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What is Buttercream?

Jeff Petersen
Updated May 16, 2024
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One of the most common cake frostings in America, buttercream can be purchased in a number of varieties or made at home. A creamy, easy to spread, delicious frosting, it is made from common ingredients. With four main types to choose from, you'll find one that is just right for your cookie, cake, or cupcake frosting.

The basic ingredients in most buttercreams are butter, sugar, salt, and eggs. American buttercream is the most basic variety, and often does not contain eggs. Making slight changes to the basic recipe and adding different ingredients changes the properties of the frosting. Color, texture, shelf life, and flavor are slightly different with each type. The four main types are American, Swiss Meringue, Italian Meringue, and French Meringue.

The most basic type is American buttercream. This is the frosting you will find on the cakes at your local supermarket. When you buy a container of frosting in the baking aisle, you're getting the American version. Because its main ingredients are butter or shortening and sugar or other sweeteners, it has a very long shelf life.

When you buy cakes from a specialized bakery, the buttercream you will find frosting them is most often Swiss Meringue. This delicious frosting is easier to make than Italian Meringue, and has a longer shelf life than French Meringue. Swiss Meringue can keep for up to five days at room temperature, and two to three weeks if refrigerated. It adds egg whites and corn syrup to the American variety, giving it a lighter texture and flavor.

Bakeries also use Italian Meringue buttercream on their confections. The ingredients are very similar to Swiss Meringue, but the process is more complex. First, the baker must make an Swiss Meringue, and then add it to the butter. The end product is similar to Swiss Meringue, but the Italian buttercream tends to be sweeter.

The fourth main type is French buttercream. It differs from the Swiss and Italian versions because it uses whole eggs rather than just whites. This gives the frosting a yellow color. The yolks shorten the shelf life, and French buttercream should not be stored at room temperature.

No matter which type you choose, it is sure to add a delicious layer to your dessert. American, Swiss, Italian, or French, each frosting has its own distinct flavor and characteristics, but they all share the ability to make a cake a delicious work of art.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jeff Petersen
By Jeff Petersen

Jeff is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist who earned his B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Creighton University. Based in Berkeley, California, Jeff loves putting his esoteric knowledge to good use as a DelightedCooking contributor.

Discussion Comments

By FernValley — On Jul 26, 2011

@burdici- I had a similar problem once. I love your solution! I really love butter cream frosting and while it still tastes good even if it won't whip up right, the texture is so wonderful when it does.

By burcidi — On Jul 26, 2011

@ddljohn-- Hey, that's actually very normal after refrigeration. Just put some of the buttercream (a very small amount, maybe one-fourth of the total) in a small pot and heat it on the stove.

Return it to the rest of the buttercream and whip it up. It should come back together and look just like it did in the beginning.

If that's the only problem you're having, it means you're doing well. I also agree that there is nothing like fresh buttercream icing, preferably topped on vanilla cupcakes and decorated with fresh strawberries.

By ddljohn — On Jul 26, 2011

@feruze-- I'm having difficulty making buttercream too. I like Italian buttercream, what kind of buttercream do you buy at the store?

Buying it ready-made could be a good idea and maybe I might resort to it if I absolutely fail. I don't really think that ready-made buttercream can come anywhere close to fresh buttercream though, if it is made well of course.

The problem I had with the buttercream I made is that it seemed to break apart after I refrigerated it. I tried to add some corn syrup and whip it again but that didn't help either.

Before I put it in the fridge though, it's perfect. I guess it's the cooling part that's ruining it. I don't know what to do about that.

By bear78 — On Jul 25, 2011

Making buttercream at home is not terribly difficult but it can be a bit tricky to get the right consistency and flavor.

I think I have tried making it about ten or fifteen times so far and it never seems to be what I'm looking for.

I finally gave up trying to make it and bought a ready made container of it from the wholesale store. It's a big container and tastes perfect. I take out as much as I need, add any coloring or flavoring I want and decorate my cake. I think I've saved a lot of money this way too.

Jeff Petersen

Jeff Petersen

Jeff is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist who earned his B.A. in English/Creative Writing from...

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