Hey guys, time for another buttercream recipe. Up today: how to make French buttercream. One of my personal favorites. Although, let’s keep it real, I have so far loved all of my new and improved buttercream recipes!
As many of you will know, since starting my new series ‘Battle of the Buttercreams 2.0’, I’ve already posted about American buttercream, flour buttercream (which is also known as ermine buttercream) and the two different methods of making buttercream in general: the beaten butter method and the cubed butter method.
If you ask me, French buttercream is special. It’s the only buttercream made by mixing a hot sugar syrup in an egg yolk foam (or pâte à bombe) and because of the yolks (and the butter that you mix into it later) it’s super rich, decadent and luxurious. Back in 2013, all of my taste testers loved it! And so did I. This stuff is just dreamy…
So let’s not waste any time and dive right in, shall we?
Let’s first talk a bit about the ingredients. For this buttercream, you will need 6: sugar, egg yolks, a splash of water, unsalted butter, a pinch of salt and vanilla extract.
If you compare my new recipe for French buttercream to my 2013 recipe, you’ll see that this recipe calls for a little less water and butter. Also, in this recipe I’ve specified how much grams/cups of yolks you should actually use.
As you know, eggs come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, and an ostrich egg just isn’t the same as a quail egg. As it turns out, even chicken eggs aren’t all the same! So in this recipe, you’ll find that I call for 5 yolks, which equals about ⅓ cup (or 85g). Please take the time to measure the yolks by volume or gram as well, rather than by count alone, because – unlike, say, American buttercream – this is one of those recipes where you need to be pretty exact with your measurements!
It’s because of the whole yolk-sugar syrup combination…
As with the American buttercream and the flour buttercream, when it comes to the butter, you want to soften it at room temperature. For me, this usually means taking the butter out of the fridge 30-45 minutes before I want to whip up the buttercream. As with my other buttercream recipes, this recipe, too, calls for unsalted butter, but you can use salted if it’s all you have. Just make sure not to add any extra salt to the buttercream.
Oh, and remember: use real vanilla extract or the seeds of a vanilla bean! The artificial stuff just doesn’t come close to the subtle flavor of real vanilla.
Oh, another thing you’ll need for this recipe is a sugar thermometer, candy thermometer or even a fancy multimeter that allows you to measure temperature. Don’t even try to make this buttercream without one!
I personally own an analog sugar thermometer, but I hardly ever use it. I prefer to use the Rocking Rebel’s multimeter because it’s digital, which makes it a lot easier to read. Plus, it’s a lot more accurate. And accuracy is key when making French buttercream! Which is why I wouldn’t advise you to make this stuff if you don’t have a sugar thermometer.
You see, French buttercream is made by first cooking up a simple sugar syrup on the stove. Sounds easy enough, right? It is, but you need to gently bring this syrup up to exactly 114°C/238°F, at which point you remove it from the heat and carefully pour it into beaten egg yolks, while mixing continuously. If you’ve made Italian meringue before, the process will sound very familiar. Anyway, you need a sugar thermometer, because the chemical properties of the sugar change when it hits the 114°C/238°F mark. If the syrup doesn’t reach that temperature, or gets much hotter than that, the buttercream may come out all wrong. That’s why it’s so important to get the temperature just right!
Once the sugar syrup is mixed into the yolks and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, you’ve made a pâte à bombe. To this pâte à bombe you then add cubes of softened butter, or you beat softened butter until it’s fluffy and mix in the pâte à bombe one spoonful at a time.
But more on how to incorporate the butter later!
Let’s first take a look at the first step in the process: making the pâte à bombe. Like I said, once the sugar syrup is cooked, you need to drizzle it into beaten egg yolks. I always start by beating the yolks with a mixer until they are nice and foamy, like this:
At this point, set the yolks aside and start making the sugar syrup. Just combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring with a metal spoon until all of the sugar crystals have dissolved and the syrup looks clear.
Crank up the heat to high, clip on a sugar/candy thermometer (or hang the measuring-thingy of the multimeter in the syrup), then cook until the syrup reaches a temperature of 114°C/238°F.
Now comes the tricky part: remove the syrup from the heat (use an oven mitt) and carefully drizzle the (hot, hot, hot!) syrup into the egg yolks in a thin stream while mixing continuously with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. If you have a stand mixer: use it! If all you have is a hand-held mixer: stay calm and make sure the mixing bowl cannot move around on the counter, because you’ll need one hand to hold the mixer, and the other for holding the saucepan.
Also, don’t aim for the beater when pouring the syrup into the yolks. If the hot syrup hits the beaters, it can splash against the sides of the bowl (where it won’t do anything) or even splash in your face (which would hurt!). Instead, aim for a spot close to the beaters.
Oh, and keep children and pets out of the kitchen while you’re messing around with the hot syrup!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a picture of this step of the process, because my hands were busy mixing and pouring. However, the process should look something like the photo above. The Rocking Rebel took this photo of me making Italian meringue a while back. Just imagine the egg whites are yolks…
Oh, by the way, although there is still some debate about this in the baking world, I personally doubt that pouring the syrup into the yolks actually pasteurizes them. For a salmonella-safe French buttercream, consider cooking the pâte à bombe the Swiss way!
Anyway, once you’ve added all the syrup, keep mixing until the pâte à bombe and the bottom of the bowl have cooled down to room temperature. The resulting pâte à bombe should be thick and pale, and when you lift the beaters out of the bowl the mixture should fall back into the bowl in thick ribbons.
At this point, you need to somehow mix the pâte à bombe with the butter.
Now, traditionally, French buttercream is made using the cubed butter method. Therefore, in my 2013 post on French buttercream, I advised you guys to do the same. However, through some experimentation, I’ve found out that you can also make it using the beaten butter method. Which is awesome!
Remember how in my last post (on the cubed butter method) I warned you guys about the difficulty of making buttercream using the cubed butter method? You see, when using the cubed butter method, the temperature of the base (in this case the pâte à bombe) and the butter are very important. Ideally, they should both be at room temperature, or 18-20°C/65-68°F. In other words, the butter should be soft, but not greasy. If the butter is too cold, you may end up with a soupy, separated buttercream with undissolved butter particles.
Although this can be remedied with the help of a warm water bath or by beating the hell out of the buttercream until it comes together again, the beaten butter method is just so much easier! When you beat softened butter until smooth, creamy and fluffy and then add spoonfuls of the pâte à bombe to it, mixing well after each addition, the buttercream comes together a lot more willingly, and is less likely to separate!
So what I’m saying is this: when it comes to French buttercream, you have options when it comes to the method! If you like stress, you can incorporate the butter using the cubed butter method (just take your time and make sure the butter is very soft but not greasy). If you like things easy, you can use the beaten butter method, which is way more foolproof!
I definitely prefer to use the beaten butter method for this one. You’ll end up with the most gorgeous, thick, creamy buttercream you’ve ever tasted!
Anyway, this recipe makes about 400g or 2 cups of said gorgeous buttercream, which is enough to generously frost about 8-10 cupcakes or a one-layered 20-cm (8-inch) cake. But as this depends on how much buttercream you like on your cake, let’s take a look at some more facts about this buttercream:
Color: pale yellow.
Texture: velvety smooth and silky.
Piping: pipes beautifully, but doesn’t hold up well in warmer temperatures due to a high fat content.
Level of difficulty: pretty difficult, because you need to cook the sugar syrup to exactly the right temperature. Also, the sugar syrup is hot! So please be careful! On the other hand, if you’ve made caramel before, this recipe shouldn’t be too hard for you…
Fat content*: 44,8% <– partly because it’s made with yolks.
Sugar content*: 22,4%
Does it form a crust: no
* based on nutritional information.
So flavor-wise how does the French buttercream compare to American buttercream and flour buttercream? Well, in my humble opinion, when it comes to vanilla buttercream, flour buttercream is still a winner if you ask me. It’s lighter and less sweet than vanilla American buttercream and less heavy than French buttercream. Although I can’t stress enough that this buttercream is also really, really delicious! So super smooth and silky… It’s crazy! It’s actually a bit denser than American and flour buttercream, too. And because of its decadent richness (hello egg yolks!) I think this buttercream pairs beautifully with stronger flavors, such as coffee and caramel.
In fact, when it comes to coffee buttercream, French buttercream is the absolute best!
Can you guess what my next post is going to be about? 😉
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This recipe contains raw eggs. You can make this buttercream salmonella-safe by following the instructions in this post. Just use the ingredients listed below.
- 100g (or ½ cup) granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 5 large egg yolks (or 85g, about ⅓ cup)
- 226g (or 1 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- a pinch of table salt, optional
- Combine sugar and water in a medium-sized saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring with a metal spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear. Crank up the heat to medium-high and allow syrup to come to a boil.
- In the meantime, place yolks in a medium-sized, heatproof bowl and mix (with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) until thick and foamy.
- Once the syrup has come to a boil, clip on a candy (or sugar) thermometer. Cook until the syrup reaches 114°C/238°F, then immediately remove from the heat and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl with the yolks, mixing continuously to prevent the yolks from scrambling. Don't pour the syrup onto the whisk, or the syrup may splatter against the sides of the bowl (or into your face). Instead, aim for a spot close to the whisk.
- Once all the syrup has been added, keep mixing until the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch and the pâte à bombe (aka: yolk meringue) has cooled down to room temperature.
- Once the pâte à bombe is cool, you can either incorporate the butter using the ‘beaten butter method’ or the ‘cubed butter method’ *. I prefer the beaten butter method.
- To incorporate the butter using the beaten butter method, beat the butter in another medium-sized bowl, using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the cooled pate au bombe one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all the butter has been added, add the vanilla and salt and mix for another 5 minutes, or until the buttercream looks smooth and creamy.
- Use immediately or store in an airtight container or a zipper bag in the fridge for up to two weeks or in the freezer for up to two months. To use buttercream that has either been refrigerated or frozen, first allow it to come to room temperature then beat it with a mixer until it's smooth and spreadable again. Cakes or cupcakes decorated with buttercream generally keep up to 3 days, stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Always allow buttercream, or cakes frosted with buttercream, to come to room temperature before serving!
Very very interesting series.
I have also read about similar series by other bloggers. It’s really confusing how people use egg whites for Frensh buttercream while others use egg yolks. I tend to the belief that egg yolks should be used.
I was looking actually to the SMBC where it’s mentioned that the recipe yields buttercream enough to frost 6-8 cupcakes (2 egg whites, 1/2+ cup of sugar+ 1 stick of butter) while on another blog nearly same ingredients yield enough buttercream to frost 2 dozens. How odd!!! :/
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Hala, I’m so glad you like my buttercream series! I guess the terminologie can indeed be a bit confusing. I mean, there’s also French meringue, and if you were to beat butter into it, I guess you would end up with French meringue buttercream, right? Still, I’ve always learned that French buttercream is made with egg yolks, so I’m sticking with that!
Whenever I write a buttercream recipe, I always bear in mind that some people like a LOT of buttercream on top of their cupcakes, so some people may very well be able to frost 2 dozen cupcakes with this amount of buttercream if they prefer a thin layer of buttercream. It’s always better to have some left, rather than not having enough, right 😉