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Buttercream: A Piece-of-Cake Frosting
The frostings here don’t just look pretty—they’re also sweet, rich, and creamy. Read on to find out what goes into a perfect buttercream.
Sure, things like spices, fruit, and chocolate are nice, but the irresistible power of most desserts flows in large part from fat and sugar. In fact, that’s all you need to make a buttercream frosting. The “cream” part of the name comes not from the dairy product but from the mixing method: for a basic version, you vigorously blend—or cream—a source of fat into powdered sugar. Margarine and shortening may not taste as rich as butter, but their higher melting point can be an advantage, since the frosting will hold up better under heat.
Buttercreams of the World
Whether you get more complex than that depends on the style you’re working in. French buttercream starts with a thick sugar syrup, which is whipped into a mixture of egg yolks and butter, making for a thick, spreadable meringue. For an airier texture, Italians use beaten egg whites instead, and Swiss meringue buttercream takes the shortcut of whisking the sugar and egg whites together over heat. Some recipes may even call for milk, depending on the consistency desired, and any variety can serve as a filling between cake layers or the mortar of your buildings in a gingerbread earthquake scene.
- French buttercreams tend to be least prone to separation because of the natural emulsifiers (substances that help fat and water mix) found in egg yolks.
- Bakers have a trick for producing ultra-smooth buttercream surfaces: the “crumb layer,” which is created by chilling the frosted cake before adding a second layer of frosting to even things out.