Silky Smooth Buttercream

Ah Buttercream, such a staple in cake making and decorating. I personally only work with buttercream cakes (well technically Ganache too) because I have a personal war with fondant - but that's a story for another time. 

Majority of the time I use American Buttercream, but sometimes I do use other types of buttercream, so I guess the question is:

What is Buttercream?

Buttercream is a mix of butter and icing sugar generally used to fill and frost cakes. Simple right? Until you here that there's about 6 different types of buttercream and you feel incredibly overwhelmed and confused because some use egg yolks, and some use egg whites, and wait why does this one have icing sugar but this one doesn't? 

I've been there. It's confusing. I'm still kinda working some of them out. 

My main choice for buttercream is what most people call American (or regular) Buttercream - ABC! I do sometimes like to use Meringue buttercreams when I feel that it's going to compliment the chosen flavours and not going to melt off of the cake. (Seriously, Buttercream melting off a cake is a serious concern in Australia - it's not okay)

 

Why do I prefer ABC?

There's a few reasons, but my main reason is that' it's the only type of buttercream that crusts! That might seem like a weird thing to say but this means that the frosting set's firmer and it also tends to hold up reasonably well in the heat. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't set as firm or hold up as well as Ganache - but it does set firm enough that when refrigerated I don't leave hand prints on it when I transfer the cake between boards. 

I do sometimes choose to use other frostings on cakes, but it always comes down to the flavour. ABC is quite sweet, but it does compliment certain flavours and textures. I always take into account what the over all expectations of the customer is when choosing a cake - if they want something very light then I'll recommend a meringue buttercream, but if they're not too fussed and just want the flavours to match then I'll always stick to ABC. Unless they want to overdose on chocolate. 

It's a balancing act! 

This is what makes your American Buttercream so silky smooth: your liquid! It's almost like a balancing act - too much liquid and your buttercream will be too soft, not enough liquid and you can barely spread or pipe the buttercream. I learnt this the hard way because I always thought the stiffer the buttercream the easier it is t pipe or the more stable it is - I was wrong. 

Now there's a few options here in terms of liquid; Water, Milk or Cream. 

Water 

Water is great if you're going dairy free (in which case you wouldn't used a non-dairy alternative to butter), or your council doesn't allow you to use fresh dairy products such as milk or cream in your baking. If I don't have any cream or milk on hand it's definitely my go to - it does the exact same job. 

Milk

Milk is what most recipes will call for, and it does the job well. Just remember that your buttercream is now only as good as your milk is; if your milk expires in 2 days then you've got to use your buttercream in 2 days. 

Cream

Cream has become my favourite of late, because I've found that it makes the buttercream just a tad creamier. But again, the buttercream is now only as good as your cream, however cream tends to have a much longer life span than milk does. 

Is there a dairy free alternative?

YES!

Yes there is! Buttercream can be made with whatever dairy free spread you would normally use in place of butter such as Nuttelex or Margarine, or you can make it with Vegetable Shortening.

Margarine/Nuttelex

For this type of spread just switch it out and go! It's as simple as that, it doesn't taste any different - it's just diary free! 

Vegetable Shortening

Shortening is something that I both do and don't recommend. It's a completely vegan alternative (if that's your thing) and therefore completely dairy free - so that's a huge plus. Shortening is also more stable than butter meaning that the buttercream doesn't melt when presented with hot or humid climates. Personally I'm not a huge fan of shortening because of the numbers on the packaging, and it does have a bit of an odd taste. However, when I do use shortening I usually us a 50:50 ratio of shortening to butter so that it isn't all shortening. If I do make an all shortening buttercream I do actually use a few drops of butter flavouring to take away the odd taste that shortening gives. 

 

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 500g Butter, Softened
  • 1kg Icing Sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 3tbsp Thickened Cream

Method:

  1. Beat the butter for 5 minutes using the paddle attachment
  2. Scrape down the bowl, add half the icing sugar and mix on low until combined
  3. Add the remaining icing sugar, Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Bean paste, and mix on low until fully incorporated
  4. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat on high for 3 minutes
  5. Add the thickened cream, scrape the bowl and beat on high for a further 5 minutes

Notes:

  • If you wish to use shortening as a non-dairy substitute use 500g of Vegetable Shortening. If you wish to use shortening to ensure stability in your buttercream use a 50/50 ratio: 250g Butter, 250g Vegetable Shortening
  • You may need more or less cream depending on your climate and the consistency which you are looking for
  • This recipe will work perfectly find if you are using hand held beaters however the frosting will not have as much volume
  • If you wish to colour your buttercream I recommend using gel, paste or powdered food colouring as to not change the consistency. If you wish to use liquid food colouring I recommend adding it before the cream as to not change the consistency - that way you will be able to judge whether or not you will need all the cream