Buttercream Frosting Guide

Learn the differences between (and get recipes for) the four main buttercream varieties.
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Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Frost with the Most

You’ve most likely seen (or eaten) rich, fluffy buttercream frosting on top of a cake or a cupcake. Buttercream is popular for good reason: It's easy to color, takes to many flavorings and makes a great decorating medium. There are a few different kinds — the main ones are American, French, Swiss and Italian — which range in fluffiness, color, lightness and stability. Each is enticing in its own way, and some are simpler to make than others. Click ahead for an overview.

American

This is one of the simplest frostings around. It is made by beating butter and confectioners’ sugar together and loosening the mixture with a little bit of liquid until it becomes spreadable. It is rich, dense and sweet, and melts easily in heat.

Get the Recipe: Vanilla American Buttercream

Swiss

This buttercream is stable, light-textured and very light in color. It's made by beating sugar and egg whites together in a double boiler to warm them, then adding butter to the cooled egg-sugar mixture and beating till fluffy. It does require a thermometer, but it’s a pretty basic frosting to make once you clear that hurdle.

Get the Recipe: Swiss Buttercream

Italian

This stable and fluffy buttercream is made with an Italian meringue base (heated sugar syrup is beaten into egg whites until stiff peaks form). Small pieces of butter are then mixed in to make the frosting.

Get the Recipe: Italian Buttercream

French

This rich frosting is made by adding sugar syrup to whole eggs and egg yolks, and then beating in butter. It's very rich, but light in texture. It melts easily, because there is so much fat. It makes a great filling or simple frosting but is not ideal for decorating.

Get the Recipe: French Buttercream

Flavorings

Buttercream takes flavor like a champ. Add chocolate, coffee, coloring, flavored liqueur, fruit concentrates, citrus or extracts at the very end of beating.

Get the Recipe: Chocolate American Buttercream

Decorating

Buttercreams can be spooned and swirled onto cakes and cupcakes in a number of ways. Apply them with an offset spatula and then decorate with patterned scrapers, or use a piping bag and assorted tips to make stripes, flowers, baskets and pretty much anything else you can dream up.

Tips & Ideas

Do Ahead: You can make buttercream in advance, and store it in the refrigerator or the freezer. You just have to beat it back into a shiny, creamy mass when you thaw it out. Always decorate with non-chilly buttercream.

 

Help!: Buttercream looks weird and broken when you start adding butter. Even if it looks ruined, don’t panic. It’s likely fine. Both Swiss and American buttercreams almost always curdle. When faced with this loose, soupy, sloppy mess, remain calm, add the butter and follow the recipe until the end. Most of the time, just keep whipping and trust it will come together.

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