Learn the differences between the three most common kinds of buttercream: American buttercream, Swiss meringue buttercream, and Italian meringue buttercream.
What is Buttercream?
Buttercream, in its most simple form, is a mixture of butter and sugar that has been creamed together to make a fluffy frosting. Buttercream is used for filling, icing, and decorating cakes and pastries.
It is no surprise that the fat in buttercream is typically all butter, which is where the name comes from. However, some buttercream recipes do call for other fats, like shortening, to create a more stable style of buttercream called decorators buttercream.
Types of Buttercream
There are a variety of styles of buttercreams all varying in their degree of difficulty to make. Each style of buttercream has different pros and cons as well as best uses in the pastry kitchen.
There are three types of buttercreams that are most often used: American Buttercream, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and Italian Meringue Buttercream.
There are a few other types of buttercream that are less commonly used like French Buttercream, German Buttercream, and a very new style of buttercream called G.G. Glossy Buttercream (or Korean Glossy Buttercream).
General Buttercream Guidelines
- To properly cream the butter to form the buttercream, the butter must start at room temperature. If the butter is too cold, the emulsion might break causing a separated buttercream.
- Buttercream is a blank canvas that can be flavored with virtually anything such as extracts, spices, melted chocolate, jams, and curds. As a general rule of thumb, the flavoring added to the buttercream should not exceed half the weight of the butter in the recipe.
- If the buttercream will not be used right away it must be stored in the refrigerator. It will firm up quite a bit and should be allowed to come back to room temperature before piping or spreading.
- Buttercream should always be served at room temperature. Because buttercream has such a high fat content, the texture will not be pleasant if eaten cold and will leave an extra greasy mouthfeel.
American buttercream, also known as simple buttercream, is the easiest buttercream frosting to make and the one most commonly used in non-professional kitchens.
American buttercream is made simply by creaming together butter and confectioners sugar with milk or cream. If desired, vanilla extract or another flavoring may be added.
American buttercream is typically made from a ratio of 2:1 sugar to butter by weight. This ratio makes this style of buttercream the sweetest of all the styles.
American buttercream is also sometimes referred to as “crusting buttercream” because it forms a thin crust after exposed to air for some time, which can be desirable in some situations.
American Buttercream Overview
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Characteristics: ivory color, relatively thick texture, easy to pipe, very sweet flavor, forms thin crust when exposed to air
- Best for: simple cakes and cupcakes such as this classic white cake, last minute frosting needs, base for intricate designs, when crusting is desired
- American Buttercream Recipe
Note: A lighter variation on this buttercream can be made by whipping the butter with marscarpone cheese.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Swiss meringue buttercream, also known simply as Swiss buttercream, is perhaps the buttercream most commonly used in professional pastry kitchens. This style of buttercream gets its name because it starts out with the process of making Swiss meringue.
Swiss meringue buttercream is somewhat more difficult than American buttercream because it involves a double boiler to heat the egg whites and sugar. This mixture is beaten into a meringue and then butter and flavorings are added.
Swiss meringue buttercream is silky smooth and less sweet than American buttercream. Because of the cooked sugar, it also does not form a crust and is a relatively stable style of buttercream. It is also a very pale ivory color which makes it perfect for adding color.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Overview
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Characteristics: pale white color, fairly stable, silky smooth texture, not overly sweet, strong butter flavor, remains soft when exposed to air
- Best for: layer cakes, creating a silky smooth finish, frosting that will be colored like for Succulent Cupcakes, when jams or curds will be used as flavoring
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream Recipe
Italian Meringue Buttercream
Italian meringue buttercream, also known simply as Italian buttercream, is the most stable of all of the buttercreams but also the most difficult to make. This style of buttercream gets its name because it starts out with the process of making Italian meringue.
The element of Italian meringue buttercream that makes it so difficult to make is that a boiling hot sugar syrup must be streamed into the egg whites as they are whipped. This process requires the baker to take great care not to burn themselves and to cook the sugar syrup to a very specific temperature.
Italian Meringue Buttercream Overview
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Characteristics: pale white color, most stable of all the buttercreams, luxurious mouthfeel, lightest texture, not overly sweet, remains soft when exposed to air
- Best for: standing up to higher temperatures, frosting that will be colored, intricate designs like the Basket of Flowers Cake, layer cakes
- Italian Meringue Buttercream Recipe
French buttercream is a lesser well known style of buttercream. In contrast to the meringue style buttercreams, French buttercream utilizes the yolks instead of the egg whites. Because of this, French buttercream is naturally yellow in color.
The process of making French buttercream is almost identical to making an Italian meringue buttercream. You must heat your sugar to 240 degrees F and pour it into the mixer while the egg yolks are beating. This buttercream tastes very similar to a custard like pastry cream.
French Buttercream Overview
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Characteristics: Yellow color due to egg yolks, very rich in flavor, slightly sweet, not very stable- does not hold up to heat well, tastes similar to pastry cream, very silky smooth
- Best for: Using as a filling in a cake, topping a cupcake, as a base for a fruit tart instead of custard
- French Buttercream Recipe
German buttercream is a custard based buttercream. The recipe starts exactly the same way a pastry cream does by mixing whole eggs with cornstarch and sugar and then pouring warm cream into the mixture. This mixture is then cooked until thickened. The custard is then beaten into butter
German Buttercream Overview
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Characteristics: Light yellow in color due to using whole eggs, softer than meringue buttercreams or american buttercreams, does not hold up well in hot temperatures, lightly sweet in flavor, very silky smooth, very buttery in flavor
- Best for: Filling a cake, piping on top of cupcakes
- German Buttercream Recipe
Korean Buttercream (aka Glossy Buttercream, or G.G. Buttercream)
Korean buttercream (also known as glossy buttercream or G.G. glossy buttercream) is the newest style of buttercream taking the internet by storm. This style of buttercream was developed G.G. More who has a YouTube Channel G.G. Cakraft. This style of buttercream gained popularity for the way it makes beautiful piped buttercream flowers.
Korean glossy buttercream is exactly the same as Italian meringue buttercream with one small change. The butter in Korean buttercream is cold when it is beaten in. This one change completely changes the texture and look of the final buttercream.
Korean Buttercream Overview
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Characteristics: Very glossy in consistency, almost transparent in color, holds its shape very well, withstands heat very well
- Best for: Piping buttercream flowers for cupcakes and cake toppers, doing intricate buttercream designs
- Korean Buttercream Recipe
Buttercream Flavor Options
You can flavor any style of buttercream. Here a few flavoring ideas!
- Vanilla Buttercream: Beat in 2 tsp vanilla extract to any recipe above.
- “Wedding Cake” Buttercream: Beat in 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp almond extract to any recipe above.
- Chocolate Buttercream: Beat in 8 oz melted and cooled dark or bittersweet chocolate to any recipe above.
- Lemon Curd Buttercream: Fold in 1 cup of lemon curd to any recipe above.
- Strawberry, Raspberry, or Blackberry Buttercream: Fold in 1 cup of seedless preserves into any recipe above.