What Buttercream is Best for Cakes ?

There’s a saying in the baking world: “The icing on the cake is not merely an embellishment, it’s an essential ingredient.” If you’ve ever found yourself lost in the mesmerizing swirls of icing on a cake, you’ll understand the truth in this statement. Buttercream is not just the icing, it’s the luscious crowning glory that elevates a cake from ordinary to extraordinary.

Buttercream is a type of icing or filling used in cakes and pastries. While the classic buttercream is made by beating butter until it’s creamy, and then gradually adding powdered sugar and a dash of milk or cream, there are a plethora of buttercream variations used in bakeries and kitchens around the globe. Each type has its unique properties, including texture, taste, and stability, making some better suited for certain applications than others.

So, how does one choose the right buttercream for their cake? To help guide you in your baking adventures, let’s dive deep into the wonderful world of buttercream.

The Quintessential American Buttercream

This is probably what comes to mind when you think of buttercream: it’s sweet, creamy, and infinitely versatile. American buttercream is made with butter, confectioners’ sugar, a touch of milk or cream, and flavoring. This buttercream is ideal for piping decorative details, and it crusts over slightly when left at room temperature, giving your decorations a bit of stability.

While it’s a fan favorite for its simplicity and sweetness, some bakers find American buttercream too sweet. If you are one of them, you might want to consider one of the following options.

The Sophisticated Swiss Meringue Buttercream

If you’re looking for something less sweet and more sophisticated, Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) might be your go-to. The process involves heating egg whites and sugar over a water bath until the sugar dissolves, then whipping the mixture into a meringue. Softened butter is added into the meringue, yielding a smooth, silky buttercream with a lightly sweet and buttery flavor.

SMBC is great for frosting cakes as it creates a smooth, satiny finish. Its light texture doesn’t weigh down delicate sponge cakes, making it an ideal match for them.

The Elegant Italian Meringue Buttercream

Similar to SMBC, Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC) involves making a meringue, but in this case, it’s an Italian meringue. Sugar and water are boiled together to create a syrup, which is then gradually drizzled into whipped egg whites. The meringue is beaten until cool, then softened butter is added.

The result is a rich, creamy buttercream that’s less sweet than American buttercream but denser than SMBC. IMBC holds up well in warmer temperatures, making it an excellent choice for summer weddings or outdoor events.

The Rich French Buttercream

If you’re looking to add a rich, custard-like frosting to your baking repertoire, look no further than French Buttercream. It’s made by beating egg yolks and then pouring in a hot sugar syrup, followed by adding butter. The yolks lend a deeper, richer flavor to this buttercream, and its silky texture is perfect for filling cakes.

However, French buttercream is less stable than its meringue-based counterparts due to its high fat content. It’s best used for indoor events or in cooler temperatures.

The Decadent German Buttercream

German buttercream is a custard-based icing, where a pastry cream is made first, and then butter is whipped in. The result is an incredibly creamy and light buttercream, with a flavor profile that is custard-like and less sweet than most other buttercreams.

German buttercream is great for filling cakes, but its soft texture means it’s not the best for intricate piping work. It also requires refrigeration, which is something to consider if you’re planning an event.

The Robust Ermine (or Flour) Buttercream

Ermine buttercream, also known as old-fashioned or flour buttercream, is made by cooking milk and flour together into a thick paste, then beating this paste with butter and sugar. The result is a smooth, light buttercream that’s less sweet than American buttercream but more stable than most meringue or custard-based buttercreams.

Ermine buttercream has a unique, velvety texture and a subtly sweet, buttery flavor. It was traditionally used to frost red velvet cakes, but it’s a versatile choice for many different cake flavors.

Choosing the right buttercream involves understanding the flavor and texture profile you’re aiming for, as well as the environmental conditions where the cake will be served. If you’re a home baker looking to experiment, don’t be afraid to try different types to find your perfect match.

Every type of buttercream brings a unique combination of flavor, texture, and aesthetic appeal to a cake. Whether you desire the robust sweetness of American buttercream, the silky sophistication of a meringue-based buttercream, the custard-like richness of French or German buttercream, or the velvet-smooth subtlety of Ermine buttercream, there’s a world of possibilities to explore.

So the next time you plan on baking a cake, take a moment to consider the humble yet powerful buttercream. Your choice can be the difference between a good cake and an unforgettable one. After all, the proof of the cake is in the icing. Happy baking!


Meet Gemma - a loving mum, passionate home baker, and creator of countless sweet memories. Her world revolves around her two beautiful little girls and the shared joys of baking and eating together

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