Please note: this recipe has since been updated. You can find the new and improved recipe here!
For a while now I have been hearing bloggers rave about a certain kind of buttercream. The Pioneer Woman and Steph of Obsessed with Baking both claim that it’s the best frosting they have ever had, Sara from Our Best Bites says it’s the perfect cupcake frosting and The Girl Who Ate Everything calls it ‘Frosting That Will Get You Hugs’.
So what am I talking about?
Well, apparently there’s a new buttercream in town. And it’s trying to make us all forget about the other buttercreams… It’s made by cooking a mixture of milk and flour and mixing in some butter and sugar after the milk mixture has cooled. A bit like a sweet béchamel sauce to which butter is added. Doesn’t sound very appealing, right?
That’s what I thought!
However, since I’m always up for trying new things – especially food related things… Especially food related things that don’t gross me out as soon as I hear about them, such as andouillettes or black pudding… – I thought that I needed to give this mysterious superhero of a buttercream a go sometime!
And why not, for once and for all, test whether it really is the best buttercream ever? I mean, if I’m making it anyway, why not make the other buttercreams too and make a culinary test of it? How many buttercreams can there be?
I’ll tell you… There are 6 different buttercreams known to this tough cookie. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
1. American Buttercream
2. Flour Buttercream
3. French Buttercream
4. German Buttercream
5. Italian Buttercream
6. Swiss Buttercream
Noticed the superhero in there? The ‘Flour Buttercream’? I told you this buttercream doesn’t really sound appetizing when you first hear about it, but I can hardly call it ‘The Best Frosting Ever’, can I? I mean, I’d seem biased if I – at this point in the first Tough Cookie Taste Test ever – would call it ‘Frosting That Will Get You Hugs’.
Anyway, enough with the blabbing and on with the testing. To test which of the aforementioned buttercreams is the best buttercream known to men I’ve decided to do a blind taste test. I baked about 75 mini cupcakes (and 6 big ones for the Rocking Rebel and myself… Oh, and to photograph…) and made 6 different batches of gorgeous, smooth, velvety buttercream.
All that was left for me to do was to find a group of enthusiastic volunteers willing to stuff their faces with 6 mini cupcakes and a generous amount of buttercream. Luckily, the Rocking Rebel came up with a great plan! You see, he’s a high school teacher. He teaches – you guessed it – music and art. And not at any old high school. No no no, he teaches at my old high school!
Now don’t get any naughty ideas… He didn’t yet teach there when we got together…
Anyway, the Rocking Rebel thought it would be fun if I popped by during a dull afternoon of report-card meetings (is it called that?). That would mean that a lot of teachers would be present and interested in tasting delicious little cupcakes. Plus, teachers know all about tests and such, so they would – theoretically – make the perfect taste testers!
And they were! That is, if you overlook the fact that teachers’ handwriting is far worse than the average student’s… But apart from that, they were great! I even got a chance to hang out with some of my old teachers, like my old gym teacher – who once burned a Red Hot Chili Peppers album for me back in the days when everyone still carried a discman in their pocket – my old old history teacher – whom one of my sister’s friends once had a crush on (shhh, don’t tell him!) – my old math teacher – who was the first to finish his 6 cupcakes and who still insists that I am actually good at math – and my old English teacher – who used to dismiss me because ‘my mom called that I needed to go home to feed the fish’.
We never had fish…
It was a lot of fun!
Anyway, back to the test. Over the next week, I’ll post the different buttercream recipes that I’ve tested in alphabetical order (remember, I’m not biased!) and, of course, the test results. Will the flour buttercream leave the rest of the buttercreams in the dust? Of will one of the oldies give the flour buttercream a run for its money?
Find out in Part VI of the Battle of the Buttercreams!
Today, I’ll tell you a thing or two about American Buttercream. Noticed the stars and stripes in the cupcake photo? As I was making the buttercream, I was able to collect some valuable data:
Fat Content: 31%
Sugar Content: 58%
Texture: Firm, with undissolved sugar grains
Level of Difficulty: Easy. An 8-year-old could make it.
So what did the teachers have to add?
Well, opinions varied strongly on this one. While some people disliked the grainy feel of the buttercream, many test subjects simply raved about it, claiming that the sugary texture was delicious. One subject even noted that the texture reminded her of marzipan. However, most of the subjects also stated that they thought the buttercream was simply way too sweet!
I’m sorry to say that the amount of sugar in this buttercream cannot easily be reduced any more. I already went with a recipe that’s low on sugar (some recipes out there call for double the amount of sugar I’ve used) and to reduce it even more would basically mean that instead of buttercream you would end up with sweetened butter, and that can’t be right…
Another thing that sets this buttercream apart from the other buttercreams is its texture. It’s grainy. As you eat it you feel the sugar crystals crunching between your teeth. It’s like eating a frosted cupcake on the beach.
People loved it! If you, like certain test subjects, like your buttercream “nice and sugary”, then just stick to this recipe. The resulting buttercream will contain small crystals of undissolved sugar, which forms a thin ‘crust’ on the outside of the frosting if you leave it to sit for a little while to dry out. If you like an easy 5 minute buttercream that is smooth and silky, try using pure cane sugar in powdered form. I haven’t tried it myself, but some people on the web claim it’s the key to a smooth American Buttercream. Other people advise Crisco, but I think that buttercream made with Crisco is hardly a buttercream…
My thoughts on the grainyness? Well, many powdered sugars contain an anticaking agent, which possibly makes it more difficult to dissolve the sugar in a substance like butter. Something to look out for if you’re really keen on making this buttercream smooth.
So, American Buttercream. Perfect if you want a quick and easy recipe that forms a thin crust on top and feels like sweet, soft sand in your mouth.
Me? I’m definitely not a fan… But the taste test proved once again that you really can’t argue about tastes, so here it is anyway. My recipe for American Buttercream…
Oh, and the chocolate cupcake?
Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. Will post about it soon!
- 225g (or 1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 375g (or 2½ cups) powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the butter and sugar. Stir together with a rubber spatula or a spoon (you could use a mixer if you're feeling adventurous) until the butter has absorbed the sugar. Mix on high speed until smooth. Add the cream and vanilla and mix again to incorporate. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until needed. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week or for up to 2 months in the freezer in a freeze-proof container or bag.
- To use buttercream that has been refrigerated, allow to come to room temperature (this takes about 3 hours in a warm kitchen) or microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each interval, until it's soft. Then mix through until it's spreadable again.Thaw frozen buttercream in the fridge overnight, then allow to come to room temperature before use and, once at room temperature, mix briefly until smooth.
- Serve at room temperature. If you've assembled a cake or decorated cupcakes, allow cake or cupcakes to come to room temperature before serving (about 3 hours in a warm kitchen).
Looking forward to this! I find American buttercream to be way too sweet also.
Thanks so much for popping by 😉 I won’t reveal which buttercream came out the winner, but I will tell you that I was really surprised by the test results!
It’s funny that I saw this when I did. I’m actually trying to choose frosting for my birthday cake. I had flour and Italian written but last night I added French to the possibilities.
The Rocking Rebel and I and many of my taste testers just loved the French buttercream! And I think it will be great on a cake! I agree with you on the pipe-ability of the flour buttercream: it just doesn’t hold as well as Italian or American.
How are you planning on decorating the cake? If you want to do a difficult design, Swiss buttercream may also be a great option! I will post about it next Wednesday, but it is very easy to pipe intricate designs with. Just look at the first image in this post: it’s the big, dramatic, edgy swirl in the front! 😉
Just read your French. Hmm. Considering that I’ve made Italian, flour and American, it may be time to go Swiss! I don’t want to make a pastry cream this year so German is out.
The design is relatively simple. I’ll have one large swirl/rose at the top. I was planning to use Italian there. I’d use my leftover yolks to make French for the filling.
I’ll make a final decision after I read your post on Wednesday. Right now my notepad hates me for continuously changing the frosting. Ha!
Your birthday cakes sounds delicious! I’ve never made a cake with two different buttercreams before, but I’m definitely going to try it soon. I think the French will make a great filling! It’s just so smooth and delicious. One of my favorites, actually 😉
I think that an Italian or Swiss buttercream will indeed be best on your cake. Not only do these butter creams pipe really well (unless you beat too much air into them, as I explain in my Italian Buttercream post), but they are also relatively light if you hold back on the butter a bit…
Which of course means you can have a very big piece of cake 😉
By the way, you should see MY notepad! There’s nothing but buttercream on the pages these days. Literally! 😉
In my family, a flour icing (similar to the flour buttercream recipe) was a staple on nearly all our cakes. My mom always made it with butter-flavored crisco and it was good. When I started making on my own, the information about the risks with trans fats became more well-known. I had remembered asking my mom why she didn’t use butter and she said that the icing didn’t hold up very well. Being the difficult son I was, I tried making it with butter and yes, it tended to separate and didn’t hold up very well. Except for me, no one in my family knows how to make it. It either separates or is extremely grainy.
I continued on and found tweaks to make it work with butter and to remove the graininess from the granulated sugar. First, I found that Domino’s granulated sugar is finer than that from say Walmart or Kroger, which is made of large, unbroken crystals. Superfine sugar would be ideal. Second, I found that a half teaspoon of xanthan gum improved everything about the icing. Too much, and it made the icing less stiff, though. The icing whipped up whiter and much less grainy. After a couple hours, the graininess disappears completely. So long story short, maybe a bit of xanthan gum could help cut back the graininess in this icing.
Wow Josh! Using a bit of xantham gum to keep the frosting from being too grainy is a great tip 😉 I’ve never managed to make a smooth American buttercream and it really frustrated me, but this sounds very promising! Thanks you so much 🙂
I was looking for a Swiss buttercream recipe and came across your site and was very intrigued by the buttercream battle. I do a lot of baking (cookies especially), but I haven’t tried any frosting other than American buttercream of different flavors and cream cheese frosting. I’m super excited to try out all of the other kinds espeially since American frostings in general tend to be too sweet in my opinion. I have to admit I was a little surprised that your American frosting came out gritty and I was wondering what kind of sugar you use? I am by no means a frosting connoisseur, so I honestly don’t know if the American variety is supposed to be a bit grainy. Anyway, I’m glad I came across your site and I’m now going to look at all of your recipes!
Hi Caroline! I’m so glad you liked the buttercream battle! Whenever I make American buttercream, I always use ordinary powdered sugar; the stuff you can get at the supermarket. I have no idea why my American buttercreams always turn out gritty! Maybe an additive (like an anti-caking agent) in the powdered sugar? The sugar just won’t dissolve into the butter and cream! So frustrating 😉
Maybe it’s the sugar content? The rule of thumb I learned was always equal weight for weight. I’ve never had it come out grainy, but I almost always replace at least half the butter with cream cheese because I prefer the flavor.
The Tough Cookie says
Thanks for thinking with me, LW! I can’t wait to see if equal weights of sugar and butter works for me. I making a ton of buttercream next month, so I’ll give it a go then 🙂
Rebecca Lewis says
I found this recipe while doing a search to see the difference between various buttercream frostings. I’m glad I found this site and will check back frequently. Right now the favorite in our family is French Buttercream. I plan to see if I can use cream cheese in place of half the butter on that recipe for a carrot cake for my sister.
I wanted to comment on the American Buttercream recipe because we use it on what we call Aunt Jane’s Chocolate cake in way that balances the sweetness. We make a classic sour cream chocolate cake in three layers and use Betty Crocker’s Richmond filling between the layers. The chocolate Richmond filling isn’t as sweet as the frosting and I highly recommend it. After we frost the cake with the American buttercream (which we add just a small amount of cocoa to) we drizzle it with melted unsweetened chocolate. We’ve been making this for over half a century in our family and it’s a birthday favorite of three generations.
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Rebecca, nice to meet you! I love the sounds of your recipe! I’m not sure I can get my hands on Betty Crocker’s Richmond filling, but I’m definitely going to try your American buttercream recipe! Drizzle and all 😉 It sounds delicious!
Anne Bonney says
My mom always put a few drops of bitters into her frosting to cut the sweetness – and to add a little complexity.
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Anne, what a great idea! I’m gonna try it out 😉
Based on how yellow your American buttercream is, I’d say you’re under-whipping your butter. Most recipes I’ve seen for this style of buttercream whip the butter on its own until it’s really pale. And then the sugar is added in increments and whipped again, so much so that it almost doesn’t need milk. 3TB of whipping cream is a lot and clearly used because of the under-whipping.
The patience with lots of whipping produces a really light and fluffy buttercream. It isn’t as cloying because it’s so airy. It takes a little more time, but it’s totally worth it.
The Tough Cookie says
Thanks for the tips frizz! 🙂 I’m going to do another post on American buttercream soon!
I love butter cream in a more sweet creamy form. Where it can get hard on the outside and does have a surgery side but yet more creamy on the inside.
I just ordered a cake for my 18 year old and she is using Swiss meriangebutter cream. I’m not sure if I should go somewhere else. I’m not sure I’m going to like it.
I’m still upset Zbake Rite Bakery in Watsonville ca went out of business 7 years ago. I still dream of their cakes.
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Yvonne, I’m sorry your favorite bakery closed! That must be frustrating. Swiss meringue buttercream (which I just call swiss buttercream) does not form a sugary crust on the outside, but it IS super creamy and delicious 😉