Friday, August 31, 2012

American Buttercream

Sorry I missed a week. I was in a car accident that was the scariest experience in my entire life. Thankfully, I am all healed up and ready to go back to writing and baking.

I am finally posting my recipe for American Buttercream. American buttercream is much sweeter than the European buttercreams, and much easier to make. It takes just a couple of minutes, and is much cheaper (and arguably better) than frosting in cans.

It took me months to develop a recipe that I liked, but please don't let that put you off. There are many good recipes. Serious Cakes has an entire blog devoted to her buttercream, and check out Arti Cakes to see the art that can be created with frosting. It's only those of us that work with it all the time that are so picky about our frosting.

This is the exact frosting recipe that won my Frosting Taste Test by a mile. It is based on the Wilton buttercream recipe; not the one on their web site, but the one they teach in Decorating Basics. It makes a lot of frosting, enough to frost and decorate a 2 to 4 layer cake.

About an hour before I want to make the frosting, I put 8 ounces of salted butter on the counter to soften. It is much, much easier to work with softened butter. When I'm ready I put the butter and 7 1/4 ounces Crisco in my mixer bowl. This is approximately equivalent to 1 cup of each, but I much prefer weighing shortening instead of scraping it out of measuring cups.

Why shortening? As I wrote previously, shortening is soft at a wide range of temperatures, has emulsifiers that stabilize the frosting, and is already aerated with little gas bubbles.

I also here add 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, and 1/2 teaspoon butter flavoring. You can of course use any flavorings you like, and as much as you like. If I wanted the frosting to be very, very white I would use clear vanilla and premium butter, which isn't yellow.

I beat the heck out of the fats with the beater blade of my mixer. If one fat was firmer, I would beat that one alone first. You don't want lumps, but if lumps persist, the friction from the sugar will smooth them out.

Next I add 2 pounds of Confectioners' Sugar or 10x. Luckily, Domino sells 10x in 2 pound bags, so you don't need to measure it. If my sugar is lumpy, I curse a lot and then sift it. Sugar lumps clog piping tips.

I add my sugar all at once, but most people are less reckless and add it a little bit at a time.

If I want chocolate buttercream, I also add 4 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) unsweetened cocoa. The quality of the cocoa really affects the flavor here, so make sure it's a cocoa you like. I've recently used Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa, and it was very good. Natural or Dutched doesn't matter in this application.

I mix in the sugar at the very slowest speed, and I don't have too much problem with flying sugar, but your experience may vary.

I stop when I hear the mixer start to strain. I don't know why, but I always smile at this point, like I'm a bada** Kitchenaid abuser. I'm weird, I know.

I add 2 to 4 tablespoons milk, depending on how stiff I want the frosting. You can use water, cream, or even liquor (according to my teacher). If I'm just frosting the cake, I add milk until the frosting is spreadable. If I'm doing a lot of piping, I add as little liquid as I can while still making it smooth. Chocolate frosting will require a lot more liquid because of the drying nature of cocoa.

I've put one layer of Damp Yellow Cake (the same recipe I used for the Strawberry Cassata Cake) on my turntable, and a large glob of frosting in the middle.

The frosting is easy to spread with a long offset spatula.

I put the second layer on the first, bottom side up. As you can see, the cake stuck to the parchment a little and the bottom is torn. If I tried to frost this layer with a spatula, it would have a lot of crumbs.

Instead I use the Witon 789 Icer Tip and piping bag. I need to get a bigger bag, like this Ateco Icer bag, as this one needs refilled two or three times to frost a whole cake.

This is what the cake looks like after the Icer tip. I just use my piping bag like the needle of a record player and let the cake turn under it. It's very easy to smooth over with a spatula.

The Icer tip works even better on the sides.

After I've applied the frosting with the Icer tip, I use the spatula and turntable to smooth the sides, then the top, then the sides . . .

If this cake were for a special occasion, I would use the Viva Paper Towel method, demonstrated here by SeriousCakes, to get it very smooth. Serious Cakes has made a lot of very good YouTube tutorials if you're interested. Why Viva? It's the only brand without embossing. Parchment or wax paper, smoothed with your hands, works too, but only with a frosting that forms a crust.


  1. I love your blog, Melanie. I'm watching my weight and walking 4.5 miles a day as many days a week as I can right now, so at the moment, this blog is fantasy-land for me. But what a lovely fantasy land it is. You're my own personal Julia Child, and you write as well as she did, and most importantly, I trust that you really test your recipes...the thing that made Julia truly great!

    1. That kind of exercise is really impressive! Good work.
      Thank you for your wonderful comment. It really means a lot that I can entertain you while you're losing weight.