Hello, friends! Here’s a recipe for you that is long overdue: American Buttercream! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to take a sexy picture of American buttercream? I don’t know how people on Pinterest do it, but I highly suspect some shenanigans are going on. So instead of a picture of it in the bowl, here it is on a cake! A cake that you can make with this recipe. 🙂
As much as I love the art of making fancier buttercreams (such as a smooth and silky Swiss meringue), I am an extremely lazy person who can appreciate the simplicity of throwing a couple ingredients in a mixer and letting it do its thing. That’s why American buttercream is so often my go-to icing.
One of the major issues that people run into when making this frosting for the first time is getting the consistency right, which is why I’m going to simplify it for you in one easy-to-remember ratio: 2:1. That is, two parts sugar to one part butter, by weight. Lucky for all of us Americans, the manufacturers do all of the work for us: confectioners sugar typically comes in 2lb bags, and butter is sold by the pound. See below:
This means that if you want to make a half batch of buttercream (as I typically do for all of my six-inch two-layer cakes), you just need to use half a bag of sugar and two sticks of butter. Easy peasy.
Another problem that people typically run into is lots of air bubbles in their buttercream. This is often because people use a whisk rather than a paddle attachment. Whisks whip air into whatever you’re mixing, which is great for meringue but bad for buttercream. By the way, if you don’t have a paddle attachment (or even a stand mixer) a great way to get air bubbles out of your buttercream is by using a rubber spatula to smear it around the sides of the bowl.
Before you do anything else, you’ll first need to beat your (room temperature) butter. People often skip this step, but I think it makes all the difference; it loosens the butter and makes it easier for it to absorb the sugar, which lessons the “gritty” mouthfeel that buttercream snobs dislike about the American version. You’ll notice that after just 2-3 minutes of beating, the butter becomes a lot fluffier and significantly lightens in color.
Once that’s accomplished you can use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl and then add no more than half of your sugar. Some people like to add it a cup at a time, but I found that it doesn’t really make a difference. Adding too much can overwhelm your mixer though, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Remember that you’re dealing with powder here, so if you don’t want to look like a ghost I suggest starting the mixer on the lowest setting and then gradually increasing the speed.
Once it’s all incorporated (should take just a minute or two), scrape down the bowl again. Stand mixers are notorious for missing the sugar at the bottom of the bowl or pushing it up against the sides.
Now you can add the rest of the sugar. As you can see below, it make look like there is no way it will all get incorporated, but just give it time.
What you’ll be left with is a very stiff buttercream that (after adding a dash of salt and some vanilla for flavor) would be great for piping flowers or other designs that you want to hold up over time.
If you want your buttercream to be spreadable though, you’ll need to add a liquid such as milk, cream, or even flavored coffee creamers. Pro tip: Keep in mind that vanilla extract is also a liquid, so it’s best to start with that one first. It takes very little liquid to change the consistency of buttercream. If you’re not careful you could definitely overdo it. I recommend adding it by the tablespoon and checking the consistency after each addition.
To ice a cake, you want the consistency to be more like peanut butter than yogurt. You want it to stay where you put it without being so stiff that it pulls at the cake when you try to spread it. If you find that your buttercream is too stiff, just add a bit more liquid. American buttercream is very forgiving.
So I hope this guide helps you out a bit. If you’re wondering about the cake below, the dollops were made with a 1M tip and I decorated the tops and sides with Nerd candy. Festive!
Do you have any American buttercream dilemmas? If so, tell me what they are in the comments!
Until next time <3
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 lb (half bag) of confectioners sugar
- Salt, to taste
- Vanilla, to taste
- 2-5 tbsp Milk, cream, or another liquid to adjust the consistency
- Using the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, whip the unsalted butter on its own for 2-3 minutes, or until the butter is fluffy and white.
- Add half of the powdered sugar and mix until fully incorporated, remembering to start with the lowest speed.
- Scrape down the bowl and add the remainder of the sugar. Mix until smooth.
- After scraping down the bowl again, add a dash of salt and vanilla, to taste.
- If you're looking for a stiff consistency buttercream for flowers and other decorations, stop here. If not, add milk a tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired spreadable consistency.