How-To & Diy

The Great Buttercream Debate

September 21, 2013

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

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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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Angela Petersen-McDonald
    Angela Petersen-McDonald
  • Katie Z.
    Katie Z.
  • cheryl geno
    cheryl geno
  • witloof
  • HalfPint
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Angela P. May 30, 2018
I make American buttercream with Crisco, powdered sugar and meringue powder. I'm not opposed to using butter, or even half shortening and half butter, but Crisco is cheaper and more stable. I also use almost a full tsp of salt per batch which cuts the sweetness and makes the flavor pop. I get nothing but rave reviews. My husband ordered me a cake from a fancy shop that had Swiss meringue buttercream, and it was so disappointing! There was barely a hint of sweetness, and zero flavor. It WAS silky smooth, but tasted more like stale whipped cream and left a coating in my mouth...more so than ever experienced with my own American BC. I found I much prefer American Buttercream for taste and texture. When made properly, it is delicious... world's away from canned or tub frosting!!
Katie Z. October 10, 2013
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!
cheryl G. September 30, 2013
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.
cheryl G. September 30, 2013
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.
witloof September 29, 2013
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.}
Sipa October 6, 2013
Sounds like German Buttercream to me.
cheryl G. October 11, 2013
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.
Penny P. February 12, 2016
sounds like Ermine buttercream (the original frosting for red velvet) to me
HalfPint September 23, 2013
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.
David N. October 6, 2013
I agree. I love the italian... espresso flavored!
meet Y. September 23, 2013
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.
darksideofthespoon September 22, 2013
Swiss Meringue all the freakin' way.
Hilarybee September 22, 2013
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.
Sipa September 22, 2013
I don't think anything can be called buttercream without real butter in it.
Hilarybee September 23, 2013
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.
Heather S. September 22, 2013
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. :)
Sipa September 22, 2013
What do you mean by American butterceam?
darksideofthespoon September 22, 2013
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!
Heather S. September 22, 2013
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.
Zensister September 23, 2013
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.
David N. October 6, 2013
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.
Valerie S. September 21, 2013
Where do we get the how-to on that incredible purple cake frosting in the left-hand corner?
Lindsay-Jean H. September 22, 2013
You can pick up the Mauvelous DIY Fondant Cake Kit over at Provisions!
dlsteinb September 21, 2013
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.
Sipa September 22, 2013
But it tastes awful.
ChefJune September 21, 2013
I'm in the "Merrill School of Buttercream." It's easy and so delicious. Who wants to work more than they have to?