Although a simple frosting, buttercream is one of the most popular.

Although a simple frosting, buttercream is one of the most popular.


What is Buttercream?

Buttercream is a type of icing or filling used inside cakes as a coating or decoration. It is simply made by creaming butter with powdered sugar. Sometimes colorings and flavorings are added.


Buttercream icing appeared around 20th century when it replaced traditional boiled icing.1 This was about the same time commercial butter was widely available.


The basic buttercream icing recipes made from butter are a high caloric food, rich in fat and cholesterol. The high cholesterol butter in a buttercream icing is now being substituted with shortening.1


Simple buttercream, also called American buttercream, is the most common buttercream variation. It is made by creaming butter, shortening, or a combination of both, confectioners’ sugar, milk or cream, and some kind of flavoring until everything is smooth and fluffy.2 Simple buttercream holds up well in warmer weather when it is made with at least 50% shortening.3 It is very sweet. It can have a grittier mouth-feel compared to other frosting.3 Chocolate buttercream is the most popular flavored buttercream in America.

There is also meringue-based buttercream. Two kinds of meringue can be used, the Italian meringue (hot sugar beaten into egg whites) or Swiss meringue (egg whites and sugar heated together and beaten). After meringue is cooled, butter is then beaten into it until the frosting is glossy. Meringue-based buttercream has a much lighter texture than a simple buttercream.2  

Swiss meringue is smooth as silk. It works beautifully as a cake finish and when creating details like flowers or borders. It is commonly used to fill and finish fine wedding cakes. Unfortunately, it will soften quickly in warmer temperatures, unless heat stable ingredients are used.4 Italian meringue has all the same attributes as Swiss meringue, but a little more stable in warmer weather since the sugar is cooked at a higher temperature.4

French buttercream is prepared in a similar way to the meringue buttercream but uses egg yolks instead of egg whites. This is the thickest type of buttercream. It is known for melting faster than other buttercream because of its high fat content, but it is light, smooth and rich. This buttercream is best for cake filling or frosting, but it isn’t recommended for decorations.3

Ermine buttercream is made by cooking flour, sugar and milk until they reach a thick, pudding like consistency. Once cooled, this mixture is slowly added to creamed butter along with flavoring. It is very smooth and it is simple to make. It has a heavier or thicker mouth-feel than a meringue-based buttercream.4

To make German buttercream, butter is beaten into a flavored pastry cream (consisting of milk, sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch) to form a rich, thick buttercream.4 Though it is very smooth and flavorful, it is also a softer frosting. Unfortunately, it has a yellowish tint, which makes  it difficult to color.4 Typically used for filling cakes, the German buttercream is not used very often for frosting.


  1. “Buttercream Icing.” Accessed 20 Apr. 2017.
  2. Nicole. “What Is Buttercream?” Baking Bites. 20 Oct. 2011. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.
  3. Modos, Alyssa. “WTF Is Buttercream?” Spoon University. 14 Feb. 2017. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.
  4. Gardner, Erin. “Types of Buttercream: Pros & Cons of Each, Plus Tasty Tips.” The Craftsy Blog. 5 Nov. 2015. Accessed 20 Apr. 2017.