Buttercream; Queen of Icings!

Luscious buttercream has been dubbed the queen of icings by many a cake decorator, and if you have ever played chess, you'll appreciate the analogy.

This makes it well worth your while to learn how to make great tasting and performing buttercream. You will find you can use it to fill and cover a cake (providing a canvas for all sorts of decorative work), pipe decorative borders, and make icing flowers and other decorations. Buttercream can even be rolled like fondant.

You will find many varieties of buttercream, including crusting and non-crusting, strawberry (made with fresh strawberries is best!), buttery buttercreams and snow-white, dairy-free buttercreams. Crusting buttercream dries to a semi-hard consistency, but not cement hard like royal icing. And, crusting or soft, buttercream tastes wonderful. Those who prefer a less sugary icing can use a less-sweet-buttercream recipe.

If you've ever made a wedding cake, you already understand the need to turn out a velvety, fondant-like buttercream icing.

As any cake decorator will tell you, producing a creamy buttercream icing and then smoothing it to a wrinkle and crack free surface on your cake can be tricky.

No worries. There are some tried and true techniques that will help you to consistently produce smooth buttercream icing with each new cake.

One of our favorites is the "Paper Towel Method". This works only with crusting buttercream. One you've iced your cake, allow your buttercream to sit for about 15 minutes, allowing it to form a crust.

Use a smooth paper towel (such as Viva) for this method. Also be sure the paper towel is white so there's no risk of color's bleeding onto you cake.

Step 1. Press the clean, dry paper towel onto the surface of your cake with the goal of pressing out any wrinkles in the frosting.

Step 2. With the palm of your hand flat on the paper towel, gently glide the towel in a circular motion. The natural heat from your hand help's smooth the frosting under the towel.

Step 3. Continue to gently glide the paper towel and press out bumps and wrinkles on the entire surface of your cake until the surface is perfectly or near perfectly smooth.

And to give you a great buttercream to try this out with, here's one of our favorite buttercream recipes.

1 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon of clear vanilla flavor
1 teaspoon of creme bouquet flavoring (optional)
1/4 cup milk or water (add more as needed or for thinner consistency)
1 pinch salt (if using unsalted butter)
1 teaspoon meringue powder
2 pounds of sifted powdered sugar

Mix the shortening and butter until well blended. Add milk/water and flavoring and continue mixing.

Once well combined, turn the mixer off. Add salt, meringue powder and sugar. Adjust mixer's setting to the lowest speed, and mix just until the ingredients start to come together.

Then on medium speed and mix for 2 - 5 minutes until smooth and a little fluffy (time will vary depending on the power of your mixer). A stand mixer will require about 2 minutes, while a hand mixer will require 5 minutes or more.

If the icing is too stiff and you can tell the mixer is straining, add more liquid to obtain the right consistency. If it becomes too soft, add more powdered

Tips for Perfect Buttercream
-If using a stand-up mixer, use the paddle attachment, NOT the whip.
-When using unsalted butter, add a little dash of salt to cut the sweetness.
- Meringue powder helps make your buttercream lighter and fluffier, which helps flowers hold their shape when you pipe them.
-Always use name brand shortening. Because it has more emulsifiers, it blends better and will not give you that "greasy" taste.
- For snow-white and dairy-free buttercream, replace the butter with shortening and add 1 tsp. clear, butter flavoring.
- Smooth the sides of your buttercream iced cake with a fondant smoother or bench scraper by holding either tool to the side and slowly spinning the cake on the turntable.

Here's one more tip for making buttercream icing. Sometimes the buttercream in your mixing bowl will develop waves or bumps. This usually means your icing is too thick. No problem. A small amount of corn syrup to the icing will thin the buttercream.

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About The Author, Samantha Mitchell
Samantha Mitchell, Co-AuthorCake Decorating Made Easy! Vol. 1 & 2The World's First Cake Decorating Video BooksSign up for for fantastic cake decorating tips, tricks and secrets of the pros at Buttercream Icing Made Easy