Buttercream is a perfect accessory to any cake or bake, due to it's versatility when it comes to colouring and flavouring it. There are several variations of buttercream, from a simple butter and sugar mix, to the more complex and delicate meringue based buttercreams, which use various methods of mixing beaten egg whites with sugar or sugar syrup, then beating in the butter. These are known as Italian, Swiss and French meringue buttercreams, and each has a slightly different preparation method to create a slightly different taste and texture.
This post however is about the most commonly found buttercream recipe in English dishes. It is made up of butter and icing sugar, generally in a 1:2 parts ratio, and can be used to decorate cupcakes, fill and cover cakes, or form the integral layer between a cake and its fondant covering. The recipe is simple enough, but I believe there is a knack to the preparation of buttercream in order to turn it from sickly sweet butter, into a smooth, light, creamy cake topping. A smooth, well prepared buttercream will be easy to pipe, without leaving raggedy edges and air bubbles.
|Vanilla Cupcakes with a pure Vanilla Buttercream|
The ingredients here make enough buttercream to top six large cupcakes, or fill and top an eight inch cake. The basic ratio is one part butter to two parts icing sugar, so you can multiply up these quantities as much as you need to for your bake.
100 grams good quality unsalted butter
200 grams icing sugar
a little milk
Buttercream can be coloured and/ or flavoured to suit the overall look and taste of your cakes and cupcakes.
|A selection of cakes and cupcakes I have decorated with buttercream|
Flavouring your buttercream should be done around halfway through the process. You can add a dash of an extract, such as vanilla, rose water, peppermint, or lavender. For a more citrus flavour, grate the zest of an orange, lemon or lime into the mixture, or for a chocolate buttercream, swap out some of the icing sugar for a high quality cocoa powder such as Green and Blacks. You can flavour buttercream even with liquids, such as champagne or coffee. The important thing to remember if you are adding a liquid is to increase the quantity of icing sugar by double the volume of the liquid, so as not to alter the final consistency, and to incorporate them gently so as not to curdle or split the buttercream.
Equally you can colour buttercream in any shade you should wish. It will naturally be a slightly off-white colour, however if you prepare it well, it will be as good as white to the eye. When using food colouring, always try to use a gel based colour, as they will not alter the consistency of your buttercream. If you do use a liquid food colour, remember to add an extra tablespoon of icing sugar to balance out the additional liquid.
Sift the icing sugar well into a bowl and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, add the butter roughly chopped into several chunks. Use a good quality unsalted butter here, as you will get a far superior flavour to using a spread containing vegetable oils. I always cook with salted butter, however to keep the lightness use unsalted here, plus you don't get the salt taste interfering with any additional flavour you add. I always use Lurpak for my buttercream, as I trust the taste, and it's lighter colour allows you to get an almost white buttercream.
Now, take a hand whisk, and beat the butter for a minute...
...and another minute - can you see it getting lighter in colour? ...
...and one more - it should now have the appearance of whipped double cream, and be almost white...
Now we start to add the icing sugar. Retrieve the bowl of sifted icing sugar you set aside earlier. Now add the icing sugar two tablespoons at a time. Any more than this, and you will be engulfed in a white cloud of sugar as soon as you turn your whisk on!
Keep going now, adding a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar, beating until combined, and then adding a little more. About halfway through the icing sugar, add your flavouring if you are using one, this makes sure it gets fully combined through the buttercream.
Continue with the icing sugar until it has all been used. As you add more and more sugar, the mixture will start to thicken and get stiffer. By the time you have added all the icing sugar, the mixture may have formed a texture similar in appearance to scrambled eggs...
... carefully add a teaspoon of milk, and beat well. This is usually enough to bring the mixture back to the perfect piping consistency. If needed, add a second teaspoon of milk, but be careful as too much and the mixture may start to curdle. Your buttercream should now look like this...
If you are adding a colour to the buttercream, do it at this stage. Any earlier, and you risk diluting the colour as you add more icing sugar. Adding the colour to the finished product allows you to get exactly the right shade for your cake or cupcakes.
Now you are ready to ice your cake. If you are planning to pipe the buttercream, prepare your piping bag and tip. Open the top of the bag wide, and fold over a good third of the bag. Use a mug or jug as a holder for your bag so you still have the use of both hands.
Spoon the buttercream into the bag one spoonful at a time, each time, push the buttercream down into the bag, and use the side to scrape the spoon clean. Try to keep pushing more buttercream down into the bag to avoid creating any pockets of air in the bag that will affect the flow when piping.
And now you are ready to pipe! Enjoy!