American Buttercream

recipe image

Our Best American-Style Buttercream

Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time
    3 minutes
  • Cook time
    7 minutes
  • Makes
    about 3 cups
Author Notes

American buttercream, compared to >Italian,%20Swiss, and >French,%20is%20simplest%20in%20ingredient%20list%20and%20method.%20Because%20of%20the%20frosting%E2%80%99s%20lightness,%20in%20flavor%20and%20texture,%20American%20buttercream%20is%20an%20excellent%20option%20when%20you%E2%80%99re%20looking%20to%20cover%20large%20areas%20of%20cake%20without%20a%20lot%20of%20fuss.%20Italian%20and%20Swiss%20buttercreams%20require%20a%20meringue%20be%20beaten%20along%20with%20the%20butter%20and%20sugar,%20while%20French-style%20calls%20for%20the%20addition%20of%20multiple%20eggs%20and%20egg%20yolks.%20The%20first%20two%20emerge%20crisp-white,%20which%20makes%20them%20great%20picks%20when%20you%E2%80%99re%20planning%20to%20add%20food%20coloring.%20French%20buttercream,%20on%20the%20other%20hand,%20is%20denser%20and%20yellower,%20so%20not%20the%20best%20for%20tinting.%20American%20buttercream%20is%20somewhere%20in%20the%20middle%20of%20this%20spectrum%E2%80%94its%20shade%20of%20off-white%20depends%20on%20the%20type%20of%20butter%20you%20use%20(the%20higher%20the%20fat%20percentage,%20the%20yellower%20the%20butter).%20A%20note%20about%20butter%20shopping:%20European%20butter%20is%20both%20cultured%20(fermented),%20and%20contains%20a%20higher%20butterfat%20percentage%20than%20American.%20So,%20if%20you%E2%80%99re%20looking%20for%20a%20tasty%20(not%20just%20decorative)%20buttercream,%20you%20might%20consider%20reaching%20for%20a%20European%20variety.For%20American-style%20buttercream,%20beat%20room-temperature,%20unsalted%20butter%20until%20ethereally%20fluffy,%20then%20beat%20it%20some%20more%20with%20twice-its-weight%20in%20powdered%20sugar.%20The%20key%20word%20here%20being%20%E2%80%9Cweight%E2%80%9D%E2%80%94powdered%20sugar%20is%20really%20tricky%20to%20measure%20by%20volume%20(poof!),%20so%20a%20scale%20really%20is%20the%20best%20way%20to%20ensure%20accurate%20and%20consistent%20results.%20Add%20whole%20milk%20or%20cream,%20tablespoon%20by%20tablespoon,%20until%20you%20reach%20your%20desired%20consistency%E2%80%94thin%20is%20best%20for%20frosting%20cakes%20and%20piping%20lines,%20while%20stiff%20is%20preferable%20for%20more%20sculptural%20piped%20designs.%20Beat%20in%20any%20extracts%20(like%20vanilla,%20almond,%20or%20mint),%20flavorings%20(citrus%20zest,%20jam,%20spices),%20and/or%20colorings%20(click here for some DIY natural dyes) last. Swipe American-stye buttercream onto layer cakes thinly to trap any errant crumbs, chill until firm, then frost again, more thickly, for an elegant but simple cake. Buttercream hardens in the fridge—which is great for setting your artwork—but do let the (cup)cake come to room temperature before enjoying. Our resident pastry expert, Erin%20McDowell,%20shares%20an%20excellent%20basic%20recipe%20below;%20once%20mastering%20this%20one,%20experiment%20with%20these other five. —Erin Jeanne McDowell

Test Kitchen Notes

Bake It Up a Notch is a column by Resident Baking BFF Erin Jeanne McDowell. Each month, she’ll help take our baking game to the next level, teaching us all the need-to-know tips and techniques and showing us all the mistakes we might make along the way. Today, a very sweet lesson in all things frostings, icings, and glazes. —The Editors

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

Watch This Recipe

Our Best American-Style Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 1 cup

    (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature


  • 1 pound

    (454 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted


  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    (7 g) vanilla extract


  • 1/4 teaspoon

    (1 g) fine sea salt


  • 1/4 cup

    1/3 cup (60-80 g) milk or heavy cream, at room temperature

Directions
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat room temperature butter until light and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar (to prevent it exploding upward when you turn on the mixer), and mix on medium-low speed to combine. Once all the sugar is added, raise speed to medium-high and cream until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla extract or other flavoring and mix to combine. If using milk or cream, pour it in and mix just until incorporated. The buttercream can be used immediately or refrigerated in an airtight container.

I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it’s wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 – is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!

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