Your Burning Questions

The Great Buttercream Debate

By • September 21, 2013 • 24 Comments

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it, once a week, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to keep the conversation going.

Today: It’s the battle of the buttercreams, and you decide who wins. 

Debating the Best Type of Buttercream, from Food52

We love cake. Whether a cupcake or a towering layer cake, we’ve always got room for dessert, and the perfect cake calls for the perfect frosting. Even once you’ve decided on using a buttercream frosting, you’ll still got options. Does your buttercream require egg whites? Or egg yolks? Will it be an American, Italian, Swiss, or French buttercream? Or your own variant of buttercream? This week on the Hotline, Stephanie wondered what the best type of buttercream frosting is -- and we know you’ve got answers.

Julia boyd comes down in favor of Swiss and Italian meringue buttercreams, and says: "Swiss meringue boasts the advantage of avoiding a cooked sugar syrup and candy thermometer. Instead, you simply whisk the sugar and egg whites over simmering water before beating to meringue stage in a standing mixer...These frostings are ethereal. Rich yet somehow light, they pipe beautifully and are sturdier than you'd expect, with no confectioner's sugar grittiness. Truly sublime.”

Our own Merrill thinks the best buttercream you’ll ever make is her version -- a simplified and streamlined take on a French buttercream. She uses egg yolks, but it's as easy as pie to make, with no need to worry about a sugar syrup reaching soft ball stage. 

What do you think is the best type of buttercream? Add your two cents to the question on the Hotline here or continue the conversation in the comments below! (And then set yourself up with the right tools to bake and frost those cakes with whichever type of buttercream wins out.)

Photo by James Ransom

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Tags: hotline question of the week, hotline, question, best question, your burning questions, baking, icing, frosting, buttercream, how-to & diy

Comments (24)

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10 months ago Katie Z.

Since I make everything by hand in my little apartment, good old fashioned american buttercream is the only buttercream that's feasible for me, but it works out wonderfully! I just have to make sure that I let the butter fully soften to room temperature, then beat it into submission with a wooden spoon, add my flavoring (usually vanilla extract) and sift powdered sugar into it bit by bit, so that it doesn't clump, tasting as I go a long and adding cream, half-and-half or milk (depending on what's in my fridge) to thin it out as I go. Sifting cocoa in with the powdered sugar makes a KILLER chocolate buttercream. It's not as light as Swiss buttercream (which I also love when I'm home with my mom's stand mixer!), but it does the trick!

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10 months ago cheryl geno

But I do love the classic buttercreams. It depends on what I am frosting. I tend toward French when I have no egg whites and Swiss when I have egg whites to use.

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10 months ago cheryl geno

My ex-mother-in-law called it war frosting. It was invented in WWII when butter and sugar were rationed. You can make it with any solid fat from pure lard to crisco to butter. we are not at war and crisco is yuck although I have had it that way and it is good. My mother just called it the cream frosting. Yes, it is flour cooked to a very thick paste, cool, then beat in the sugar (granulated) butter and flavor. The sugar dissolves and it magically turns to this fluffy, delicious stuff that a friend simply calls crack.

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10 months ago witloof

I am really curious about "gravy frosting." The Pioneer Woman wrote about it a few years ago. You make a roux with milk and flour, let it cool, then beat in butter, sugar, and flavorings. Has anyone tried it?

I've tried the French and Swiss buttercreams using recipes from Susan Purdy and Nick Malgieri and thought the Swiss was fabulous, but you can't eat too much of it! {Or maybe that's a good thing.}

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10 months ago Sipa

Sounds like German Buttercream to me.

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10 months ago cheryl geno

Actually German buttercream (which is also delicious) is made by making pastry cream and whipping it with butter. Similar, but not quite the same. Fluffy custard...I feel a craving coming on.

Baci1

10 months ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

I'm in the Italian Meringue Buttercream camp. Something reassuring about whipping hot sugar syrup into eggwhites. Thank Heaven for stand mixers! I don't get the same secure feeling when making Swiss buttercream.

Stringio

10 months ago David Nurbin

I agree. I love the italian... espresso flavored!

Geiranger

10 months ago meet your baker

Even though my first attempt at a SMB left me crying over my bowl and hand mixer, it is by far the best! The melt-in-your-mouth texture is just divine! Since getting over the trial and error period SMB has become my go-to cake frosting. Hands down.

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10 months ago darksideofthespoon

Swiss Meringue all the freakin' way.

Hilary_sp1

10 months ago Hilarybee

I am also in camp SMB. I hate regular American Buttercream, especially if it is made with shortening. Too sweet for me. Love SMB, and I also like a nice stabilized whipped cream.

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10 months ago Sipa

I don't think anything can be called buttercream without real butter in it.

Hilary_sp1

10 months ago Hilarybee

You'd think that, wouldn't you? But I've found most of the bakeries and cupcakeries in these parts call a shortening/powder sugar frosting buttercream.

Stringio

10 months ago Heather Saffer

This topic is in my court! There's so many things you can do with American Buttercream that it's really hard to go wrong. It's like a blank white canvas waiting for your creativity to explode. :)

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10 months ago Sipa

What do you mean by American butterceam?

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10 months ago darksideofthespoon

From what I understand: Butter + Icing Sugar + Whipping Cream + Flavorings. It's awful in my opinion, can't get past the grittiness of the icing sugar!

Stringio

10 months ago Heather Saffer

Butter, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and anything else you can possibly imagine. Whipped very fast for fairly long to get plenty of air in, resulting in a light, fluffy, cloud-like frosting. So good.

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10 months ago Zensister

I'm a fan of the American buttercream. We call it back of the box buttercream, and I'm fortunate to have grown up on it instead of nasty canned frosting. But always butter. Never, ever shortening.

Stringio

10 months ago David Nurbin

I'm not a fan of American buttercream. While it is easy to get consistent results, I find the flavor that powdered sugar brings to be too much.

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10 months ago ivalleria

Where do we get the how-to on that incredible purple cake frosting in the left-hand corner?

Pict1821

10 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

You can pick up the Mauvelous DIY Fondant Cake Kit over at Provisions! http://food52.com/provisions...

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10 months ago dlsteinb

I use the classic Wilton buttercream - Crisco (yeah, I said it), powdered sugar, powdered egg whites. Easy to work with, to thin or thicken as needed, tastes delicious and dyes easily, too.

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10 months ago Sipa

But it tastes awful.

Junechamp

10 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I'm in the "Merrill School of Buttercream." It's easy and so delicious. Who wants to work more than they have to?