There are lots of ways to make buttercream, but not all of them are right. Buttercream is half art, half science. It requires careful attention to detail, and you have to pay close attention to everything from your measurements to the exact temperature of your butter. One wrong move and you can end up with gooey, melting frosting that won't hold a shape, greasy icing that tastes too much like butter, or something way too sugary. Don't be intimidated, though! I've got several helpful ways to make buttercream better that I'm happy to share!
1. A Question of Temperature
Although there are many different ways to make buttercream, pretty much every recipe tells you that your butter should be at room temperature. How often does that happen? You'll either place your butter out hours before you plan to make your buttercream, leading to something way too soft, which in turn leads to dripping frosting, or you forget until right before you're ready. At that point you'll either microwave it and probably end up melting it entirely (done that) or you'll just try to use cold butter and end up with a stiff mess that won't mix (done that also). Instead, just place your butter out while you're getting everything else ready, maybe on top of the fridge or in front of the kitchen window. Slice it into pieces, make sure no chunks are touching, and by the time you're ready, you should be able to pinch a piece and leave an impression – perfect!
2. Know Your Shortenings
Buttercream isn't just about butter. Some people use a different sort of fat, some people use shortening, it all depends. I think Crisco is a great option – you'll see why – but you should just experience. You might get your perfect taste and consistency just from using butter. You might even just want to use shortening with butter flavoring. It depends on what you're comfortable working with, what tastes good to you, and what frosts best for you.
3. Create Your Own Consistency
To make a better buttercream, however, I recommend mixing. As I mentioned, I like mixing a little bit of Crisco with the butter. This is especially essential if you want a stiffer consistency that isn't too hard to work with. This is the kind of stiffness and thickness you want when you're interested in intricate frosting techniques, such as swirls or peaks or frosting flowers.
4. A Colorful Tip
Because buttercream is so delicate, you have to be really careful about what you add to it. Making a colorful buttercream is loads of fun, and it ends up looking so pretty – usually! However, if you add liquid food coloring, you might thin it out too much. Try using a powdered color instead. It won't add any liquid to your frosting, it creates a rich color, and you won't end up with any stray drops of food coloring all over the counter – or yourself.
5. To Salt or Not to Salt
This one's a bit trickier. You'll find a different tip on every recipe you read. Some people swear by salted butter, claiming that it adds just the right amount of flavor to your buttercream. Others insist on plain, unsalted butter, while still others encourage you to use a sweet cream butter. For me, it really all comes down to your own personal tastes, as well as what kind of buttercream you're making. Sometimes a little salt is the perfect touch, and sometimes a sweet cream butter makes your frosting a little too sweet. Again, just experiment and find your favorite mix. Whatever you do, however, don't add the salt yourself – it's too easy to mess up. If you want some salt in your buttercream, go with an already salted butter.
6. Stick to the Right Sugar
This might seem pretty self explanatory but, unfortunately, I have known people who try to use granulated sugar in buttercream. That does not work. You end up with a gritty, gloppy mess. I'll give you that it tastes okay, but it's just an icky mess and it does not look pretty. Always go with confectioners sugar – or powdered sugar or icing sugar, because they're all the same.
7. Measure, Measure, and Measure Again
Okay, you don't really have to measure that much, but you should be careful! Take care when you're measuring out your butter, your shortening, your sugar, and any flavorings. So many seemingly small things can really mess up your buttercream, you don't want to just add things here and there. This isn't the kind of recipe that responds well to a pinch of this or a smidgen of that. Even when you have to add a little more sugar or butter to find the right consistency, do it in measured portions, such as a half teaspoon at a time.
8. The Secret of Sifting
If you don't have a fine sifter, invest in one. Confectioners sugar is lumpy, and those lumps will jack up your buttercream. You want your sugar smooth, fine, and free of lumps, and a trip through a sifter will do the trick beautifully, making it much easier to mix. If you have to add extra for a stiffer frosting, sift that too.
Making buttercream seems intimidating at first, especially if you're just getting started. Once you've practiced a bit, however, you'll quickly get the hang of it – and it's so much better than store bought frosting! Make it right and you'll have a thick, creamy, delicious frosting that will send everyone into throes of sugary ecstasy! Do you have any tips for making a better buttercream?