Buttercream icings and frostings are frequently preferred by cake-lovers for their rich taste and by bakers and pastry chefs for their consistency, flavor and adaptability to coloring and decorative piping techniques. There are several variations of buttercream icing, each starting with different frosting bases and appropriate for numerous applications.

Meringue-Based Types

Italian buttercream frosting is made by creating a hot sugar syrup by boiling granulated sugar and water, then beating egg whites into the syrup until the mixture thickens. It is a good starter recipe for novices, has a lightly sweet flavor and freezes well. To make Swiss meringue, a commercial bakery favorite, gently dissolve sugar in egg whites over a hot, but not boiling, water bath or double boiler. When the sugar is dissolved, beat in softened, unsalted butter to create a rich, smooth multipurpose icing.

Yolk-Based Buttercream

Also known as French buttercream or pâte á bombe, this icing uses egg yolks instead of whites. Make a simple syrup by dissolving sugar in water and cool to room temperature. Add it in a steady stream to beaten egg yolks and slowly beat until thickened.

Buttery Buttercreams

These recipes start with a butter and powdered sugar base and adapt well to added flavorings, such as melted chocolate, cream and cream cheese. Their consistency is easy to adjust by adding more butter or emulsified shortening. This buttercream frosting version is the one normally used by home cooks for everyday baking.

Shortening Buttercream Icing

Also called decorator’s icing or decorator’s buttercream, shortening-based buttercream icing is mainly used for piping edgings, borders and decorative roses on cakes and pastries. The high melting point of shortening makes it easy to pipe and it sets up firmer than butter. If it is to be consumed instead of used solely for aesthetic purposes, this kind of buttercream is usually flavored with butter or other additives to make it more palatable.

Buttercream Icing Tips

If you are adding food coloring to buttercream icing, recipes that use shortening rather than butter will yield deeper, truer colors because of the whiteness of the base. Most colored icings have hues that deepen upon setting and fade if exposed to bright light. Buttercream icing can be safely refrigerated for up to two weeks in an airtight container. Bring to near room temperature before spreading. You can store buttercream-iced cakes for two to three days at room temperature without deterioration and the borders and flowers will remain soft enough to easily yield to cutting.