Hey guys! Just a three-photo post today, because this recipe was never meant to be a real recipe. Actually, I made all the photos in this post for another post I was planning on doing. A post on Easy Chocolate (Swiss!) French Buttercream. Unfortunately, the chocolate buttercream didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped. As in: yuck, yuck, YUCK! But luckily, this stuff was absolutely dreamy and glorious and delicious and soooo worth dedicating a blog post to, so a three-photo post it is!
That makes sense right? It’s just one of those happy kitchen mistakes!
But wait, what’s all that ‘easy (Swiss!) French buttercream’ stuff all about? It’s a funny title, isn’t it? Well, it is what it is! I made a Swiss French buttercream. And because ‘Swiss French buttercream’ is probably a little too confusing, I decided to put ‘Swiss’ in brackets!
So, what exactly is ‘(Swiss!) French buttercream’? It’s easy! We all know about Swiss buttercream, right? Which is basically a Swiss meringue enriched with tons of butter. And then there is French buttercream, which is made by mixing hot sugar syrup into egg yolks and then adding a ton of butter. These two different kinds of buttercream have one thing in common: both are made by enriching a ‘sweetened egg foam’ with – oh yeah – butter. But where the Swiss buttercream is made with egg whites, the French buttercream is made with just the yolks. And that’s not the only thing that’s different between these two delicious frostings!
The most important difference lies in the cooking method. As you may remember from my ‘Different Kinds of Meringue‘ series, Swiss meringue (and, consequently, Swiss buttercream) is made by gently heating a mixture of sugar and egg whites over a hot water bath until the sugar dissolves. The result? A deliciously smooth meringue! No crunchy, undissolved sugar crystals. No grainy texture. Just smooth perfection!
Incidentally, this method also allows you to pasteurize the egg whites by bringing the temperature of the mixture up to 71°C/160°F, thus making your meringue salmonella safe! Which means that you can use Swiss meringue to make completely salmonella safe buttercream!
So if you have an irrational (or rational!) fear of raw eggs, you know what to do…
French buttercream, on the other hand, is made by first mixing hot sugar syrup into egg yolks. The resulting mixture is called a pâte à bombe. (And no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either…) Making a hot sugar syrup is very easy and the result is perfectly delicious and dreamy. Buuuuut the downside of having to make a sugar syrup, is that you need to bring the syrup up to a very specific temperature in order for the recipe to work. In other words: you’ll need a sugar thermometer (or a multimeter!) to make French buttercream. And not all home bakers have one.
Which got me thinking: is it possible to make French buttercream without a sugar thermometer? Using the Swiss meringue method? Because hey, French buttercream is deeeeeelicious! Seriously. Because there are yolks in French buttercream, it’s smoother and richer in taste than Swiss buttercream. It’s amaaaazing! In fact, I think it’s better than Swiss buttercream.
So, question of the day: can you make a buttercream that is as luxuriously smooth and rich as French buttercream, but which doesn’t require the use of a sugar thermometer?
As it turns out: you can! It’s totally a thing! Here’s how I made my (Swiss!) French buttercream…
First, grab a couple of eggs. You’ll need five for this recipe. Well, five yolks! So if you just made an egg white omelet or meringue or something, it’s your lucky day. Grab those yolks and plop them in a bowl. Add sugar and whisk, whisk, whisk! Seriously, start whisking right away, otherwise the sugar will ‘burn’ the yolks.
By the way, the person who came up with that term is in idiot. Cold sugar doesn’t burn anything, right? What happens is that the sugar reacts with the yolks, forming hard lumps of protein. These lumps make it impossible to end up with a dreamy, velvety smooth buttercream, so make sure you start whisking as soon as you add the sugar!
Anyway, once the mixture is foamy, I added a teaspoon of vanilla, because… VANILLA! Plain and simple. And then… I added a teaspoon of instant coffee granules. Which really was the BEST decision ever! Remember how I had planned on making chocolate buttercream? Well, some people like to use a hint of coffee to enhance the flavor of chocolaty things, such as buttercream, cake or ice cream. That’s why I added it. Looking back, I think I may have added a little bit too much for a chocolate buttercream, because the coffee really packed a – delicious!! – punch!
Anyway, once I had whisked in the flavorings, I placed the bowl over a pan of simmering water to dissolve the sugar and turn the mixture into a sweet yolky syrup.
But wait! You can pasteurize Swiss meringue, right? And make it salmonella safe? Well, you can do the same thing here! You can totally pasteurize the yolks! I wasn’t really sure it was going to work, but it worked perfectly! The yolks didn’t set or curdle or anything. As I explained in my post on Swiss meringue, the added sugar actually protects the proteins in the yolks against the heat, so I could bring the mixture up to a temperature of 64°C/147°F! I browsed the web, and it turns out that yolks start to thicken at a temperature of 65°C/150°F and the salmonella bacteria cannot survive temperatures higher than 55°C/131°F.
Because I was afraid the yolks would cook, I didn’t dare take the mixture up to 71°C/160°F, so to make sure I killed all the bacteria, I kept the yolks at a temperature of 64°C/147°F for about ten minutes, whisking constantly and taking the bowl off the heat whenever the mixture was getting too hot. Because you do need to do that; keep the mixture at a high temperature for a while. This can be a pain, because it requires a lot of taking the bowl off the heat and putting it back on again to regulate the temperature, but if you really want to pasteurize the yolks, this is the way to do it!
So guess what that means? Normally, French buttercream is not salmonella safe. Although some people like to argue otherwise, pouring sugar syrup with a temperature of 113°C/235°F into a bowl of egg yolks (or whites, for that matter) doesn’t bring the temperature of the yolks up enough to pasteurize them. But if you pasteurize the yolks this way, the resulting buttercream is completely safe!
It’s amazing… I’m a genius…
Anyway, once you’ve either just dissolved the sugar into the yolks or completely pasteurized the mixture, it’s time to start whipping. Whip, whip, whip until the pâte à bombe thickens and drops in ribbons when you lift the beaters out of the bowl, and the mixture feels cool to the touch. At this point, you can start adding cubes of butter that have been softened at room temperature. I usually take the butter out of the fridge a few hours before I plan on making buttercream. The butter needs to be really soft (but not greasy!) in order to properly combine with the pâte à bombe.
Add a few cubes of butter at a time and mix until all of the butter has been added and the mixture looks fluffy, smooth and delicious!
Seriously guys, this stuff is amazing! It’s rich and smooth and perfect, with an amazing coffee flavor! A really easy way to make French buttercream.
Use it to fill a cake, frost cupcakes or just eat it with a spoon! That’s what I did, anyways…
- 5 large egg yolks* (about 85ml, or ⅓ of a cup + 1 teaspoon)
- 100g (or ½ cup) granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
- pinch of salt
- 250g (or 1 cup + 5 teaspoons) unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature
- Plop the yolks into a medium-sized, heatproof bowl. Add the sugar and immediately whisk until foamy. Add the vanilla and coffee and whisk until combined.
- Place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (making sure the water doesn't touch the bowl) and heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. You can check whether the sugar has dissolved by rubbing a bit of the mixture between your fingers.
- If you want to pasteurize the yolks and make the buttercream salmonella safe (I recommend doing this if you're planning on serving the buttercream to kids under the age of five, the elderly, pregnant women or people with ill health), gently heat the mixture to a temperature of 64°C/147°F, making sure to keep the mixture at that temperature for about 10 minutes to kill the bacteria. You will probably have to repeatedly take the bowl off the heat and put it back on again to regulate the temperature of the mixture. Once you've pasteurized the mixture, proceed with the recipe.
- Remove the bowl from the heat and mix (using a mixer) until the mixture thickens and drops in ribbons when you lift the beaters, and has cooled to room temperature. Sprinkle in the salt and mix until combined. You have now made pâte à bombe!
- At this point, start adding the softened butter one cube at a time, mixing continuously.
- Once all the butter has been added, the buttercream is ready to use. Use it as a filling between cake layers or cookies, or pipe big swirls of this stuff onto cupcakes!
- Buttercream can be stored, covered tightly with plastic wrap, in the fridge for up to 1 week (and for up to two months in the freezer, in a zippered bag). To use buttercream that has been chilled, allow it to come to room temperature first, then mix until soft and spreadable again (about 30 seconds).
Always allow pastries filled or decorated with buttercream to come to room temperature before serving. This may take up to 5 hours, depending on what you're serving (cakes take longer to come to room temperature than cupcakes), but it's worth it! Buttercream is at its absolute best eaten at room temperature!