Category Archives: Buttercream

Making Crème Mousseline

Crème mousseline — also known as German buttercream — is a silky and decadent combination of pastry cream and butter. It’s often used as a filling, though it works just as well as a frosting, as the “buttercream” moniker implies. The proportions for crème mousseline are 2 cups pastry cream to one cup very soft butter. Yeah, I know. Wow.

Here I am adding one cup of unsalted, cultured butter to 4 cups of pastry cream that I made with the full amount of sugar and twice the vanilla. I’m getting light-headed already.

I beat that in for about three minutes and it’s looking a little curdled, which is OK. So I’m pressing on with the second cup. Steady me.

After another three minutes or so of beating, this is the result:

A perfectly smooth and glossy mousseline/buttercream. Should yours still be lumpy, it could be because the butter was too cool when you started. That’s not a problem. Just let the mixture sit and warm until the butter softens completely, then beat — or whip — the mixture some more. In extreme cases where you have lots and lots of cool butter pieces, it’s OK to heat the mixture a little. Put it in a microwave-safe container and zap it for five seconds, stir, zap another five seconds until the mousseline is slightly warmed and the butter is utterly softened. Some butter may separate out when you do that, which is completely fine. Just dump the whole mess back into your stand mixer and apply the whip until it fluffs up as seen above.

For those who are curious about buttercreams but worry about syrup making, crème mousseline makes an excellent intro to the genre. You just combine everything and beat it. It’s also a nice way to recycle leftover pastry cream because the addition of lots of butter makes crème mousseline freeze-able. You’ll need to re-whip it once it thaws, but that’s no big deal. Overall it’s an eggier taste than a standard buttercream, but since when was that ever a problem?

I should add that some German buttercream recipes call for double more butter, up to double. That’s too much for me. You’d need to revive me with smelling salts.

Filed under:  Crème Mousseline, German Buttercream (Crème Mousseline), Pastry | 27 Comments

Final thoughts on buttercream: flavorings

Perhaps my favorite feature of real buttercreams, aside from their fundamental deliciousness, is the extent to which they can be manipulated. For the creative baker, there’s virtually no end to it. A complete catalog is impossible, though I’ll do my best to summarize some of the most common variations.

Extracts are obvious, and there are more of them on the market than you might think. All kinds of fruit and candy flavors are available, though to my mind very few of them are truly great for buttercreams. Exceptions are of course vanilla, then hazelnut, almond, coconut, peppermint, cinnamon, butterscotch, maple, and citrus flavors like lemon and orange (though for a true citrus flavor you’ll want to add some real citrus zest as well, plus maybe a couple of tablespoons of juice).

Liquers and spirits are another natural fit. Add up to three or four tablespoons of just about anything. Classics include kirsch, rum, brandy, bourbon, Amaretto, Kahlua, Grand Marnier and many others.

Then of course there are chocolates of various kinds, in pretty much any combination you can think of. Melted, they can be added to any finished buttercream, up to about six ounces for a French buttercream, eight for a meringue buttercream (in general, the darker the chocolate the better). In that family of flavors is of course coffee. A couple of tablespoons of espresso powder dissolved in a teaspoon of boiling water makes a fabulous coffee buttercream (or mocha when added to a chocolate buttercream).

Fruit flavors are another classic buttercream compliment. I already discussed citrus flavors, but berry purées like raspberry and strawberry work great too. About half a cup does the trick. You can also use jam, but you’ll need to heat it slightly to get it to a pourable consistency.

If you really want to get jiggy widdit, a quarter cup of peanut butter can be added to a recipe of meringue buttercream…though I confess I’ve never tried it (seems a bit much to me).

That’s about all I can think of for the additives — though that’s not even getting into the manipulations of the base ingredients that are possible. You can swap out your sugar syrup and use honey or maple syrup instead, or use brown sugar or maple sugar instead of white. You can supplement your syrups with a few tablespoons of dark caramel or caramel syrup — even molasses. There’s really no end to it.

I should say at this point that while all these ideas will flavor your buttercream, very few will color it in a manner befitting, say, an orange or a raspberry icing. For that you’ll need to add colorings. In my experience (though as I said, I’m no decorator) paste colors provide more intensity, though liquids, especially for the novice, are easier to control.

So then…what are you waiting for? Go nuts!

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American Buttercream

Once you see how this is made, you won’t wonder why American-style buttercreams have become the new standard — even in upscale bakeries — all over the world. OK, maybe not in the pâtisseries of Paris, but pretty much everywhere else. The reasons are primarily functional. Not only are the buttercreams in this family a snap to make, they stand up to adverse conditions that cause traditional all-butter buttercreams to run down and collect in pools on buffet tables. From the standpoint of commercial bakeries, therefore, they are a godsend. For the the rest of us…eh, not so much. The basic formula is this:

8 ounces soft butter
4 ounces room-temperature vegetable shortening
1 pound powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1-2 tablespoons water

Begin by putting both your fats in bowl of of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (beater) attachment.

Beat until the two are incorporated and somewhat creamy.

Now add the powdered sugar in a steady stream.

Beat until it’s all incorporated.

Now then, you can see from the texture that it’s rather paste-like at this point. Nearly a frosting, but a little too stiff.

So, with the mixer running on high, dribble a tablespoon or two of water down into the bowl. This will soften and “fluff” the buttercream up.

And you’re done.

As with other buttercreams, now is when you add flavoring or coloring as you wish.

One key difference that you can see with this buttercream is that unlike all-butter buttercreams, this one is perfectly, pristinely white. That obviously gives it a big advantage when it comes to coloring, since the decorator doesn’t have to compensate for the normal yellow tinge.

It’s also dynamite for piping, since as I said, it’ll stand up to just about any environmental conditions. Especially when it’s made with all shortening (as it frequently is in big supermarkets or chain stores), it’s practically indestructible. It’ll stand up to high temperatures and direct sunlight, and with a little bit of cornstarch (corn flour) added — a tablespoon or two for a quantity this size — to high humidity as well.

The sacrifice is of course taste and texture. Don’t get me wrong: many, many people really like this kind of buttercream. Increasing numbers of people have never tasted anything else. However it is quite sweet compared to traditional buttercreams (it’s 4-to-3 sugar-to-fat instead of 4-to-3 fat-to-sugar), and because all powdered sugar has at least a little cornstarch in it to keep it from clumping, a faint cereal aftertaste. It’s also slightly grainy, since even though the sugar crystals in powdered sugar are so fine you can’t see them with the naked eye, they aren’t so small that our tongues can’t detect them (an amazingly sensitive device, the human tongue). Further, it also creates that slick, fatty sensation in the inside of one’s mouth, since shortening doesn’t melt at body temperature.

So then, while as I said the functional benefits of American buttercreams are undeniable, to me they come at too high a price. That’s why, given a choice, I’ll go for a traditional buttercream every time.

Filed under:  American Buttercream, Pastry Components | 8 Comments

French Buttercream

Leave it to the French to find a way to make one of the richest preparations in all of pastrydom even richer. How do they do that? By employing egg yolks in their classic buttercream instead of an egg white foam. What impact does this have on taste and texture? As you’d expect it makes the finished product denser and still more buttery tasting, yet it renders this form of buttercream probably the silkiest and most luxurious of the lot. The ingredients are as follows:

6 egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 pound unsalted, soft butter

Start by putting your room temperature yolks into the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whip attachment:

Turn the mixer on high and whip the yolks for five minutes or so, until they appear light in color and somewhat foamy.

While the mixer is going, prepare your sugar syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring them up to 238 degrees Fahrenheit. Oops, this is a little hot.

Immediately pour the syrup into a pyrex measure for easier handling.

Now then, as with Italian meringue buttercream, start drizzling the syrup into the yolks a little at a time. Do it with the motor off so as not to splatter it all onto the sides of the bowl where it won’t do your buttercream any good. Drizzle a little, run the machine a little, drizzle a little, run the machine a little until all the syrup is incorporated.

When all the syrup is in, you should have something that looks like this:

Whip this sweet yellow “foam” until it’s cool…about room temperature. Once that’s achieved, switch to the paddle (beater) attachment and start adding your butter, a piece or two at a time until it’s all in.

Oh no! Mayo!

Turns out my egg yolk and syrup foam was too warm when I started adding the butter, so my buttercream is almost soupy. What to do? If you said “beat it”, you get an A for this course.

Ah, there we go, a few minutes on high and all is well.

Now then, you can see from the way this French buttercream hangs off the beater that it’s not as good for piping as the meringue buttercreams. But then who says every buttercream has to be pipable? This stuff is a silken, butter lover’s paradise, and as it happens, my favorite buttercream for cupcakes.

As with the others, this is the time to add your flavorings and/or colorings. A teaspoon or so of vanilla for starters, then just about anything you want.

Filed under:  French Buttercream, Pastry Components | 94 Comments

Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC)

Looks a lot like Italian meringue buttercream doesn’t it? In fact it is very similar, though a bit denser. Like Italian buttercream, it’s excellent both for spreading and piping, since (as you can see) it stands up quite well on its own. The advantage SMBC has over IMBC is that it’s somewhat easier to make, nearly as sturdy and 100% food safe. The formula goes like this:

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pound soft unsalted butter

Begin by combining the whites, sugar and cream of tartar the top of a double boiler set over simmering water.

Give them a good whippin’ with a whisk to combine them, and keep it up intermittently while the mixture warms.

In about 5-7 minutes’ time, your mixture should have reached 160 degrees Farhenheit (don’t worry, your whites won’t cook, the sugar will keep all those little proteins from clenching up). What’s so important about this temperature? It’s the degree at which Salmonella bacteria are killed.

So then, having created your egg white “syrup”, pour the contents of the double boiler into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip.

Turn the mixer on high. In a few minutes the mixture will turn white and start to build up into a foam.

In about 6-8 minutes, the meringue will come to stiff peaks, about like so:

Now then, all you need to do is add the butter. Switch to the paddle (beater) attachment and turn the mixer to medium high. Beat in the butter a piece at a time.

Ah yes! Here it is, the grainy “curdled” texture I was telling you about in my Italian meringue buttercream post. My butter pieces were a little cool in the center, and now I’m paying the price with this chunky, almost cottage cheese-looking buttercream.

No matter, just turn the machine up to high and beat those curdles right on out.

Much better. Again, this is the point where you incorporate your flavors and/or colors. A teaspoon or more of vanilla should again be your starting point. After that the sky is pretty much the limit.

Filed under:  Pastry Components, Swiss Meringue Buttercream | 65 Comments

Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC)

Those who claim buttercreams are too rich, too heavy and too “buttery” have probably never tried a meringue buttercream. This Italian-style meringue buttercream is light and delicate on the tongue, with a butter flavor that can be drastically de-emphasized (though it’s beyond me why you’d want to) with flavorings.

Italian buttercream is the more durable of all the buttercreams, though not necessarily the most food-safe. Don’t get me wrong, with all the microbe-killing sugar, the fat and (at least to some extent) heat, I would never call this buttercream un-safe. However if absolute, 100% food safety is your concern, then Swiss Meringue Buttercream is your ticket. The basic components are these:

Meringue:

5 room-temperature egg whites
pinch salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1.75 ounces (1/4) cup sugar

Syrup:

7 ounces (1 cup) sugar
1/4 cup water

Butter

1 lb., unsalted, and soft

Start by separating your eggs, conserving the yolks for another purpose. French buttercream, if you’re me this week.

Insert them into your mixer fitted with the whip attachment and turn on medium-high. When the whites get frothy, add the cream of tartar which will help stabilize the foam:

Increase the speed of the mixer to high and whip the whites to soft peaks. About like so:

Turn the mixer back on and add the sugar in a stream.

Meanwhile get those syrup components on a medium-high flame.

After about 30 seconds or so the whites and sugar should be beaten to a glossy “stiff peak” consistency. Let them sit while you turn your attention to the syrup.

Now then, heat your syrup to 245 degrees.

Then pour it into a pyrex measure for easier handling.

Add it slowly to the meringue by drizzling a little on top of the foam with the mixer off, then turning the mixer on high for five seconds. Add a little more syrup, turn the mixer back on for five seconds, etc., until all the syrup has been incorporated (scrape the last firming syrup out of the measure with a rubber spatula).

Why do it this way? Because if you were to simply pour the syrup into the bowl in stream with the mixer running, much of the syrup would splatter out onto the upper lip of the bowl and stick there, never making it into your mixture. So then, when you’re done you should have a silky and luxurious meringue:

Beautiful, isn’t it? Sadly it won’t last — because it’s butter time. However before adding your butter it’s important to make sure the meringue isn’t still hot from the syrup. Feel the outside of the bowl. If it’s warm to the touch, simply run the mixture for a few minutes (up to ten) to cool the contents of the bowl off. When it’s no longer hot (warm is alright) switch out the whip for the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on medium-high and begin adding the butter about a tablespoon or two at a time.

The meringue will fall to a large extent as the fat is introduced. It may even become rather liquid-like. Keep beating. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about buttercream over the years is that nearly all problems can be solved by continued beating. Is the mixture still liquid-y after all the butter has been incorporated? Keep beating. You’ll soon hear the change as the emulsion suddenly comes together. The sound of the bowl will go from plop, splop, gorp, ploop to a sudden thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap and you know you’re buttercream is ready:

Now then, I was lucky here that my temperatures were such that the buttercream achieved a perfect consistency without passing through a “curdled”-looking phase, which is what happens much of the time. Often this is due to the butter being cooler than the meringue, which causes it to collect together in masses. If that vaguely “chunky”-looking texture happens, don’t worry and keep beating. In a minute or two the temperatures in the bowl will even out and the buttercream will turn smooth and spreadable.

At this point you may color and flavor it in any way you wish. A teaspoon or two of vanilla is standard, though a couple of tablespoons of just about any kind of liqueur can be added as well. There are many other possibilities that I’ll discuss later in the week.

Filed under:  Italian Meringue Buttercream, Pastry Components | 91 Comments