You might say that I’ve been inspired by the Great British Bake Off, but I loved cake long before I started watching the show. Upon browsing the internet, I learned that I’ve been missing out by only sticking to basic frosting recipes. I set out to make every kind of buttercream frosting for my family so we could taste them all. For the sake of simplicity, I stuck to plain vanilla for each one so I could really see the difference.
American buttercream (also known as simple buttercream) is the only type of buttercream that I knew existed until recently. The chocolate version here has long been a family favorite because it’s simple to make and rich in flavor, though not perfectly smooth. Some sources online claim that American buttercream is the “worst” in terms of flavor, but it’s far better than any frosting from a can. If someone has never made frosting at home, this is the one I’d direct them to since it doesn’t require any cooking.
(A subtype of American buttercream is cream cheese frosting.)
Also called flour buttercream, cooked frosting, or boiled milk frosting, don’t be put off by ermine buttercream’s weird names. The finished product has a texture almost exactly like a cream cheese frosting, but without the tanginess. I was skeptical when I saw that the recipe uses flour to thicken a milk and sugar mixture, but my whole family loved the final result, even my son who hates most frostings. Here’s the recipe we tried (and loved). Fun fact: it was the original frosting used for red velvet cake.
Of all the frostings ever, French buttercream is probably my favorite. It takes some skill to make since it uses egg yolks and hot sugar syrup, but it’s utterly delicious and rich in flavor, almost like honey butter. It’s also silky smooth and yellowish in color because of the egg yolks. Here’s a great recipe I used to fill macarons.
If you want a buttercream that isn’t as sweet, German buttercream is the one for you. It’s best to plan ahead since you have to cook a custard and completely cool it before adding butter (which is why it’s sometimes called custard or pastry-cream buttercream). I personally didn’t enjoy this frosting as much, so I can see why it isn’t as commonly used. However, it has the wonderful, silky texture that can’t be duplicated with just butter and sugar (as in American buttercream). Find a recipe here.
Italian Meringue Buttercream
Italian meringue buttercream probably takes the most skill since you’ll not only whip egg whites, but also pour in hot sugar syrup before beating in the butter. It’s very silky and not too sweet, plus a little more durable than Swiss meringue buttercream. Click here for an awesome recipe.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
The ingredients in Swiss meringue buttercream are almost identical to Italian meringue buttercream, but the process is different and arguably simpler. You’ll heat the egg whites and sugar over the stove in a double boiler before beating them to stiff peaks and adding butter. The texture of this frosting is absolutely divine: silky smooth and not too sweet.
I think my family’s overall new favorite is the Swiss meringue buttercream. My personal favorite is the French buttercream, but I don’t see making it very often since I don’t usually have extra egg yolks lying around. For my son who only likes the ermine buttercream, I’ll make sure to use that for frosting his birthday cake.
Any of these frostings can be flavored many ways, but I prefer all of our “new favorites” in plain vanilla so far. I tried a chocolate version of a few of these later on, but it wasn’t chocolaty enough for my palate, even with extra cocoa powder.
The extra steps and ingredients beyond butter and sugar are well worth the time. If you want an excellent buttercream frosting, homemade definitely wins, no matter what kind you decide to make.
Next up: even more frostings!
Find my cake (and pie) recipes by clicking here.