The Buttercream Problem

Folks, I have a problem.  It’s called buttercream.

I’ve been offered the great privilege of making a wedding cake for some dear friends who are tying the knot this summer.  I’ve never made a wedding cake before.  I’ve made a lot of cakes, most of them chocolate (in truth, most of them this one), but this is the big time.

I know the cake itself is going to be champagne.

I know the filling is going to be a lovely light whipped mascarpone cream, possibly dotted with fresh raspberries.

I suspect the frosting needs to be buttercream, because the bride wants to cover the cake in fondant (it’s going to be hot, it’s a cleaner look, it can be painted on with beautiful blue coloring).  But just in case I get good enough at smoothing out the buttercream, maybe we can just leave it at that.

I’ve done one practice run, for a small New Year’s Eve party we hosted (the wedding is in July, so there’s some time here).  The cake was delicious.  The filling was amazing.  The frosting was…

a disaster.

It was a simple American buttercream containing butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and a splash of champagne to go with the cake flavor.  I think the butter was too cold.  I think the powdered sugar wasn’t well sifted.  I think proportions were off.  The resulting frosting was gloppy and grainy and oozing, and when I spread it on the cake it clumped and ran and blubbered down the sides. You know how jeans that are too long for you puddle around your feet at the bottom?  Now imagine that in white, and made out of frosting, and on my cake.  That’s what it looked like.

When I was too frustrated to look at it anymore, I stuck it in the fridge for a while, hoping it would harden up a bit so I could spread it with more success.  While that happened, I mixed some blue gel food coloring into the remaining bowl of frosting and whipped that up, in hopes that a few rosettes on top of the cake would save it a little.

An hour later, I took on the icing again.  I scraped off some of the worst slumps and filled up my piping bag with the beautiful blue I’d created.  With a star tip, I piped on a rosette.  It dissolved into a blob and blurbed toward the edge of the cake.  I somehow lost touch with reality and instead of trying to scrape it off, I made four more around the cake.  They all slumped over the edge.  I tried to pipe a pretty pattern around the bottom edge.  It looked like a long ribbon of blue poo.  I shoved the cake back into the fridge and drank a couple of glasses of champagne before serving it. It was New Year’s Eve.  It was clearly the right thing to do.

So here’s the issue: I have to make a better buttercream.  I’ve done some research and found some killer looking recipes.  I’m planning to use champagne extract instead of actual champagne to avoid any issues with acidity or carbonation.  I’m planning to use fully softened butter.  I’m contemplating blending in some mascarpone to add body and lessen the overwhelming sweetness buttercream can have.

But I’ve also seen conflicting theories about how much milk to add during the whipping process and how long to whip and whether or not to add shortening so the color is a little whiter.  I’ve seen seen creamy dreamy looking recipes for Italian and Swiss buttercreams.  I’m in a buttercream frosting float.  Or, rather, I’m floating in ideas about buttercream frosting.

So I’m looking to you, tiny multiverse of readers.  Have you made buttercream?  How did it turn out?  What recipe did you use?  Was it American, Italian, or Swiss?  Did it spread smoothly?  Was it overly sweet?


5 thoughts on “The Buttercream Problem

  1. No helpful comments? Bummer. I wish I had one to add. I’ve only made buttercream once and it’s consistency was fine, I think, but it didn’t taste particularly good. Why not just go with cream cheese frosting (aka one of the handful of reasons to keep living) and call it a day?

  2. Pingback: The Buttercream Project 3 « "blackberry-eating in late September"

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