At a recent cake tasting, a client told me that he found my blog post called I Don't Want Fondant On My Cake. He was reading about buttercream and fondant but was having a hard time following because he wasn't sure what they were and what the difference was.
If that's you - you're in the right place! Today, I'm answering the question "What is Buttercream?" Look for the accompanying "What is Fondant?" blog to be posted shortly. (Even better - subscribe below to be automatically notified of its release!)
What is Buttercream?
Buttercream is a type of frosting used for filling, frosting, and decorating cakes and cupcakes.
What makes buttercream different than other frosting?
Buttercream is different than other types of frosting because one of its main ingredients is butter (did you see that coming?). This allows the frosting to become firm when chilled and makes it ideal for tiered cakes. A nice, firm frosting is essential for a stable cake because it prevents layers from sliding around once assembled.
You may be more familiar with these other types of frosting:
Cream Cheese Frosting - made with cream cheese and powdered sugar, soft consistency
Whipped Cream - exactly what it sounds like, very soft consistency
Ganache - made with chocolate and cream, becomes firm at room temperature and very firm when chilled
Royal Icing - really an icing or glaze, but this is what you would use to decorate a sugar cookie because it dries hard
is all buttercream made alike?
The short answer is no. There are several types of buttercream which I'll describe briefly below before telling you which one I prefer!
American Buttercream is very simply made by creaming together butter and powdered sugar. It's the fastest and easiest type of buttercream to make, so if you're a recreational baker looking to upgrade from canned frosting, this is a great place to start. I'll warn you that it's a sweet frosting due to the powdered sugar, but many bakers temper the sweetness by adding a touch of salt.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Swiss Meringue buttercream is often referred to as "the Cadillac of buttercream." This type of buttercream is made by first heating egg whites and sugar, then whipping into a meringue, and finally adding softened butter. The result in a beautiful silky frosting, subtly sweet. This is the frosting I use for all of my cakes, and clients are constantly telling me they didn't think they liked frosting before trying mine.
Italian Meringue Buttercream
Italian Meringue buttercream is a third type. The difference from Swiss Meringue lies in the specific method in which the egg whites are cooked and combined. Otherwise, the recipes are identical.
A word of warning
There are bakeries out there that use "buttercream" recipes but replace half or more of the butter with shortening. (Reasons for doing this include greater stability against humidity, a whiter finish, and of course, cost.) Maybe it's just me, but if there's no butter in your BUTTERcream... it's not buttercream! But no one would buy it if they called it SHORTENING-cream, right?
So, be aware that while many cake design studios and bakeries will tell you they use buttercream, you may find significant differences in taste and texture due to the style of buttercream and the ingredients used.
WHERE IS THE BUTTERCREAM ON MY CAKE?
Short answer: The inside and sometimes the outside.
Longer answer: On the inside, all of my cakes are constructed with alternating layers of cake, filling, and frosting. This means you'll get a delicious cross-section of the complete flavor profile with every bite. If the outside of the cake is frosted with additional buttercream, it's referred to as a "buttercream cake." If an additional layer of fondant is added, it's called a "fondant cake."
Questions for your baker:
What type of buttercream is this? (American, Swiss Meringue, Italian Meringue)
Do you use real butter or shortening?
Is your frosting made fresh in-house or do you buy it in bulk?