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Jan 14, 2011 08:09 AM

I need a buttercream breakdown

I am a big fan of The Cake Bible, and it's also the only cake book that I have. I have somewhat recently gotten into making cakes as my hubby doesn't like them. But I do, so I eventually just said "screw it" and decided to make desserts that I enjoy. I've made a number of different cakes and icings for family gatherings and parties over the last year or so, but I'm just not sure what I'm looking for in terms of making the "perfect" buttercream.

Is there any kind of list anywhere which rates the butter intensity of different types of buttercreams/icings?

I've made Rose's Neoclassic buttercream. It was good, but felt like nothing other that sweetened butter. I'd prefer something a little less.... greasy.

I made Rose's "Classic Egg White Chocolate Buttercream." It was good. Really good. The chocolate may have helped tone down the intensity of the butter. This is one of my keepers, but only works when a chocolate buttercream is called for.

I made this egg white based icing for the coconut cake, and hated it. It was like eating pure sugar (worse than eating pure butter).

A few weeks ago, I made her Mousseline Buttercream. It was good. Still a little overly buttery. I'd prefer something slightly less buttery, but I'm not sure if just adding less butter is a viable option. I'd imagine that it would loose structure too easily. My husband, who LOVES icing stuck his finger in the bowl when I finished frosting the cake and asked me "how much butter is in this??!?!?!" My sheepish reply was "A pound."

I'm making some cupcakes for a party tomorrow and wanted to figure out a viable frosting option. I wouldn't normally be afraid of experimenting on friends and family but with the higher frosting to cake ratio that seems to be inherent with fancy looking cupcakes, I don't want to gross people out and make them feel like they're eating sticks of butter. There's a recipe for a Silk Meringue Buttercream in the Cake Bible that I thought of trying, but based on the ingredients, it doesn't look like it will be any lighter than any of the other options I've tried. Is there a type that I'm missing that I should look into? I really appreciate all of your help and experience on this. I'm still very new to cakes.

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  1. Try substituting half of the butter with cream cheese in the classic recipe and see if you like that. My friend does that with Rose's buttercream, and I think it's wonderful!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Niki in Dayton

      Niki - that sounds like an awesome option for most cakes. I think that for the type of cupcake I'm making (in this case, Coconut) it would overpower the somewhat delicate flavor of the cake.

      1. re: LaureltQ

        how about using cream of coconut instead of cream cheese?

    2. I think you pretty much sum up the inherent nature of buttercream. To some, it is the most delicious of frostings, for others, it is too heavy and rich. Without getting into the calorie, there are couple of things might help. First cakes filled and iced with buttermilk should be serve room temperature. This shows off the creamy texture the best and will not have the texture of eating a lump of cold butter. Another is to make an Italian meringue or Swiss buttercream. It still has a lot of butter but it is lighter because there are no egg yolks. Just whipped egg whites, then hot sugar syrup whipped in, then soften butter and flavoring. For me, most buttercream filled and frosted cake calls for way too much. I use very thin layers for filling and icing.
      Other options, ganache is a much lighter but is limited to chocolate but white chocolate can be a good option for some cakes. Fill cakes with mousses, variations on pastry cream, or citrus curd; a cream cheese frosting is good for certain cakes; flavored whipped cream (one read that whipped cream frosting are not stable for keeping but I have never found that the case if one uses a good NOT ultra-pastureized heavy cream; it will keep two or three days easily; of course one cannot leave it at room temperature). There are also various frostings does not use a lot of butter such as sour cream chocolate frosting, 7 minute frosting, American chocolate frosting though these uses lots of confectioners sugar to give the frosting structure. Again, serving frosted cake at correct temperature is one of the most important factor in how a frosting tastes.

      7 Replies
      1. re: PBSF

        I never serve cakes chilled. In addition to the icing being unpalatable, I find that the texture and flavor of the cake doesn't come through very well. I almost always fill my cakes with something other than the icing.

        The martha stewart recipe for swiss meringue buttercream looks shockingly similar to RLB's Mousseline Buttercream. I guess that's just how it goes.

        As someone who has NO experience with homemade icings (I don't know anyone else who makes anything from scratch) what is the difference between a swiss meringue/mousseline buttercream and a 7 minute icing in terms of flavor and texture? I'd prefer something lighter for these cupcakes.


        1. re: LaureltQ

          I go round and round with this question myself. There are several variations of buttercreams

          1) butter + sugar beaten together (no real incorporation of air, very buttery
          2) egg yolk-based buttercream. This type is quite rich, but if you get the yolks at the right temperature with sugar, you can get them to take up a significant amount of air, which helps the final product seem a bit lighter when you mix in the butter
          3) whole egg buttercreams. Can be like 2, when I rush it or don't pay attention I end up with something kind of in between
          4) egg white buttercream (swiss meringue). Adding the molten sugar as you beat the whites can make for a fluffy buttercream. This is my ideal in terms of a straight-forward buttercream with lemon juice flavoring or something similar. Not easy to get the texture light, but it is possible.

          If I'm not adding a fat-based flavor to the buttercream, I try to make version 4. Once, I tried to make malted milk frosting, but the malted milk has enough fat in it that it was collapsing the egg white meringue and the whole thing wouldn't really "gel" I started over with an egg yolk based buttercream, and the yolks were able to emulsify everything. But it wasn't a light buttercream!

          1. re: SteveG

            Soft ball sugar syrup streamed into a meringue is technically an Italian meringue. Swiss is whites and sugar heated together then whipped. I like swiss myself, it's easier (though I enjoy testing sugar syrup with a glass of icy water and my fingers). You could add malt when you add butter, since there's plenty o' fat in the butter, even mix malt powder with the butter before blitzing it into the meringue. I like what PBSF said, you either love that fatty deliciousness (like me), or you don't. I think a strong coffee flavored buttercream is what I wlil be buried in upon my demise.

            1. re: LeroyT

              Rose's Mousseline buttercream (which upon research may not be an actual mousseline) is sugar syrup added to 4 beaten eggwhites and beaten until room temp, then 1lb of beaten butter added in 1T increments, then you can add up to 6oz of flavoring. For the coconut cake I made a few weeks ago, I added 6oz of coconut milk. I think I will probably stick with this and up the sugar just a wee bit to maybe try to cut some of the butteriness, and use coconut cream instead to create the coconut flavor. Less will be necessary and I'll get a better coconut punch in the frosting.

              I'll throw together a blog post and update the thread when I'm done. Including the taster's reactions. and I'll just go lighter on the icing than most people who post photos of cupcakes online.

              1. re: LaureltQ

                Alton Brown did a show on the different types of meringues. Very educational.

                1. re: firecooked

                  will check youtube for this. It sounds like exactly what I've been looking for!

            2. re: SteveG

              There's another type, sometimes called a German buttercream, that starts with pastry cream (an egg custard stabilized with some starch), and adds butter to that. The amount of butter could vary from just a couple of tablespoons to a stick (for a 2cup, 4egg recipe).


        2. Hi LaureltQ,

          Though I have had The Cake Bible for many years, I haven't done much with the icings in it because, like you, they all seemed way too buttery for me. I love icing, and have tried for years and years to "love" a meringue based buttercream which relies on a huge (in my opinion) amount of butter--often upwards of a pound--to frost a single cake. I agree that these icings often come out tasting like you're are eating a cake frosted with sweetened butter, regardless of the temperature you serve them at. In terms of editing your meringue based buttercreams to try to tone down the butter, I know that you have a little bit of room to play around with ratios of egg whites to butter--I believe I read that to form the proper emulsion you'll need at least 2 oz. of butter to egg white. However, that can increase to upwards of 4 oz. if you like it really buttery. That being said, I've tried recipes with the 2oz./egg white ratio and they are still too buttery for me. The other problem I have with these recipes, besides just the taste, is the mouthfeel and texture. They are often a bit too slick/smooth for me, which often translates to greasy. And, I'd like them somewhat airier too yet can beat and beat and beat them and never seem to get that air incorporated that I would like. Anyway, one solution I can think of (which I personally haven't tried but which I am pretty sure some bakeries do) is to sub out some of the butter for shortening. The shortening will provide the fat needed to ensure a successful emulsification without adding the buttery flavor. It might also make it fluffier, though I have to think that shortening is still going to leave a slick mouthfeel that could be undesirable. And, I'd never suggest swapping out all or even most of the butter--I think you'd have to play around with things to see what you can find.

          Before I ramble on I'll just say that finding the perfect buttercream has been something I've been trying to do for years (and I'm only 29). Sometimes when I think I have found just the perfect recipe, I try it again and find fault with it. Two American buttercream recipes that I have come to like though, are linked below. The key to the American buttercreams is to beat the hell out of them--if you don't you'll be left with a non-fluffy, gritty , super-sweet icing that is found all too commonly on cakes and which is the reasons American buttercreams have a bad reputation. The other key is to keep an eye on how much sugar you use and try to tone it down as necessary. You often won't need all or even most of the quantity called for in the recipe. Also, make sure to sift the sugar so that no clumps appear in the icing.

          This one doesn't make much but is quite good if you follow the instructions (i.e. beat it for the required time). Do keep an eye on how much lemon juice you use, though.

          This one has been surprisingly good when made with the lower amount of sugar called for (I think I've even used slightly less than the lower amount called for and still gotten good results). However, I did try to make it once recently and for some reason it didn't come together properly.

          Good luck!

          p.s. I'm not a coconut cake fan myself but coconut cake with a cream cheese icing does go together just wonderfully.

          1. I love the cake bible as well but not really keen on any of the frostings. In fact, I'm not a big fan of frosting. I find the traditional butter/confectioners sugar/flavoring combo way too sugary. the kind where you feel it on your teeth. so that said, i either prefer whipped cream which is not ideal for really frosting a cake unless stabilized or a swiss buttercream. I like italian buttercream as well but i feel like streaming in the cooked sugar is too fussy and the swiss buttercream gets you a similar result. you can find a recipe for swiss any where online. i use the one from epicurious and it works pretty well.

            1. You might look through this thread for the various recipes that begin with cooking flour and milk, then beating butter and sugar and adding the cooked mixture. This is a much nicer icing than "American" buttercream, but less rich than the European buttercreams. You will see in the thread how much people love it:

              2 Replies
                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  The cooked/custard/gravy buttercream was good for me at first but has gotten less and less "good" over time. I want to love it but simply don't, and at times have even found that the better the consistency of the end product, the more overly-buttery it tastes. That's just my opinion though, as my mom used to make what I remember to be a killer gravy buttercream when I was little but now I don't like it so much (her's used half butter and half shortening which I believe made it extra fluffy). I have also had some issues getting these recipes to consistently turn out a good product, with the occasional breaking/separating occurring for what could be a wide variety of reasons. It's a good type of buttercream to try, though, if you are looking for one that might better suite your palate.