Amanda & Merrill

The Best Buttercream You'll Ever Make

February  2, 2010

- Merrill

Over the past several weeks -- thanks to a hyper-organized and highly efficient mother who believes in getting as much planning done as early as possible -- I've been immersed in all things wedding-related. With the caterer, dress and band taken care of, the most recent decision had to do with the cake. I didn't expect it to be a tough one, as it simply required finding someone who would agree to make the wedding cake I have always wanted: a plain butter cake, studded with wild Maine blueberries, and topped with swirls of cream cheese icing.

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Thanks again to my mother, who always seems to know whom to call for these sorts of things, I got in touch with Diane at Maine Cakes and Cookies, whose specialty just happens to be -- you guessed it -- Wild Maine Blueberry Butter Cake. (Her custom-decorated butter cookies are pretty great too.) When I told Diane about my cream cheese icing idea, she explained that there are certain health issues that arise when cream cheese sits out for an extended period of time -- say, during a wedding. I adore cream cheese icing, but not enough to send my friends and family home with food poisoning as a wedding favor. So instead we're going with a Swiss meringue buttercream lightly flavored with almond, which I think sounds very promising.

All this talk of buttercream and weddings reminded me of the first (and only) wedding I ever catered -- for the brother of a good friend. The bride and groom-to-be wanted cupcakes instead of a majestic four-tiered affair, which took some of the heat off. But although I had a couple of excellent cake recipes under my belt, at the time I didn't have a go-to buttercream. So I paged through several of my cookbooks and finally stumbled across one of Julia Child's recipes that looked promising. I have never looked back.

This buttercream is as easy as pie to make, not too sweet, and it can be flavored in all sorts of ways. The egg yolks add a silkiness that's unbeatable, but if you're at all concerned about salmonella, you can opt to leave them out.

Butter Cream Icing

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Makes about 1 1/2 cups (enough to ice a single-layered 8" cake)

  • 6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 egg yolks (from good quality eggs that have been refrigerated)
  • 2/3 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
  • 2 tablespoons kirsch, rum, orange liqueur, strong coffee or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract OR 2 ounces melted semisweet chocolate


Beat all of the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer or with a hand beater for about 5 minutes at medium speed, until creamy and light. Chill until cold, but still spreadable, before using. Make sure to keep the cake refrigerated after you've iced it, and serve soon after removing from the fridge.


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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Alex P. June 26, 2015
Very good. The rich butter flavor is there, I used Kerry Gold unsalted, but it's not too much- almost too much but is just the right amount... MUST refrigerate after icing cupcakes! Thanks for recipe! :)
Shannon S. August 11, 2013
Unless you have used a liqueur in your icing, you've overcooked the sugar. which is what I thought at first. That IS NOT french buttercream by julia child. You need water and sugar and cook those together then slowly add the egg yolks thereby cooking them so you're not eating raw egg!!!
babette.lizotte July 20, 2011
What about using the eggs in the frosting. Isn't that still considered unsafe?
babette.lizotte July 20, 2011
Aren't there safe egg yolks that you can use now? Specially fed chickens or something to that effect.
Merrill S. July 20, 2011
I mention above that if you're concerned about salmonella, you can leave out the egg yolks. But yes, I believe there are pasteurized eggs out there that are considered totally "safe."
kburk2 February 7, 2010
This sounds delicious! I notice you don't have the save to my recipes, print, etc. option on this page as you do on the other recipes. Is that something you might do in the future?
Merrill S. February 7, 2010
Thanks! Sharing tools for our blog pages are something we're working on. In the meantime, you can find this recipe on my profile page or through the recipe search and save/print it there. Sorry for the nuisance!
phyllis February 4, 2010
Have been using this version of Julia's buttercream for a long time. It's really the best. Reading your piece made me thing I should bake some cupcakes in preparation for the NYC snowstorm.

Happy wedding!!!
Merrill S. February 5, 2010
Thank you!
coffeefoodwrite February 4, 2010
Hi Merrill! Have a wonderful wonderful wedding. Your cake sounds so delicious and thanks for sharing the buttercream frosting recipe. For our wedding we had a 5 tiered fruit tart because that was our favorite so I understand...The best of luck to you and all of the warmest of wishes...
Merrill S. February 5, 2010
Thanks so much. I love the idea of a multi-tiered fruit tart as a wedding cake. It must have been beautiful to look at.
coffeefoodwrite February 5, 2010
We had our florist string flowers down the tiers and it went very quickly. (I didn't get a piece...) but was happy to see the whole thing go. Congratulations again...
Mardi M. February 3, 2010
Congrats on the wedding planning - so exciting! I have to say the cake for me would be the most exciting thing :-) Love this buttercream - thanks for reminding me about it!
Merrill S. February 5, 2010
Thank you! And you're welcome -- it's a great, easy recipe.
Maria T. February 3, 2010
Just perfect for a rolly polly! Might try it tomorrow! Thanks for sharing the recipe.
Merrill S. February 5, 2010
My pleasure!
Giulia M. February 3, 2010
Happy wedding, Merrill!!!
Merrill S. February 3, 2010
Thanks so much, Giulia!
Allison C. February 3, 2010
Oh, the wedding cake sounds wonderful! When I got married, it was without any kind of traditional cake--rather, the French "pièce montée" (tower of cream puffs, basically, held together with caramelized sugar). But anniversaries are good for cake, too, and so I'm sure I'll give this buttercream a try... but I won't wait for June! Thanks for the recipe.
Merrill S. February 3, 2010
You're welcome! And your wedding "cake" sounds just perfect -- a croquembouche, right?
MrsWheelbarrow February 3, 2010
Merrill, your wedding cake sounds just divine! And I'm glad to have this buttercream on hand. It's a snowy day and cupcakes seem to be in order. Cheers!
Merrill S. February 3, 2010
Wish I were there to taste!
Culinista A. February 3, 2010
I love this buttercream as well (also from Miss Julia Childs) - but its not for the faint of hearts or those with high cholesterol!!!

Coffee butter cream
1 cup of sugar
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup of warm milk (2%)
350 g. of cold butter (that’s a little over 3 sticks of butter); cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon of instant coffee dissolved in a little bit of water
1 pinch of cornstarch
Beat the egg yolks & the sugar until pale and fluffy, 10 minutes, add the instant coffee & a pinch of cornstarch. Then add the warm milk little by little, so as not to curdle the mixture.

Transfer the mixture to a pan and over medium-low heat, keep stirring until the mixture thickens, never letting it come to a boil. Test it with a wooden spoon: if the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon it is ready.

Once thick enough, take off the heat and keep beating it until the mixture is less hot (slightly warmer than room temperature).

Put the cream back into the stand mixer and add the butter one little piece at a time, as you would for a mayonnaise. The cream will thicken little by little.
Merrill S. February 3, 2010
Wow. Sounds amazing. And amazingly rich!
Jamies' M. February 2, 2010
I've made this one w/o the egg yolks and I must say that they do add a richness that makes it very special.
Merrill S. February 2, 2010
Yes, they do.
theicp February 2, 2010
I actually made this icing for a dinner party/friend's birthday last Thursday. Everyone was too full to eat any of I've been sneaking it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The stuff is so good I can't help myself!
mrslarkin February 2, 2010
What beautiful cakes and cookies Diane makes! Love this simple recipe for butter cream. Will definitely try it!
WinnieAb February 2, 2010
Great! Have been looking for the perfect buttercream.
Thanks Merrill!
Merrill S. February 2, 2010
You're welcome!