Thursday, May 31, 2012

Buttercream Icing: Tips, Tricks, Do's and Don'ts

Howdy doody sock rockers!  Today I want to share with you some tips about buttercream icing.

 Buttercream is simply an icing that is butter based, and most of the time it consists mainly of that and powdered sugar.  It can be varied to include all sorts of flavors, but my favorite is plain ol' vanilla.  Though it seems simple to make, this frosting can be extremely hard to do if you mess up even a tiny measurement.  Believe me, I KNOW.  It took me a year to perfect my buttercream frosting; I tried countless recipes, read many tips, and almost gave up.  The problem with most recipes is that they have all the same ingredients, but are missing the correct measurements.  Finally, I found a recipe from i am Baker  that I altered to use as my favorite icing.  You can find it at the end of the post.  So here are some tips and info on a staple icing that can be a favorite of many.

1)  Try NOT to use shortening in buttercream
The spawn of the devil

Not only is extremely bad for you, it also tastes that bad.  That was my problem with the original i am Baker recipe: it used shortening, which I tried the first time.  Yuck!  My whole family tried that batch, and we all gagged.  It was terrible!  Luckily, Amanda said she sometimes used half butter and half shortening.  That gave me the idea to use ALL butter.  That batch was the best icing I had ever had!  It wasn't too heavy, and it was DELICIOUS!  The problem wasn't Amanda's recipe; she had a great one that probably worked perfectly for some. I think it was that our shortening somehow went bad. You can eliminate that risk and practically cut the fat in half by subbing with butter.  It still crusts perfectly, and tastes much better.

2) mixing times can vary the consistency 

If the recipe says beat for 5 minutes, start out by beating for 5 minutes.  Any less, and it will probably not be as fluffy. But if you beat the frosting for the specified time and it still isn't right, going for a few minutes longer may help to whip it up.  Be careful. though!  Too much can make the ingredients separate, and you will end up with a sticky mess that tastes good but looks like bird poop.  Yeah, you could eat all that bird poop in one sitting, but you couldn't put it on your cake.  Follow the timing of the recipe first, then alter if things just don't seem right.

3)  Buttercream forms a slight crust on top, which makes it great for decorating
i am baker credited with this pic

One reason I love buttercream is the fact that it forms a little crust after a few minutes.  It isn't crunchy, but it is just enough of a crust that when you put it on that (cup)cake, it ain't goin' no where.  This is great when doing something like bringing a cake to someone or putting delicate details on the side of the cake.  Keep in mind, though, that if you want a frosting that will harden or act as a glue, royal icing is your best bet.  Bake at 350 has a great post on royal icing here.

4) Measurements are really important in buttercream
I am your moustached best friend

Too much powdered sugar, and your icing gets too thick.  Not enough,  and it is runny.  If it's too thin, though, you can add more powdered sugar.

5)  If your icing is too thick, thin it with corn syrup

I have seen some recipes that tell you to thin your icing with milk.  I have done this, and it personally doesn't work very well for me.  When the frosting warms with the heat of your hands around the piping bag, it becomes almost greasy.  Using corn syrup instead prevents this.  (If it is too runny, add more powdered sugar)

6) Make sure you use quality butter and let it soften
Another important factor is the butter.  You do not want to use margarine or fake butter, because chances are it will mess up the icing.  My personal favorite is Land O Lakes light butter, because it has half the fat (my mom loves that) and it is still real.  You also want to make sure you leave your butter out to about room temperature so it blends easier.  Just don't melt it completely or let it stay hard as a rock.  That may cause your mixer to flip out and spit butter chunks all over the place.  LEARNED THE HARD WAY. 

I hope you find these tips helpful.  Maybe it will eliminate some of the trial and error I stupidly had to go through and make your baking easier!  I know I make working with buttercream sound hard, but once you make it a few times and use good recipe it becomes the easiest icing to use. 

Polka Dot Socks Crusting Buttercream Icing
You can definitely cut this in half, I do most of the time.  It should be enough to ice 24 cupcakes or a 2 layer cake.  Use gel food colorings to tint; they don't mess with the consistency.  Thin with corn syrup and store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.

1 bag of powdered sugar (2 pounds or about 8 cups)
1 cup of room temp. butter (2 sticks)
1 tsp. of vanilla extract (you could sub. with almond or even mint)
corn syrup to thin

Cream the butter and the extract in a mixer for 2-4 minutes.  Add in the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  If your mixer is struggling with the thickness, add in teaspoon or two of corn syrup.  

Any questions? Ask in the comments for help!

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