The Best Type of Buttercream Frosting for Your Cake

Ever wondered what's the best buttercream frosting for your cake? Read this article, get out your mixer and you be the judge!

Cupcakes with cream cheesePhoto: Shutterstock / teleginatania
Photo: Shutterstock / teleginatania

Buttercream is my favorite frosting in the world. Not only is it delicious, but buttercream and I have some good memories together. It was there at my wedding (on the cake) and for my daughter’s first birthday (in her hair). Buttercream has always been a tried and true part of every special occasion.

You are thinking frosting is frosting, right? Wrong. Let’s talk buttercream!

Did you know that there are five major kinds of buttercream frostings? We have American, French, Swiss, Italian and German buttercream frosting. Universally, they all have butter in the final product, but each one is made very differently.

Ranging from very simple to more technical, this is a battle of the buttercream! You pick the winner.

Types of Buttercream Frosting

American Buttercream

Other names: Decorator’s buttercream, simple buttercream, decorator frosting and crusting buttercream

Level: Easy

American buttercream is the easiest and most common buttercream frosting—and the quickest to make. It’s often used for piping and decorating cakes. The icing is known for its supersweet flavor and slightly gritty consistency. It’s made with three basic ingredients; butter, confectioners’ sugar and milk. The butter is beaten until creamy and smooth; then sugar, milk and flavorings are whipped in. Learn how to make it in less than 10 minutes.

Pro tip: Ever wonder why buttercream frosting becomes crusty? It’s because the milk tends to evaporate. (This also causes the icing to be less sticky.) A common fix for this issue is to add a little corn syrup into the mix.

French Buttercream

Other names: Common buttercream and pâté à bombe buttercream

Level: Difficult

French buttercream is a rich, light and smooth icing that consists of sugar syrup, egg yolks and butter. It is created using the pâté à bombe method. (Sounds fancy, but if Julia Child could master it, you can, too!) The method calls for the egg yolks and sugar syrup to be whisked together. Then butter and extracts are added to create the buttercream.

Due to its high fat content, the icing melts quickly. It is best suited for a filling and not recommended for decorating.

German Buttercream

Other names: Light buttercream, crème mousseline and Bavarian buttercream

Level: Moderate

German buttercream is custard-based and known for its rich and creamy texture. It’s made with custard, butter, confectioners’ sugar and flavorings. The custard (pastry cream) is a cooked mixture of milk or cream and egg yolk. The custard and butter are beaten together then confectioners’ sugar, and flavorings are added. (Psst! Because it’s made with custard It can melt quickly and is not recommended to use for decorating. Its best use is as a filling. Why not try it between the layers of these classic cakes?

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Level: Difficult

Swiss meringue buttercream is known for its silky, light and creamy texture. This texture comes from the meringue, which is created by whisking egg whites and sugar in a bowl on top of a pot of boiling water until it reaches 140 degrees. It’s then removed from the heat and whipped to stiff peaks. Butter and flavorings are beaten into the meringue to create the buttercream. Because of its stiff meringue base, the icing holds up well, will not crust and is recommended for piping and decorating.

Beginner at making meringue, the kind you’d use on a lemon pie? We’ve got a step-by-step guide, here.

Italian Meringue Buttercream

Level: Difficult

Italian meringue buttercream is identical in consistency and texture to Swiss buttercream. However, the meringue is created using sugar syrup, like the French meringue. The sugar syrup is mixed into whipped egg whites and beaten to stiff peaks and cooled. Butter and flavorings are added at the last stage to create the buttercream. The icing holds well, will not crust and is also recommended for piping and decoration.

Now that you know the five major types of buttercream, I can deem you a buttercream pro. The only thing you need now is the cake!

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Amy Kirchen is a Cincinnati-based food blogger and a previous fashion designer. She kicked in her heels for an apron and created The Guiding Spoon.

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Amy Kirchen
Amy Kirchen is a Cincinnati-Based Food blogger, a previous Fashion Designer, she kicked in her heels for an apron. Her work has been featured on Buzzfeed.com, Bon Bon Break, Taste of Home Magazine and many more. Kirchen has a knack for simplifing recipes with a dash of humor and her easy step-by-step recipes on her popular food blog.