HOW TO MAKE | BEST-EVER BUTTERCREAM ICING
There’s nothing quite like standing back and basking in the glory of a well-executed, home-made cake that’s iced to perfection… and then tucking in! But with so many ways to decorate your cakes, as well as different types of icing to choose from, it can be a little daunting to know where to start. Buttercream icing is a great choice, with its versatility (fill, spread, pipe, create shapes, coat, eat from the bowl…), creamy texture and moreish taste, there’s no wonder it’s become a firm favourite amongst amateur and professional bakers alike. The best part? It’s incredibly simple to make, consisting of just butter, icing sugar, milk and vanilla extract (ingredients will vary slightly depending on which recipe you choose).
Any icing-related queries and quandaries you may have will be addressed in our comprehensive guide to all things buttercream, with everything from a delicious recipe with step-by-step instructions to tips on how to colour and flavour your icing, which piping nozzle to choose and what to do if it all goes wrong…
- Make sure your butter is at room temperature before you begin to whip it.
- For a smooth buttercream finish that isn’t too grainy, sift your icing sugar before use.
- If you’re piping flowers or detailed decorations that need to keep their shape, add extra icing sugar to your buttercream to give it a stiffer consistency. You could also add a small amount of cornflour.
- Don’t over mix your buttercream as you’ll create air bubbles, ruining the aesthetic of your beautifully piped creations. Just mix it enough to combine the ingredients.
How to flavour your buttercream
Buttercream has a naturally delicious taste of buttery creaminess, but to give it the wow factor, you need to use quality ingredients. A cheap butter, full of water and air, will result in a lacklustre texture, colour and taste. Choosing a high quality European butter and high-grade vanilla extract will naturally enhance the flavour of your buttercream. Want to add different flavours? Well, there’s more ways to do this than you might think, and they couldn’t be simpler – you’ll be whipping up delicious flavour combinations in no time.
- Flavoured icing sugar is easy and convenient.
- Liquid food flavourings or extracts are another option, but be careful to take the change in texture into consideration – you may need to add more icing sugar to compensate.
- You can flavour your icing with natural flavours like orange and lemon zest or chocolate shavings.
- Feeling fruity? Powdered fruits are a great natural way to create a buttercream bursting with flavour, and it won’t make your icing runny.
- For a delightfully nutty finish to a piped topping, you could add some smooth peanut (or almond/hazelnut) butter. If you’re using the buttercream as a filling or to spread over your bake, you could add some texture with a coarse, chunky peanut butter or add some ground nuts.
- For chocolatey indulgence, consider adding cocoa powder or, alternatively, stir in some chocolate spread for a creamy, decadent finish.
- Add instant coffee granules to create a classic coffee and walnut filling or topping.
How to colour your buttercream
There’s a plethora of different colouring products out there for you to choose from, but it’s important that you select the right one for a top quality finish.
- To avoid disturbing the consistency of your buttercream, we suggest that you use a gel-based colourant.
- Start by using a small amount, stir, check the colour and add until you’re happy – it’s easy to add more, but you can’t take it out again!
- Mix in short 5-second intervals to ensure you don’t overmix the buttercream, avoiding unsightly air bubbles.
- It’s important to remember that buttercream has a yellow tone, which will of course affect the colouring process. This is another reason why it’s important to add your colour slowly, so you can work out what you need to add.
- You can add an icing whitener to your buttercream to create a whiter base, creating more of a blank canvas for your colouring.
- To create darker shades like dramatic reds, browns and blacks, you’re best off using chocolate buttercream icing, as the colour will already be darker, reducing the amount of colouring you need to use.
- As you will need to use more colouring for darker shades, it’s best to take taste into account. Adding too much colour may result in a chemical taste, depending on your product, so you may need to add more flavour to balance it out.
Go colour crazy, creating exciting multi-coloured creations; depending on which colours you choose, you can transform your bakes into magical unicorns or beautiful rainbows – the sky’s the limit! For minimal effort and ultimate impact, put four (or as many as you like) different colours of icing into one piping bag and get piping – the best part is that each cake will be unique.
Choosing the right nozzle
Each nozzle comes in a wide variety of sizes for different styles of piping – if you want to vary your piping creations, there are various nozzle sets that will allow you to experiment and become a piping pro.
Round – Create smooth lines, intricate patterns, and messages for celebration cakes. Use a larger round nozzle to create perfect peaks to top your cakes – perfect for carrot cakes.
Open Star – Great for making individual stars to top your bakes or for making large swirls to top cupcakes.
Closed Star – Creates more of a jagged, shell effect.
Drop Flower – Create pretty flowers – great for surrounding a celebration cake – or create nice rounded swirls for your cupcakes.
Petal – Perfect for crafting individual petals to create more bespoke flower designs. Also great for creating bows.
Leaf – These come in various designs so you can choose the leaf effect that you want to achieve.
Basket weave – Great for creating criss-cross patterns.
Multi-opening – A quick and easy way to pipe multiple lines and patterns.
There are so many different speciality nozzles out there to choose from, from Christmas trees to hearts, so if you’re not a confident artist and don’t fancy drawing your own, these are a great way to go. Whatever you’re wanting to create, there’s likely to be a speciality nozzle to help!
Buttercream disaster fixes
Before you chuck your buttercream away in despair, wait! There may well be a fix. We’ve collated the most common disasters and provided you with a solution for each.
Problem: My buttercream is too runny.
Solution: Slowly add more icing sugar until you achieve the desired consistency.
Problem: My buttercream is too thick and I can’t pipe it.
Solution: Nice and simple, slowly add more water until you have a softer consistency. Be sure to add the smallest drop at a time, otherwise you’ll go too far the other way, needing to add more icing sugar, ending in a vicious cycle and a mountain of buttercream! Maybe not the worst thing…
Problem: How do I remove the air bubbles from my icing?
Solution: If your buttercream has developed air bubbles, try popping your mixture into a plastic food bag and let it rest in the fridge for as long as you have spare (half an hour should do it). Cut a small hole in the corner of the bag and slowly squeeze your buttercream through the hole – this should eliminate the air bubbles. Repeat the process (omitting the resting in the fridge) until all of the air bubbles are gone.
Problem: My buttercream has split/separated.
Solution: This may seem like the ultimate buttercream disaster but, in most cases, it is fixable. Here are 3 possible solutions:
- You can try increasing your mixer speed for 2-3 minutes to see if this reunites your estranged ingredients.
- The issue could be temperature – if your mix isn’t at room temperature, this could have caused the splitting. Warming or cooling your bowl to room temperature could help.
- Another trick is adding melted chocolate, as it acts as an emulsifying agent, helping to combine the fats and liquids in your buttercream – a win-win solution as your buttercream is saved and you have a deliciously creamy, chocolatey topping for your cake!
Choosing the right icing
As much as we love buttercream, there are many other great icing options to choose from too. Whether you’re whipping up a batch of cupcakes for a bake sale or creating a celebration cake for a birthday, we have you covered with our icing guide.
- Cream cheese frosting – Very similar to buttercream (just with added cream cheese), this is perfect for topping carrot cakes.
- Fondant – A popular choice for wedding cakes, fondant icing is great for covering cakes and cutting out shapes.
- Royal icing – Great for piping intricate patterns onto cakes. If you’re wanting to write a message on a cake, this is the one to use.
- Modelling paste – Sculpt beautiful icing creations to top cakes or to stand alone. (pop a Renshaw image here?)
- Ganache – Like buttercream, ganache icing is wonderfully versatile and great for both filling and covering your cakes, as well as piping decorations.
- Meringue – Beautiful piped onto cupcakes, or just pipe onto baking paper to enjoy the gooey loveliness on its own!
Now you’re ready to create your perfect buttercream. Remember, you can share your creations with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – we’d love to see them!