French Buttercream

Total Time:
20 min
20 min

about 4 pounds of buttercream (enough to ice a 3-tier cake)

  • 10 egg whites
  • 15 ounces sugar
  • 2 1/2 pounds unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Special Equipment: 5-quart mixer with bowl and whip attachment, rubber spatula

*Cook's Note: Make sure to have a completely clean and dry mixing bowl when you start your process. Any fat or liquid at all in the bowl will stunt the protein development of the albumen (egg white protein) and you will not have a proper meringue at the end. The results could be disastrous.

Start whipping egg whites slowly in the mixer until foamy. Increase the speed of the mixer and slowly start adding the sugar until all the sugar is incorporated. Once all the sugar is in, increase the speed of the mixer even more and whip until the mixture is shiny and stiff. You now have a meringue. You know when your meringue is done when you pull out the whip, hold it horizontally, and if you have what looks a "sparrow's beak" on the end of the whip.

Replace the whip, turn the mixer on medium and start adding the butter a bit at a time. Once all the butter is incorporated, turn the mixer on high and let mix; depending on the weather, the buttercream could take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to form. You will know when it has formed when you hear the motor of the mixer start to slow down and whine a little bit; also, when you first add the butter, your meringue will break down and look weird and this is what you want. When the buttercream is done, the mixture will be homogeneous, consistent, and tasty.

Remove the buttercream from the bowl and transfer to an airtight container. Buttercream can be kept at room temperature for a few days or in the refrigerator for a 1 to 2 weeks, but always use warm buttercream when icing a cake. To warm up the buttercream, put it back in the mixer using the whip or the paddle, and apply direct heat with a propane torch you can find at any hardware store.

Professional Recipe: This recipe was provided by a chef, restaurant or culinary professional and makes a large quantity. The Food Network Kitchens chefs have not tested this recipe in the proportions indicated and therefore cannot make any representation as to the results.

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    First of all, this is not a French buttercream. French buttercream has egg yolks in it. 
    Contrary to what another commenter said, this is not especially similar to an Italian buttercream, either. Italian buttercream is made with a hot sugar syrup poured into the egg whites, which helps to kill anything that might be hiding in the egg whites - not something I'm particularly squeamish about, but you may want to be more concerned about feeding raw egg whites to children, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems. 
    If anything, this is closer to some recipes for Swiss buttercream that I've seen, though even some of those have you cooking the [as-yet-unwhipped] egg white and sugar mixture over a bain-marie. 
    Having recently made both vanilla Swiss buttercream and raspberry French buttercream, I can tell you that I won't be wasting my time making Swiss or Italian buttercream ever, ever again. 
    Do yourself a favor and find an authentic French buttercream recipe.
    This recipe is fine. 
    You really have to let the mixer go for a good long time before the butter, egg whites, and sugar make a nice fluffy buttercream. I've made the mistake (and I'm a professional of not letting the mix whip enough and it indeed comes out like sugar coated butter. 
    All in all, it's a good base, but you really should be double boil the egg whites and sugar to 141 degrees in order to kill all the bacteria in the whites.
    this is not french butter cream. Maybe closer to Italian , with the meringue, but not french.I was very embarrassed in front of my guests , who were all expecting french buttercream. I still gave it a try, hoping it would still taste ok with the egg whites, but it was not good, not sweet,too voluminous.
    I thought this recipe was really really good. I am currently in culinary school and we actually liked this buttercream much better than some of the recipes in our book. Done correctly this cream is light and fluffy and not to sweet. Some of you that said it was like butter, well there are many ways for buttercreams to go wrong. If its like butter then that is your first indication of over mixing. Any buttercream will always have a different texture, taste when its being done by a different person.
    This is NOT a recipe for French buttercream. French buttercream is made with egg yolks (in some recipes whole eggs instead of just egg whites. This is closer to Italian or Swiss buttercream.
    i was very dissappointed with this recipe. it tasted like pure butter and made an enormous amount!
    It tasted exactly like what I make to put on cornbread. Just like honey butter. Not in the least like cake frosting. The texture was firm for piping, almost too marshmallow-e, sticky and not smooth & creamy. It tasted like sweetened butter.
    While the icing was fairly simple to make with my stand mixer, I didn't really enjoy it as much as I thought I would. It was smooth, sweet and buttery... but I found it to be a little too much like a sweet whipped butter than a "frosting". Maybe it would be good melted over some cornbread or a warm muffin, but I really couldn't see enjoying this frosting all over a cake. It would just be "too much".
    I love this recipe. I love that this icing is rich and delicious!! It stays put on my cakes and doesn't have that chalky texture that so many icings have. YUM!
    How "classic" does it have to be? Obviously, the person who commented that Duff has no "classic" training needs to rethink his "untrained" comment. Duff appeared on "Iron Chef" and competed against Chef Michael Simon! Apparently this guy who sounds like he knows all about baking and sounds like he knows Duff, doesn't know Duff at all. You don't get to go head-to-head with someone like Michael Simon if you don't know your stuff. The kind of stuff Duff did on that program was definitely from formal training. Cakes, actually, according to Duff, came in as a close second to his chef's training.

    Like any recipe, especially icings, there can be many factors that change the results from one person to the next. I don't think that Duff is hurting any from his own recipes! They obviously work for him, according to the fantastically successful business he owns!
    Like another reviewer said, this is just a blank canvess for other flavors. Add chocolate ganache, fruit curd, or just some (high quality) vannilla. This is now my standard icing:) In fact I registered on this site just so I could review this.
    I was looking forward to making this for my sons 4th birthday party on his fire truck cakes I made him. It was awful it has no taste or sweetness. It tasted like you were eating cake with a stick of butter. Everyone at the party removed the icing. Thank goodness the cake was good and moist but as for the icing it went in the garage. I was afraid to put in down the disposal that it would clog it!!!!!!
    This recipe had great texture, looked pretty and was easy to work with but it just barely had an almost imerceptible sweetness to it. Something is amiss in the amount of sugar or perhaps the quantity of butter given is wrong. Since this is not really a French Buttercream, but Swiss, I went back to some of my personal recipes and compared the amounts of the ingredients. WAYYYY too much butter. But, since most of my recipes that contain eggs are cooked, its hard to say. In any event, the "charm" of this particular method was the ease in which the recipe is made. I am disappointed that the Food Network Test Kitchen apparently did not. (test this recipe). It was bland awful and I was so embarrassed by the results.
    I have tried several different frostings over the years, from the simple butter, powdered sugar and milk recipe to very difficult, time consuming frostings.
    My kids and I had agreed that our favorite was the "Boiled Frosting", the marshmallow taste was perfect for most applications, and also great to fill cupcakes! However, I couldn't find a great "catch all" frosting that I could use for everything with just slight variations. We tried Duff's today, and I am positive that I have found my recipe! It is VERY easy, has very simple ingredients, and tastes great! Thank you Duff, for sharing this with us, my days of using Crisco for frostings is over!!!
    Jill H. Quartzsite AZ
    I am a pastry chef and there are some questions on whether this is an italian, swiss, or french buttercream. The technique he refers to by adding granulated sugar to uncooked egg whites is the correct technique for producing a french MERINGUE. French meringues are typically baked or used as bases for other products, such as buttercream. This type of meringue is also used as the topping for Lemon Meringue pie. To answer the question of it being grainy- no it shouldn't be grainy. The sugar will disolve into the water of the egg white. By slowly adding the sugar, it allows the water of the egg white to asborb the gradually to avoid a grainy texture. This meringue when finished is very shiny almost like a pearl. A French BUTTERCREAM contains whipped egg yolks with sugar cooked to the softball stage (248 degrees) or A.K.A. "pate a bombe" buttercream. Technically, for it to be a French buttercream, there needs to be egg yolks, but to make a french MERINGUE buttercream, Duff is correct. A small technicality with words. Also, this is safe to eat. The sugar and fat content of buttercream makes it nearly impossible for bacteria to grow. Lastly- this is just a base for flavors. It would be gross if isn't flavored.

    Italian buttercream contains egg whites whipped to a foam, then soft ball sugar syrup is added into the foam to "cook" the whites. Butter is then gradually added to form a homogenous mixture.

    Swiss buttercream contains egg whites and granulated sugar whipped over a double boiler until to mixture reaches 110 degrees. The mixture is then whipped until it forms a meringue. Butter is then slowly incorporated to keep the emulsion.

    German buttercream is pastry cream whipped with gradual butter additions until the mixture is homogenous.

    American buttercream contains a creamed fat with powdered sugar added to it until it's light and fluffy. A small amount of liquid like milk and extracts are commonly added.
    I was almost turned off by the low rating, but decided to read some of the reviews before finding another recipe to try. I am soooo glad I did. I realized several reviews in that people were more concerned about the origins of the buttercream, not the recipe itself. WHO CARES!! Rate a recipe on easy of use and taste, not whether it is labeled the way you think it should be. Anyway, after reading I decided to try it out. I added a bit more sugar as indicated by some of the reviewers and mixed it for 15 minutes. I had already made the Old Fashioned Cupcake recipe listed on this website and used this buttercream to frost them for a family night treat. For the adults, I mixed in a little thickened and cooled raspberry syrup into the buttercream for a little gourmet flavor. My kids, husband and parents gobbled up all the cupcakes licking their fingers in satisfaction. I am actually going to try to cut back on the butter next time just to save a few calories. Can't wait to make them for the whole family at Christmas.

    I am a huge fan of Duff and this recipe just proves he is the king of cakes!
    I made this recipe for my family for Thanksgiving after seeing it advertised on the Food Network and it was AWFUL. I am an experienced baker and thought it was odd that it didn't have more sugar in it than it did in order to cut the greasy taste of the butter. But I trusted Duff and made it EXACTLY as he said. It spread on the cake very easilty but when I served it to my family no one would eat it. They all said it tasted like I had spread a stick of butter on the cake. I finally had to throw the cake out. I was VERY disappointed. I wish I had read the reviews before I made it.
    But this isnt a recipe for a french buttercream. French buttercream is made from egg yolks being whipped in a mixing bowl. and in a pot you have equal parts water and sugar cooked to 240 F (softball stage) and you pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl when your egg yokes are pale yellow (pale ribbon stage).

    Pastry Chef Brian
    It was very fluffy and airy and I lived that about it but it was not flavorful at all? tasted like a stick of butter? Is is supposed to taste like that? Maybe I did something wrong? I won't make this again but I love the texture went on the cake really well... I am glad I did not make this to give to someone... I guess I need to fiddle with it? Just not what I expected it to be at all. Very dissapointed.
    A standard measurement in any baking is for one LARGE egg. Not ex-large, not medium, not jumbo. Just large.

    That said, one LARGE egg equals 1oz liquid measurement. So if you're using pasteurized egg whites from a carton, 8 oz liquid egg whites would equal 8 LARGE egg whites.

    Otherwise, most Americans call "buttercream" the faux candy paste they make from powdered sugar and crisco. This is NOT buttercream. It's a candy paste and is cloyingly sweet, most times. Euuugh!

    This is a true buttercream, although the semantics of which could be argued for days amongst those who want to give area types such as "French, Italian, yadadadada..." -----it is delicious and different from the candy paste most of us are used to on cakes.

    Try it---you may find a bit of something new out there. But yeah. One oz of whites.
    I have tried this recipe on several occasions and it has turned out amazing. I have also noticed that a lot of people have posted up concerns about consuming raw eggs. There are several things that have to wrong with the handling of raw eggs in order to obtain salmonella. If you are still worried grocers sell Pasteurized Eggs which are safe for raw consumption. Trust me it is 99.9% safe to consume raw eggs. What do you think Orange Julius puts in their drinks to make them frothy?
    I really enjoyed the lightness and overall texture of this icing; it truly melted in your mouth, and didn't coat your tongue like the icing on store bought cakes. While I enjoyed that it was not overly sweet, it was quite buttery. I will say though that it tasted better the next day, perhaps because it was balanced by the cake. Very nice consistency, which made piping a breeze. I am quite the amateur cake maker, but would maybe add some powdered sugar to the final product to balance the buttery taste, and to stiffen the icing so that it would set up better.
    It's more like Swiss buttercream, but unpasteurized. French buttercream uses egg yolk. Swiss & Italian both use the whites. But what concerns me is, FoodNetwork, don't you all know that it's unsafe to eat raw egg? It needs to be heated to at least 150 degrees fahrenheit (I think) to be safe. Otherwise you can get salmonella poisoning. I really think that you have a responsibility to know these things and inform your viewers. You should know better than to post this unsafe recipe!

    For a CORRECT and delicious recipe for Swiss buttercream, I recommend everyone to go to and do a search of Swiss Buttercream. There you'll find a video by that is superb.
    Look elsewhere for a REAL French Buttercream because this isn't it, not even close.
    I purchased pasturized liquid egg whites in a carton. What is the correct cup measurement to equal 10 egg whites? Think I had too much "liquid" in my frosting. Too greasy and not the texture or consistency a buttercream should be.
    Would like to try again, is for a wedding cake scheduled for May 2, 2009.
    Ok, I don't know what all the fuss is about with this recipe. I'm an experienced baker and have made a number of buttercreams in my career. This one is the easiest to make and work with. This is my new favorite recipe. I do have to say that if you read the recipe it says to mix on high speed 5-15 minutes and I would say it takes more like 10-15 minutes. You need to mix it a lot longer than 5 minutes to get the smoothe consistency. I've added espresso powder to the eggwhites to make it a coffee buttercream (add a little vanilla extract too). I just used this for a couple of baby shower cakes and the results were amazing. Everyone raved about the taste. Don't be afraid to experiment with other'll be amazed at the result. I would hate for anyone to dismiss this one because of a few bad reviews. Thank you Duff! You've always been amazing and have proved yourself once again! ;)
    I love Duff, but.... This is only edible if you enjoy eating butter with a spoon. I'm an experienced baker and this stuff is awful. I admit I questioned 2 1/2 # of butter, but I trusted Duff. I think I'll be able to use it as a base for regular buttercream. Expensive as well.

    Nancy, Morgan Hill, CA
    As much as I LOVE Chef Duff, he's incorrect by calling this French Buttercream. I'm not quite sure what kind of buttercream this is.

    French buttercream is made with egg yolks not egg whites. Italian buttercream is made with a 240 degree sugar/water mixture poured slowly into a bowl of whipped egg whites. Swiss buttercream is made with sugar dissolved in egg whites over a double boiler then whipped. And American buttercream is made with powdered sugar and no eggs.

    So, pouring granulated sugar directly into egg whites is odd to me. I would imagine it tastes rather grainy. I guess this is a combination of American and Swiss buttercream.
    It wasn't that hard to make and it came out just as Duff said it would. I like the flavor as is, but could see why some might want it sweeter. Personaly I don't like it so sweet.

    I HATE oily frostings. This was light, fluffy, flavorful and melts in your mouth. Give it a try. You'll never go back.
    not a very good recipe, to much butter not enough sugar. So bad my son had to spit it out.
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