buttercream basics.

I would not, by any means, consider myself an expert in baking. But, I read a lot of what real experts say and I learn by practice, practice, practice. Lately, I have had a few question about the seemingly daunting subject of buttercream. Here are some tips and suggestions for how to make the ideal (in my opinion) American style buttercream.

Okay, so first off I make an American style buttercream which means that I use powdered sugar and lots of butter as the base for the frosting. There are in fact other styles such as European which use egg whites, butter, and fine sugar. I have yet to really experiment with the European style and I really do love the creaminess of the American style.

{This is my go-to recipe, it is whipped so the texture is light and fluffy.}

3 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature - cubed into tablespoons
3 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
pinch of salt

1. Whip the butter using an electric or stand mixer on medium-high speed (I use 4 on my KitchenAid).

2. Add the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla on low speed on incorporated and then whip on medium-high speed for another 6 minutes.

3. The frosting will have air bubbles, so using a rubber spatula you can smooth out the air by moving back and forth and pressing the frosting against the sides of the bowl. The frosting will be super smooth when you're done.

Now, for some details...

1. The first thing that is absolutely necessary to make a delicious butter cream is to have the right equipment. You cannot simply use a whisk and a mixing bowl- it just won't work. Make sure you are using a stand mixer (I love my KitchenAid!) or an electric mixer and large mixing bowl.

2. Next, SOFTEN THE BUTTER. The butter needs to be room temperature in order for the frosting to have the desired consistency. You want the frosting to be soft to the touch but not too warm so that it becomes greasy and melted. Although some people don't recommend it, I often soften my butter in the microwave when I forget to set it out. I use the time-defrost setting and defrost the butter on 5 second intervals rotating it after each time, until it is the best consistency. You will need to play around with this because every microwave is different but make sure that you do NOT let the butter melt! Also, make sure the butter is UNSALTED.

3. Cube your butter into tablespoons. The recipe that I follow for buttercream comes from my girl crush Sweetapolita. I have yet to find such a great consistency in a frosting recipe. Her recipes instructs you to cube the butter before adding it to the mixing bowl. It helps the butter whip more easily in the mixer...at least I think this is why you do this....

4. Powdered sugar is a tricky component in my opinion. I hate when you can taste the grains in frosting so you have to keep a good balance between butter, milk, and powdered sugar. Add the the powdered sugar to the butter with the mixer on low speed. Start with minimal amounts, adding to taste as you go. With the recipe above, the 3 and 1/2 cups is pretty true to what you will need. 

5. Milk is always added to buttercream to help it become creamy. You have to make sure that you don't add too much or else the frosting will look separated and ugly. Again, the recipe above is true to what you will need. 

6. Flavoring - the fun part! For the classic vanilla buttercream, use the best quality vanilla around or even add vanilla bean seeds or vanilla bean paste. There are so many other kinds of flavorings you can add though too. Among my favorites are raspberry, lemon, and chai. I add jam, juice/extracts, and mixtures (such as chai tea concentrate) to my buttercream in sparing amounts at first and then adding more to taste. When adding a flavoring that is liquid like you may have to add a tad more powdered sugar to make sure that the frosting is stiff enough. 

These are details in case you are trying to be more loosey-goosey with your frosting and develop different consistencies as you go.  

So there are the basics for making the frosting and here are some notes...

1. CONSISTENCY. If you are going to be piping butter cream onto cupcakes, then you want to make sure that there it is stiff enough to hold. This is where the powdered sugar becomes trickiest. If you put the frosting in a piping bag and it droops right away then you probably need to add some more sugar. On the other add, if the frosting is so packed with sugar that it barely adheres to the cupcake then you may need to add more milk.

2. COLORING. Not all frosting colors the same. For example, I have found that it takes much more coloring to give cream cheese frosting it's desired hue than it does buttercream. So start with small amounts because you can always add more. I use gel/paste food coloring and have always add good results. This particular buttercream recipe is great for coloring because it absorbs the color well without looking grainy if you are making darker colors.

3. PIPING. I use this piping kit for most of my cupcakes. I have been really happy with all of the tips. Making sure that you know which tip creates which look is important.

4. STORING. You can usually keep frosting for about 5 days in the fridge and up to a month in the freezer. If you are going to do this make sure you bring the frosting to room temperature and then give a good whip with an electric mixer to freshen it up. Also, store your cupcakes in an air tight container in a cool place (I use the refrigerator) or else the frosting will appear greasy under heat. 

I sincerely hope that this helps those of you have set out to make frosting. It is such an easy way to make homemade goodness and it's always fun to do once you get the hang of it! Any questions? Just Ask!


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