If you have ever had trouble mastering buttercream then this page is for you! This is the ultimate step by step guide to making the best buttercream icing. Everything you wanted to know about making buttercream- from flavoring it, to piping, to making it.
One of the questions that I get asked most about it how to make the buttercream icing (and all the dilemmas that can come along with it). How do I color it? How do I flavor it? How do I pipe buttercream so it looks like a pro did it?
So many buttercream questions. So little time. So I figured wouldn’t it be super helpful to have all the answers to your questions in one handy dandy spot? Yea I thought so too. That’s why I created this ultimate guide to creating the best buttercream icing page for you.
So let’s dive in shall we.
This page does contain affiliate links. I do make a small commission from these products if you click on the link. It does not cost you anything extra, but helps to keep this blogging lady going 🙂
Step 1: Gather The Right Tools
When it comes to making buttercream, just like with any type of baking I believe it starts with the right tools.
For making buttercream, I recommend avoiding plastic. Like plastic bowls for instance. Plastic can retain flavors and odors over time. When you are making a meringue style buttercream you need clean bowls to properly whip your egg whites. If you use plastic bowls that have retained any grease over time, you may have trouble whipping them up properly.
Also, avoid using glass if you can for certain buttercream recipes like the Swiss, Italian, and French buttercreams where you will be adding a heated mixture to your bowl. Glass bowls can retain heat.
This is why I recommend using stainless steel bowls like these ones. Stainless steel bowls won’t retain odors, or residue like plastic will and won’t hold onto heat like glass bowls will.
In addition to stainless steel bowls here are 9 other must have tools to making the best buttercream icing.
- Kitchenaid Stand Mixer (you can also use a hand mixer if a stand mixer isn’t in the budget)
- Sturdy whisk (this is my new favorite whisk, it doubles as a bowl scraper!)
- Candy Thermometer
- Measuring cups and spoons (again stainless steel is recommended)
- Piping Bags
- Decorating Tips
Step 2: Use Quality Ingredients
In addition to using proper tools, you also want to make sure you don’t skimp and use cheap ingredients. Quality is key if you want the best buttercream icing in the end. Because buttercream is baked, the flavor of your ingredients is really going to stand out.
The #1 ingredient you shouldn’t skimp on when it comes to buttercream is butter. It’s right there in the title. Butter. So use good butter. Storebrand butter is cheaper because it uses more water and air. That means less flavor. If you want the creamiest tastiest buttercream, then use a good grade AA butter. My favorite is Cabot. You could even use European buter which has a higher butterfat content.
The other ingredient you shouldn’t skimp on is vanilla extract. I know imitation is cheap. But it’s cheap for a reason! Use PURE vanilla extract for your buttercream. Again buttercream isn’t baked, so you can’t get away with using the cheap imitation stuff here. A great brand you can find in pretty much any grocery store is McCormick. My favorite brand of vanilla is Nielssen-Massey.
Step 3: Choose The Right Type of Buttercream For The Job
You may have grown up on a traditional powdered sugar American style buttercream. But that’s only one type of buttercream out there! In fact there are 5 more beyond american buttercream that might be what you need. Choosing the right type of buttercream depends on how sweet you like the buttercream, skill level, and what you plan to use it for.
Taste: This is the sweetest out of all of the frostings. Can be a little too sweet for some people, but this is the classic type of buttercream most people are familiar with and grew up on.
Texture: Sometimes can be a bit too grainy or greasy if not done properly.
Difficulty: The easiest to make out of all the buttercreams.
Pros: Easy to make. Kids and most adults love it! Doesn’t require any special equipment to make. And it’s easy to frost with and color!
Cons: Tends to be a bit too sweet for some. Doesn’t hold up well in warm conditions.
Taste: Less sweet than American buttercream.
Texture: Light and soft. If the sugar is added to the milk and flour step it can be smooth. If it’s added separately to the butter it can be a bit grainy.
Difficulty: Fairly easy. A bit more than American buttercream, but still fairly easy to make
Pros: Doesn’t involve the use of a candy thermometer or eggs.
Cons: Uses flour, so not gluten free. Can be very soft, and doesn’t hold up well to piping decorations and heat.
Taste: Light in taste
Texture: Smooth and light in texture
Difficulty: Medium. A bit more difficult to make than ABC, but a good stepping point from ABC to the cubed butter and meringue-based buttercreams.
Pros: Great flavor and texture, definitely a step up from ABC.
Cons: Involves egg yolks, so can result in a scrambled egg frosting if not done correctly. Has a bit of a yellow color, so a bit more difficult to tint. A bit soft, so will not hold up well in warmer conditions.
Taste: A more pronounced butter flavor, not as sweet as ABC
Texture: Sily and smooth on the tongue.
Difficulty: Medium to difficult. Can curdle and separate when the butter is added to the meringue.
Pros: Great flavor and texture. Great base under fondant and holds up well to piping.
Cons: Requires more time and equipment to make them the beaten butter methods.
Taste: Rich in flavor due to the use of the egg yolks but mildly sweet.
Texture: Silky smooth and light in texture.
Difficulty: This buttercream is also one of the more difficult to make.
Pros: Great flavor and texture.
Cons: Does not hold up to heat well and can be difficult to pipe decorations with. The yellow color from the egg yolks can also give it up a pale yellow color that is not ideal and a bit more difficult to tint with color.
Taste: My favorite out of all the frostings. The perfect balance of sweet and buttery flavor.
Texture: Silky and smooth.
Difficulty: One of the more difficult if not the most out of all the buttercreams. Out of all the buttercreams this one can be the trickiest because you are adding a boiling sugar mixture to egg whites.
Pros: Very stable in warm temperatures (this buttercream will hold up to heat the longest out of all the icings) and is great base under fondant. Best flavor out of all the buttercreams!
Cons: Can be a bit tricky to make. Involves the use of a candy thermometer.
Step 4: Making The Best Buttercream Icing
Ok so once you have gathered the right tools, quality ingredients and decided on which buttercream recipe to make it’s time to actually make it!
Here are the links to step by step photo tutorials to making your best buttercream icing ever.
- American Buttercream
- German Buttercream
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Italian Meringue Buttercream
- French Buttercream
Sometimes, though things can go a little wrong though. Your buttercream, instead of being fluffy and perfect, it’s runny and curdled looking.
Usually the #1 culprit was the wrong temperature. Maybe your butter was too warm. Or you threw butter into a meringue that was too warm. You always wants things at room temperature, especially when you are combining things like butter.
If your buttercream has broken or seperated there are a few ways to fix it.
How To Fix A Broken Buttercream
- Mix it for longer. This usually works. Sometimes it can take up to 10 minutes!
- Chill your bowl. If things have gotten a bit warm, simply pop that bowl of buttercream in your fridge to firm back up again and try mixing after.
- Add some melted (and cooled) white chocolate. Chocolate acts as an emulsifier and should help to bring the buttercream back together again.
Step 5: Flavor Your Buttercream
When it comes to your buttercream, you can’t go wrong of course with vanilla buttercream. (again make sure you use quality pure vanilla extract!). But you can flavor your buttercream in so many more ways beyond vanilla.
Start small when flavoring. Some flavorings like almond extract can be strong. So start small, adding a little bit. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away!
Here are some recipes using different flavored buttercreams to get you started:
For more ways to flavor your buttercream then be sure to download my Buttercream Cheatsheet!
Step 6: Color Your Buttercream
Sometimes you want your buttercream to be a fun color beyond white. If you want to color your buttercream you should always use gel food coloring, not liquid.
My two favorite brands for gel food coloring:
You want to use gel food coloring so you don’t add extra liquid. Adding extra liquid, especially to those meringue buttercreams, can change the consistency.
When you do add food coloring, wait 30 minutes for the color to darken. The color will deepen over time, so if it’s not quite the color you wanted. Step away. Come back in 30 and check out the color. Still too light? Ok go add more. And repeat.
For some colors, it can be a bit tricky to achieve. Like black frosting and red.
Here is a post on how to make black icing.
Here is a post on how to make red buttercream.
And here is a quick video I made on how to color your buttercream.
Oh and I got a video on how to do that as well for you 😉
Step 7: Frosting The Perfect Cupcake
Ok once you have made the perfect buttercream, flavored it, and colored it It’s time to frost with it!
I mean assuming you haven’t eaten it all with a spoon of course. No judgement friend.
Again make sure you are using the correct tools I mentioned back in step 1.
To frost the perfect cupcake start by practicing on some wax or parchment paper first. You can practice away and then simply scrape the frosting back into your bowl. No waste and you will be ready to pipe perfect cupcakes.
Here are my top 3 tips if you are new to piping your frosting:
- Use correct pressure- Be sure to squeeze from the top of the piping bag. Not near the bottom.
- Hold the bag at the correct angle- Hold the bag at 90 degrees, slightly above your cupcake.
- Motion- You want to squeeze from the inside out in a consistent fashion.
And here is a video to help you achieve the perfect bakery swirl.
If you want to get creative with your buttercream decorating try making these:
For more cupcake tutorials try these:
Step 8: Storing Your Buttercream
Of course, you may want to store your buttercream for later use. Or maybe make it ahead of time if you have a lot to make.
To store your buttercream at room temperature: Do this if you plan to use it within a couple hours.
To store your buttercream in the fridge: Do this if you plan to use it within 5 days. Store it in sealed airtight container. Just be sure to re-whip before piping and frosting.
To store your buttercream in the freezer: Do this if you do not plan to use it within 5 days. Be sure to store it in an airtight container. You can let it thaw overnight in your fridge or at room temperature for a couple hours. Again just re-whip before using.
More Buttercream Resources To Check Out:
100 Buttercream Flowers– Make the most beautiful flowers all out of buttercream with this step by step guide to making flowers with buttercream icing
Sensational Buttercream Decorating– There are over 50 buttercream projects for you to try from cakes to cupcakes!
Get My Buttercream Cheatsheet!
Join the community to get the tips, tricks, and simple from scratch recipes so you can start baking delicious desserts today. PLUS I will send you my Buttercream Cheatsheet with 13 ways to flavor your buttercream!