American Buttercream: The Ultimate Guide

Almost every professional baker, cake making enthusiast and individual has encountered American buttercream. This encounter is either as the individual making it, the one using it or as the person consuming it. 

American Buttercream

 American buttercream is undeniably popular because it is the easiest buttercream to make. You do not need a recipe to make this frosting; You just need to know the best ratio of ingredients that will suit your needs. 

My introduction to buttercream came early in life. My mom was a baker who made cakes without a recipe. 
Still, her baked goods always turned out great. I am still searching for the coconut cake recipe she made once while I was little.

Every time she made our birthday cakes, she would decorate them with royal icing, and once or twice, she used American buttercream. I believe that many people have similar memories of their introduction to American buttercream.

Despite the fact that American buttercream is easy to make and use, there a lot of little errors that you can make that could make using American buttercream a pain. Importantly, with the right information and education, making and using American buttercream can become a much easier task. 

What is American Buttercream?

American buttercream refers to a buttercream or frosting made of butter, sugar and a liquid. This liquid is usually milk or cream, but other fluids like juice, liquor and syrups can be used instead for flavor, color or a better consistency. 

You do not necessarily need a recipe to make American buttercream, but you need to follow a ratio. Below are the ratios i use when i want to make some American buttercream. The ratio of butter to sugar that you use to make your buttercream will determine the texture of the buttercream and how you can use the it.

I. 1:1.5 ratio

This means that for every cup of butter you use, you will use 1.5 cups of icing sugar. If you use 250g of butter, you will need 375g of sugar. This mixture will create a light, fluffy and smooth buttercream that will have minimal graininess. If you need an American buttercream that can imitate the look of a meringue buttercream, this is the recipe you should use.

What you should know about the 1:1.5 buttercream

  • This buttercream is excellent for icing cakes. If you mix and apply this buttercream properly, it can give your cake a satin-like finish.
  • The 1:1.5 buttercream is not cloyingly sweet. 
  • This buttercream will not crust. There isn't nearly enough icing sugar in this buttercream to make it crust. I left this buttercream at room temperature for 1 week and it did not crust. 
          If you need this buttercream to harden, you must put it in the fridge or freezer.
  • This buttercream is not ideal for piping borders or for making buttercream flowers. Especially if you are in a hot region. 
  • This buttercream will not hold up on a hot day.  If the buttercream is left in a warm room or outside for a prolonged period, it may start to soften and melt after a few hours.
  •  You should not add liquids when using this ratio of butter to sugar. The reduced amount of sugar in this recipe will make the buttercream soft. If you add liquids to it, you will risk liquefying the buttercream and breaking the buttercream.
  •  If the butter you use has a high liquid content, I recommend that you use the 1:2 ratio.

2. 1:3 ratio

 This ratio is my go-to recipe when I need a crusting buttercream that can still be used to pipe borders and some flowers. Here, you simply use 3 cups of icing sugar for every cup of butter used. This buttercream will not have the creamy or satiny finish of the buttercream made with less icing sugar

What you should know about the 1:3 buttercream

  • This is a multipurpose buttercream. You can use it to cover a cake and decorate the cake as well.
  • You can add a tablespoon or two of liquid to your buttercream. When you do this, ensure that you mix it properly so  that emulsion occurs.
  • You can leave a cake covered in this buttercream at room temperature without fearing that your buttercream will melt immediately.
  • Buttercream made using this ratio will crust at room temperature.
  • This recipe produces very sweet buttercream.

3. 1:4 ratio

 Occasionally, I have to decorate a cake that may be outside for a long while. In this case, I make this buttercream and thin it out using whipping cream. For every part of butter, i use 4 parts of icing sugar. The result of this is a very stiff buttercream that will begin to crust in minutes. 

What you should know about the 1:4 ratio buttercream

  • This American buttercream is best used for piping borders and stiff buttercream flowers that you want to crust as room temperature.
  • The buttercream made using this ratio may be grainy.
  • If you do not thin out this buttercream before using it to cover your cake, it may be too stiff.
  • This buttercream is cloyingly sweet.

- You can replace butter with margarine or replace half the butter with shortening. 
- Always cover your buttercream with clingfilm or a damp kitchen towel when it is not being used. If you leave your buttercream open when it is not being used, it may start to crust. 

Pros and Cons of American Buttercream

Pros of American buttercream

- This is the easiest type of buttercream to make.

- You can make this buttercream in 5-10 minutes.

- You can adjust your recipe accordingly to fit your needs.

- This buttercream be easily colored and flavored

- This buttercream can be made stiff enough to pipe flowers and decorations.

Cons of American Buttercream

- This buttercream is usually cloyingly sweet.

- American buttercream tends to have a slightly grainy mouthfeel.

- The flavor and sweetness of American buttercream can easily overpower the taste of a cake.

Now, you know how to make American buttercream, and the pros and cons of this type of buttercream.

Many things can go wrong while making and using American buttercream. In the next part of this article, I will list some tips for making American buttercream. I will also explain some things that could go wrong when making and using American buttercream and how you can tackle the problems that arise. 

American Buttercream

Tips for making American buttercream

1. Take the weather into consideration before making a buttercream recipe. American buttercream can using a different ratios. The method and ratios used will determine the texture, taste and how you can use the American buttercream.

American buttercream with a 1:3, 1:4 ratio of butter to sugar will be very stiff, sweet and in some cases, gritty. However, this buttercream will crust quickly and withstand a hot day. 

If you live in a cold region, buttercream made with a 1:1.5 and 1:2 ratio will be silky, soft, smooth and great for covering cakes. This buttercream will also be excellent for decorating cupcakes. Importantly, this buttercream may not crust quickly or at all. However, it works great in colder regions. 

2. Cream the butter, margarine or shortening first. This is the first step you should take when making American buttercream. This will ensure that the butter is smooth and well aerated before you add the icing sugar. 

If you fail to follow this step, you may use more time to beat out the clumps of butter in the buttercream. Also, trying to lighten the buttercream by beating it on a high speed after adding the icing sugar could lead to the formation of air pockets.

3. Use 10x icing sugar if you can find it. Using 10x sugar will provide you with silky, smooth icing that looks like a meringue buttercream. If you cannot find 10x icing sugar, you can try any of the fixes listed below:

- Blend your icing sugar using a food processor or blender and sift it repeatedly. This method is time-consuming and honestly, not my favorite.

- Melt the icing sugar using a small quantity of liquid. Then, pour the thick icing slurry into the butter and mix until everything is well incorporated. The product will be an American buttercream with the look and mouthfeel of meringue buttercream. The buttercream made using this method will not crust.
If you use this method, you will need to beat your buttercream using a high speed so that the icing slurry and butter is well mixed. 

4. Sift your icing sugar. One mistake many people make is not sifting their icing sugar. Following this step will allow you to find and break up any lumps of icing sugar. Lumpy sugar may not dissolve or break down while you mix the buttercream. 

If you do not sift the icing sugar, you may need to beat your buttercream longer to get rid of lumps. However, this will lead to the creation of air bubbles, which are a pain to work around.

Lumpy buttercream can make the task of ‘icing a cake smoothly’ impossible. Also, lumpy buttercream can clog your icing tip and make piping a pain. 

5. Mix on low. When I just started making American buttercream, I would mix my buttercream at a very high speed. I did this so that my buttercream would be fluffy. I later learned that beating my buttercream on a high speed led to the creation of air pockets. These air pockets made it difficult to pipe flowers or even cover my cake with buttercream.

So, cream your butter till fluffy. When you start adding your icing sugar, mix on a low speed till everything is well combined. This could take 2-5 minutes. 

6. Lighten the color of your buttercream using white food color. A lot of the time, my buttercream is cream-colored. Previously, I would use a tiny amount of purple to whiten it. However, I once overdid the use of purple and ended up with a pale pink buttercream. 
If you are trying to lighten your buttercream the easiest way to do this is to use white food color.

 If you are going for a bright white color, first use a tiny bit of purple to get rid of the yellow-cream shade. Then, use your white gel color to color your buttercream.

7. Use cream or full-fat milk instead of water. Some American buttercream recipes include 2-4 tablespoons of liquid. This liquid will make the consistency of your buttercream less stiff.

Some bakers choose water or juice as their liquid of choice. However, we recommend that you use cream or milk. This is because, in situations where the water is too much or where the water was not properly incorporated into the buttercream, separation occurs. 

After frosting your cake, if you see water seeping out from the sides or beneath the buttercream, then the liquid is separating from the buttercream. 

The possibility of separation taking place will be reduced if you use heavy cream or a little milk to thin your buttercream. On the plus side, milk or cream will improve the flavor of your buttercream. 

Importantly, when you beat a liquid into butter, you are creating an emulsion. Ensure that the amount of liquid in your buttercream is minimal. If there is too much liquid, your buttercream could break, and the liquid will pool at the bottom of the cake after a while.

8. Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. Before you start making your buttercream, ensure that your butter is at room temperature. Using room temperature butter will ensure that the butter is aerated before you begin adding your powdered sugar. Also, using room temperature ingredients will make the process of mixing your buttercream faster. 

9. Use salt or Lemon Juice to reduce the sweetness of your buttercream. American buttercream is cloyingly sweet. I prefer to scrape it off before eating my cake. 

If you want to reduce the sweetness of your buttercream, add a pinch or two of salt. If you prefer, a teaspoon or tablespoon of lemon juice also serves the same purpose. 

Add a little salt or lemon at a time. Properly mix in the salt or lemon and taste it before adding any more salt or lemon juice. 

10. Dissolve your cocoa powder In hot water before using it in your buttercream. If you are trying to make a chocolate buttercream using cocoa powder, this will tip will help you. First, dissolve your cocoa powder in a little hot water. 

Make a very thick paste with the cocoa powder and mix it into your American buttercream. Ensure that the cocoa powder paste is cold before you add it to your American buttercream.
The dissolved cocoa powder will incorporate into the buttercream faster. 

Also, the hot water will bloom the cocoa powder and enhance the taste of the cocoa powder. 

11. Use gel food color. When you want to color your buttercream, avoid using liquid coloring. Liquid food coloring can affect the consistency of your buttercream and make your buttercream less stiff than it should be.

However, if you use gel food coloring, you will be able to use less color but still, get vibrant colors. 

Troubleshooting American buttercream 

1. My buttercream is lumpy

Lumpy buttercream is up there on my list of #nightmare buttercream occurrences. This usually occurs when the icing sugar has clumps in it. If you did not sift your icing sugar, some of the clumps of sugar may not break down during the mixing process. Furthermore, if you used cold butter to make your buttercream, lumps of cold butter may be in the buttercream.

Solution: Take a little amount of buttercream at a time and smash it against the side of a large bowl using a spoon or spatula. Do this until you have mashed all the buttercream. 

Alternatively, beat your buttercream on high for 2 minutes. This may break down some of the lumps, but you will probably overbeat your buttercream. 

2. My buttercream is grainy

Buttercream should look smooth and have a silky mouthfeel. The problem with American buttercream is that the texture varies significantly as a result of the recipe used. If you have made your buttercream and it looks grainy and feels grainy, there is little you can do. Graininess can be caused by the use of low quality or grainy icing sugar. 

Solution: Beat one tablespoon of boiling water into the buttercream mixture. 

If your powdered sugar is grainy, you should dissolve your icing sugar in enough water that will create a very thick sugar paste. Then, beat the paste into room temperature butter on a low speed until everything is combined. This buttercream will not crust.

3. The buttercream cannot be spread smoothly because of the air pockets

Overbeating your buttercream can make it impossible to use or spread the buttercream smoothly. If your buttercream has air pockets, do not panic, there are a few fixes to this problem.

Solution: Leave your buttercream to rest at room temperature or in the fridge for 24 hours. After the time has elapsed, leave the buttercream to come to room temperature and stir the buttercream using a spoon or spatula.
 Doing this will cause air bubbles to collapse. Afterward, the texture of your buttercream will be smoother. 

- This is a  solution that works if you cannot wait for the buttercream to rest for 24 hours.
 Clean your work table or silicone mat thoroughly. 
Take some buttercream on your spatula and smear it on your work surface. As you drag your spatula on your work surface, press it down to break down the air bubbles. This method works in a pinch.

- If you have tried both methods listed above and you still do not have silky buttercream, try this method:
Put your buttercream In a microwave-safe bowl. Put the buttercream in the oven or microwave for 5- 10 seconds and take it out. You may see a tiny amount of melted butter. Using a large spatula, stir the buttercream until everything is well mixed. Repeat this action 2- 3 more times until your buttercream looks silkier and less airy.

This method is more dangerous than the other methods because you risk melting your buttercream. If you have never tried this before, leave your buttercream to heat up for only 5 seconds at a time. 

Similarly, you can put your buttercream in a mixing bowl and begin to mix on low speed. Then, take a blow torch or hair dryer set to low and move it all around the pan. Stop and scrape the bowl if your paddle attachment does not reach the sides of your mixing bowl.

I cannot stress enough that when using methods involving heat, you should not melt your buttercream. A little film of melted butter is enough. 

Once you have used this method, your buttercream will not crust.

I recommend that you make your buttercream a day before it is needed and leave it to rest. On the day you need it, stir it up and use it. 

4. Buttercream is not spreadable

If your buttercream is not spreadable, not sticking to your cake or is very hard to pipe, then your buttercream is too thick. 

Solution: Add one tablespoon of liquid (preferably milk or cream) and mix on low. If the buttercream is still too thick, add another tablespoon and mix until it reaches the consistency that you want. 

5. My buttercream is too loose

American buttercream can get very soft if you add too much liquid to it. Also, if the icing sugar in it is insufficient, the buttercream may begin to sag and the piping may wilt.

Solution: Add some icing sugar to the buttercream and mix it in on low speed. Add icing sugar until the buttercream thickens sufficiently. You may create some air pockets during this process. Solve this problem by using  troubleshooting tip 3. 

6. The buttercream is not homogeneous

If your buttercream is curdled or looks curdled, you have added too much liquid to your buttercream. If the liquid in the buttercream is not emulsified, the buttercream may look curdled or break after the buttercream has been spread onto the cake. 

Solution: To eliminate the curdled look your buttercream has, you should add a little icing sugar to the buttercream and mix at medium speed. Add a little icing sugar at a time and mix until you have a smooth buttercream. 
To improve the stability of your buttercream after adding icing sugar to the previously broken buttercream, add some shortening to the buttercream and mix on low till it is well incorporated. 

In such a case, you can use this buttercream to crumb coat and frost a cake. This is not the best option for making flowers or buttercream décor. You will probably end up beating a lot of air into your buttercream. If you wan to get rid of the air pockets, see troubleshooting tip 3. 

7. My buttercream decorations are wilting or melding together

If your buttercream flowers or décor is melding together once piped, your buttercream is not stiff enough. 

Solution: Beat in some more sifted sugar until you have a reasonably stiff buttercream,. If you do not have enough powdered sugar and you desperately need thick buttercream, you can mix some cornflour into the buttercream. While using cornflour works in a pinch, the taste of your buttercream will not be the best. 

 It is important to note that while stiff buttercream is great for piping flowers, a softer buttercream is easier to use when icing a cake. 

8. Buttercream is not crusting

Many bakers use American buttercream because it is easy to make and crusts at room temperature. Crusting buttercream can be smoothed using the paper towel method. Flowers piped using this buttercream is firm and will not be smashed easily if touched. Crusting buttercream is perfect for humid and hot regions. 

If your American buttercream is not crusting, there may be insufficient icing sugar in your buttercream. Furthermore, there may be too much liquid in your recipe. 

Solution: Add some more icing sugar to your buttercream recipe. If you have already covered your cake, put your cake in the fridge until 1 hour before you need to serve it. You should place your cake in a cake box before putting it in the refrigerator. 

You can also add 1-2 Tablespoons of meringue powder to your recipe while mixing your buttercream. This will help the buttercream crust faster. 

9. My buttercream has air pockets or holes in it when it is piped

See Troubleshooting tip No 3; this situation occurs when too much air is beat into the buttercream. 

10. Black buttercream is now a grey or violet color

Making black buttercream can be difficult. Sometimes black buttercream looks grey or dark violet when left at room temperature. 

Solutions: First of all, start with chocolate buttercream. You can achieve this by mixing cocoa powder or black cocoa into your white buttercream. Then, mix some black food color into your chocolate buttercream. Allow your buttercream to rest for 12-24 hours to ensure that the color does not change over time. 

If you do not want a chocolate buttercream, you can use black gel food color from a reliable brand. 

I will continue to update this article and will add more tips to this list. 
I hope you have learnt something from reading ' The Ultimate Guide To American Buttercream'.

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