If you're a dessert aficionado, you already know that frosting can elevate a confection to spectacular status, or render it inedible. While there are as many varieties of frosting as there are cakes or pastries, buttercream remains a standout favorite because of its whipped, sweet taste. There are different versions of buttercream, and the Italian buttercream is rather different from American or classic buttercream.
More accurately called Italian meringue buttercream, Italian buttercream frosting is cooked, while simple American buttercream is not. Italian buttercream incorporates a simple syrup of water and sugar with egg whites, butter, salt, vanilla and an optional addition of liqueur or cream of tartar. American buttercream incorporates butter or shortening, powdered sugar, vanilla and milk, and depending on the recipe, cream cheese or milk powder may be added to the base. Unfortunately, buttercream made with shortening is not as flavorful as simple buttercream made with butter or Italian buttercream.
Consistency and Taste
The American buttercream is a classic in many home kitchens and bakeries because of its extra-sweet taste and ease of use, but it does not hold up well in humidity or heat, so it isn't ideal when dessert is displayed or served outside. Italian butterecream, however, withstands the heat better, and the meringue consistency imbues an airy, fluffy consistency to the frosting, which also cuts some of the sugary sweetness so the frosting doesn't overwhelm the cake or pastry.
Either type of buttercream is appropriate for frosting cakes, cupcakes, cookies or other confections. Italian buttercream is most ideal for special-occasion confections or wedding cakes because of its stability and ultra-smooth texture. It's also an ideal base for incorporating other flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, lemon or a liqueuer. If you have to frost 100 cupcakes for your daughter's school party or speed is a necessity, whip up a batch of American simple buttercream instead.
The French are never to be outdone in the kitchen, and their buttercream typically incorporates egg yolks, yielding a very rich yet light frosting that has a shiny finish. And leave it to the Swiss to create something elegant out of simple ingredients: just egg whites, sugar and butter combine to create a meringue-style buttercream frosting, not unlike Italian buttercream.