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Decorating with Butter-made Buttercream

  • d

So I'm taking the Wilton cake decorating classes at Michaels in an effort to improve my piping skills (and get better at gumpaste flowers and fondant). The instructor is adamant that only frosting with Crisco can give you the stiffness that you need to make buttercream roses and flowers.

I've humored her for the first class and bought a can of the disgusting Wilton stuff to practice with, but I really don't see why adding real butter would ruin it. They made buttercream roses before Crisco was invented, didn't they? (Ok actually I have no idea)

So I'm making my own buttercream for tomorrow's class, but I'd still like it to be a consistency where she doesn't automatically blame mistakes that I'd (probably) make on the fact that there's butter in it. The most promising has a 1:1 ratio of butter to Crisco.

I'd rather not use any at all. Help, anyone?

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  1. it's a temperature issue -- Butter goes soft at far lower temperatures than Crisco, so the decorations tend to degenerate into unidentifiable blobs at room temp.

    1. It's true, butter flowers slump quickly - the heat from your hands as you're piping warms the frosting to an unstable temperature. Try the half and half recipe and see what you think.

      1 Reply
      1. re: biondanonima

        Yeah I'm going to try the half and half recipe. I've decided to use that for decorating (and ice the cake with whatever the heck I want). We'll see how it works...

      2. Many years ago I encountered a similar problem. I substituted Italian meringue buttercream for the Crisco stuff, as that is what I would be using in real life., preferring something actual edible. I had no problem, but the room was temperature controlled. For best results, you want to avoid overfilling your bag. The temperature of your hands and constant squeezing are your biggest enemy. Even if the teacher doesn't like it, it can be done. The canned stuff is good for practicing on a plastic wrap coated board, where you practice, scrape, practice, scrape, and practice some more. If she insists on your using the Crisco stuff, I would use a dummy, rather than bothering with an actual cake.

        2 Replies
        1. re: maxie

          Yeah, Italian meringue is what I'd use too; at least it's a little stiffer than French style. Problem is we have to bring in cakes to decorate. I'm doing this with my husband and I don't want to end up with 4 cakes and 12 cupcakes that are essentially inedible....

          1. re: DJade

            Exactly! I'd rather take guff from the instructor than end up with inedible cakes.

        2. For the class, I'd frost the cake with butter buttercream (refrigerate the frosted cake so it'll be easier to scrape off the new decorations), but as you're piping the frosting, I'd use Crisco and then scrape it off before eating. As you practice, you're going to be holding the bag in your hand a long time and unless you have ice cold hands all the time, especially as you're squeezing, it's going to get soft, especially as you scrape and practice again and again. Transferring a melted rose is hard. It all scrapes off the cake easily. Going half butter and half shortening still doesn't taste good--you still get that mouthfeel of the Crisco. Keep thinking this is more about practicing the technique than making a delicious final product. As you get used to the bag and pipe more quickly, you can go to what you like.

          1 Reply
          1. re: chowser

            Yeah that's what I'm thinking of doing. The cake I ended up making (Nigella Lawson's Guinness Chocolate cake) is too amazing to put the Crisco stuff on.

          2. My dad (son of a pastry chef) used to make decorated cakes for major holidays (piping, no roses or other flowers). He made a buttercream from butter and cooked pudding (he swore by Dr. Oetker brand). IIRC, the cake was usually kept in one of our cooler rooms or the garage until serving time. But I don't recall the piping melting.

            2 Replies
            1. re: nofunlatte

              I've piped basic decorations with French buttercream too and there was never any issue. Roses are probably another story...

              1. re: DJade

                And the real buttercream bowl is much tastier to "clean" :)

            2. What I don't understand too is why Crisco is supposed to be stiffer than butter, when butter is like a rock straight from the fridge, but Crisco feels like softened butter.

              5 Replies
              1. re: DJade

                If you can constantly refrigerate your bag, you can keep the butter buttercream stiffer. But at room temperature, or worst, the temperature of your hands, it'll soften pretty quickly. Crisco stays the same, unless intentionally heated. There are a lot of different frostings you can pipe and make roses, etc., but this is about practicing and you want what's going to hold up and what will give you the sharpest edges. You're good to make your own cakes from scratch. When I did the classes, I did quick and easy mixes and brought them to work.

                1. re: chowser

                  I'm taking a decorating class at a community college and the instructor said that part of the reason for using Crisco and water (rather than butter and cream or milk) is because it won't spoil in transit. She also mentioned the stiffness aspect and said that when you're learning, using Crisco makes more sense because you need to be fast when using butter. If you're a newbie theicing may melt before you get it all squeezed out of the bag! The taste is blah, though. No doubt about it.

                  1. re: Miri1

                    Definitely. I've given children lessons on cake decorating and while it's a pain to clean up, I'd only teach them with crisco based frosting. It does make nice crisp roses as you practice. I hate the mouthfeel, too, and always frost the cake itself w/ other types of frosting. With all the practice and scraping off (Wilton has those plastic practice sheets), you don't want to waste the butter, either.

                    1. re: Miri1

                      I think that's the most solid advice -- go with the Crisco for the duration of the class...think of the Crisco as your training wheels.

                      THEN when you're comfortable with the techniques, fiddle with the recipe to your hearts' content.

                      It's a lot easier to learn if you're not fighting with your frosting on the way by.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I ended up settling for Crisco/butter...and it's pretty stiff stuff. I figure it'll be fine since both the room and my fingers will be freezing at classtime. That's my decoration icing. It tastes WAY better than the canned stuff, but still miles behind butter-only frosting. I'm 99% sure it's stiff enough, but I'll find out in class I guess. I have a can of the canned if necessary.

                        Making up a batch of French buttercream for the cake itself. (:

                2. I agree that Crisco is gross, but who ever eats the roses?

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: visciole

                    Isn't Crisco frosting, if used for the roses, used on the entire cake as well (at bakeries)? I honestly had never thought of this and am kind of disgusted by it, much as I love a good piece of frosted bakery cake.

                    1. re: Frosty Melon

                      probably, but it's the difference between eating a thin layer of it, distributed across the cake, and consuming a giant glob of it.

                      1. re: Frosty Melon

                        I don't think most bakeries use Crisco but I'm not sure about grocery stores and ones that are mass produced.

                        1. re: chowser

                          might not be Crisco brand, but you can bet it's a hydrogenated vegetable shortening.

                        2. re: Frosty Melon

                          Probably in bakeries, but I was thinking if the OP made his/her own cake, s/he could frost with real buttercream and make the roses with Crisco.

                          1. re: visciole

                            I ended up doing exactly that. Got a tsk tsk from the instructor...but it really did interfere with the lesson. My buttercream wouldn't crust over since it had no crisco in it, and I couldn't do the piping gel transfer so had to pipe out my cupcake freehand (not a big deal).

                            The 1:1 crisco/buttercream recipe turned out very well. It actually tastes pretty decent until you swipe a fingerful of real buttercream....then it goes back to tasting pretty crappy. Still, good enough for decorating.

                        3. re: visciole

                          Kids fight over them. Lots of sugar.

                          1. re: visciole

                            Haha, I'd love to eat ALL the roses, love the sugar and the color, a child at heart I guess.
                            I don't see that Crisco is "gross", though -- it's a plant-derived oil/fat.

                            1. re: blue room

                              I just meant I think it tastes gross. If you don't, I won't hold it against you ;)

                          2. I am also taking the Wilton class at Michael's to improve my piping technique and gum paste skills. However, I have prior experience piping cakes using real buttercream made with butter. For flowers, you can still add some meringue powder to give additional strength. Also, powdered sugar contains cornstarch which is like a natural thickener. Anyway, I never encountered the problems the instructor claims I will have if I use real buttercream.

                            Yes, it's true the warmth from one's hands will affect pipe-ability. However, if one chills the cake, works quickly, etc., there are no problems. When I say work quickly, I mean within 30 minutes. I have always followed this and never encountered a problem.

                            I agree with you - entirely. The Wilton pre-made stuff is absolutely disgusting and there's no amount of flavoring that can be added to overcome the awful sweetness and greasiness on one's palate. In the culinary world, Wilton's icing is refereed to as "practice buttercream." Just consult professional baker Rosy Levy Beranbaum's book "The Cake Bible" for an explanation.

                            I bought a tub of the stuff for classes only. Every week we get a new assignment to make more of this stuff and I just keep reusing the same vat icing. I refuse to waste my ingredients (money) on making this stuff.

                            The one thing that really burns me as a matter of ethics, are folks who make cakes out of their home for sale and use boxed cake mix, gelatinous pre-made fillings and the nasty Wilton Crisco icing from the tub. No one has any business charging $400-$500 or more for a wedding cake, which is common in my area if they aren't willing to give a hoot about the actual taste of the cake. There should be more concern over what something tastes like than how many inedible gum paste flowers are made to be thrown out. While I work with gum paste, personally, I find using crystallized edible flowers to be a better method.

                            I suspect the reason why the Wilton instructors are so adamant about using that pre-made garbage is because they are paid via Wilton and Michael's. The instructors are paid marketers for Wilton and Michaels's. Michael's makes a small fortune holding classes and then having instructors market Wilton-only products to students.I know this because I prefer Duff's icing color's to Wilton's and it was like I committed a taboo in class last night because I wouldn't use Wilton's.

                            There are no refrigerators at my Michael's class or refrigeration period in the store. Therefore, real buttercream made with butter is an impossibility. A store would never pass health inspection. Wilton's pre-made garbage doesn't need to be refrigerated. It's just Crisco and sugar.