup making/candy thermometer hassle so it's going into my permanent recipe collection.
    I also didn't like the overly yellow color of the all-yolk buttercream. If color is an important factor, seems to me that white is the way to go, unless you happen to want yellow frosting.

    And yes, I was trying to use up yolks left over from baking... but I think I'll stick to either the whole egg or egg white buttercream from now on.

    Edit: I think whole egg buttercream is superior in terms of spreadability. Egg white buttercream is great for small frosting jobs such as cupcakes and whoopie pies (the recipe above) but perhaps too stiff for frosting a whole cake. But it could still be done.

    9 Replies
    1. re: soniabegonia

      Can you comment at all on the differences in taste between the three types of buttercreams you made? I know you mentioned liked the egg white/meringue buttercream the best, but I'm curious what the difference was in taste between this and the other two. I've made meringue buttercreams before, and while I liked them at first, I found over time they were simply too buttery for me. I'm wondering if the whole eggs/egg yolks would add another layer of richness that would detract a bit from the butter (if that makes sense) in a way that only egg whites cannot do. I've been on the quest for the perfect buttercream for years and I always like to consider new options! Thanks!

      1. re: Laura D.

        oddly, the yolk version tasted a bit lemony!?! I have no idea why... there was no trace of lemon at all. In terms of flavor, to me, the whole egg tasted richer and more balanced, while egg white tasted slightly lighter (of course, still very rich from butter.. just relative to the other versions) and I found the vanilla flavor to be more pronounced, but could have just been my imagination. I think I like egg white/whole egg versions almost equally and would probably choose either one depending on the application. I probably wouldn't choose to make the yolk version again unless I just had a ton of yolks to use up.

        1. re: soniabegonia

          Thanks for the additional information!

      2. re: soniabegonia

        Huh, thanks for the reply. I thought egg white proteins "cooked" above 165, so I'm surprised your NYT recipe calls for 180 degrees. That's high, and my joy of cooking only called for 140. I suspect the joy of cooking is just flat wrong.

        I might try using the microwave next time for heating the eggs. A royal icing recipe I have calls for heating the egg whites in the microwave, in 10 second increments, stirring each time. It's tedious, but less tedious than cooking over a double boiler trying to stir constantly to prevent cooked eggs on the sides of the container.

        1. re: SteveG

          have you ever tried a cooked flour buttercream? there was a recipe for one on here that pertained to red velvet cake. it is my standard go-to recipe. i have used it for years and i think that icing is the specific reason why my clients love my cakes.
          i don't have access to the exact recipe at the moment, but it basically consists of thickening a combo of milk and flour, cooling it completely ( i usually do an overnight stint in the fridge) and adding it to butter that has been beaten with sugar and vanilla. i will say that this is no job for a hand mixer. it has taken me 40 minutes before to get that icing together, but manoman! is it worth it!

          1. re: raygunclan

            Hi there,
            I know you don't have an exact recipe handy for this cooked custard/gravy icing (I've made it many times with mixed success) but can you comment on whether you use cold butter or room temperature butter? My issues with this icing and whether it was "successful" have centered around the butter separating out from the rest of the mixture...almost as if it is melting out. Everytime I make this recipe I always say it is the last, but I have had this recipe made correctly and I do like it taste-wise, so I'm willing to give it another go. Thanks!

            1. re: Laura D.

              hey laura. i cream cold-ish butter with sugar and then add the "paste" (as it is unlovingly known by my daughters who named it that after they asked if they could taste and i said "sure!"). truly, you can't use a hand mixer. well, at least i can't. i always use my stand mixer. but then again, i've never made less than 8 batches of the frosting at one time.

              1. re: Laura D.

                I have used this recipe for "custard" (cooked flour) buttercream with success:

                It does call for softened butter, but I don't think you want it super-soft. I haveonly ever made it with a stand mixer, but then, I was only making a single batch, not 8!

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  Thanks to both of you for the extra info. I have a stand mixer and have no problem using it, and I might double the recipe (I'm still deciding whether I'm making it, and whether I'll use it as a filling and frosting or just a filling). Anyway, thanks again!

        2. Recently I've been making egg white buttercream (otherwise neoclassic, from Rose Levy Berenbaum) almost all the time. I used to do whole egg, but now I prefer egg white. I have no problem with frosting the cake, or piping with it. I prefer egg white for three reasons:
          - the volume is greater for each pound of butter used, making it a bit lighter
          - the color of the buttercream is a much paler cream color as opposed to ivory and more easily takes food coloring as needed
          - it is easy for me to buy high quality pasteurized egg whites, and use them in the recipe. Then I really don't need to stress about food safety if I'm feeding large groups that include children, pregnant women, people on chemo, etc. The sugar syrup indeed cooks the eggs, but I can't be confident that it's to a high enough temperature for sensitive groups unless I use pasteurized whites.

          Egg yolk buttercream is richer and yellower, and has less volume. The only time I do this is if I'm making Rose Levy Berenbaum's "honey buttercream" which is delicious!

          1. I'm thinking the malted milk powder might have just been too heavy for the egg whites. My experience is that you have to be very careful when adding anything except sugar to whipped egg whites.