When I was a teenager, I love store-bought frosting and box cake mix. I spent my Friday nights baking, as opposed to what the popular kids were doing. As a young adult, I learned to make American buttercream from scratch. I couldn't go back to store-bought frosting after that. Later I discovered Swiss Meringue buttercream and couldn't go back to American buttercream. Recently I discovered Italian buttercream and fell in love.
What's the difference between American, Swiss and Italian buttercreams? Here's a quick breakdown. American buttercream is thick and often times, too sweet. The base is usually made with butter and powdered sugar. Sometimes, cream cheese substitutes some of the butter. Swiss buttercream, on the other hand, has a base of meringue (beaten egg whites). It is the meringue that makes it so fluffy. Butter is then added, making it rich. Italian buttercream is similar to Swiss buttercream but with the addition of egg yolks. Therefore, it's still light, but richer and creamier than the other two.
Swiss and Italian buttercreams take a bit more preparation, but the end result is oh so worth it. They are great as fillings and frostings on cakes. For cupcakes and intricate pipping designs, I find these meringue-based buttercreams a bit too much delicate and sometimes unstable, particularly the Italian buttercream with the egg yolks.
For cupcakes and intricate piping designs, I use Italian buttercream with a bit of tweaking. To combat the stability problem, I add just a bit of my favorite American buttercream. Yes, you read that right. My baking hack for a stable Italian buttercream is adding a bit of American buttercream. You get the light texture and taste of an Italian Buttercream without the risk of your pipping designs slumping and melting into a puddle of goo. This results in the perfect buttercream for piping designs. The buttercream is super light in texture, yet it will withstand a hurricane.
As a side note, I'm also certain that if you decrease the amount of granulated sugar in the Italian buttercream and just add a bit more butter and powdered sugar, you will get a stable Italian buttercream, but that's another story.
Italian Mocha Buttercream Recipe
Makes about 3 cups frosting
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 eggs (bring to room temperature)
- 2 egg yolks (bring to room temperature)
- Pinch salt
- 1 pound (2 cups/4 sticks) softened unsalted butter
- 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (melt over a double boiler)
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in a splash of hot water
- In a small sauce pan, combine the water, cream of tartar, and sugar. Heat on medium high until candy thermometer reaches 240 degrees F.
- In the meantime, in a stand mixer with a whip attachment, beat the eggs and salt until fluffy (about 3 minutes on high)
- Once the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees F, slowly pour the syrup along the side of the bowl of the stand mixer into the eggs with the whip running on low. Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until the eggs have cooled to room temperature.
- Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, to the egg mixture while beating on high. It will get to a point where it will curdle. Do not be alarm. Continue to add the butter. The buttercream will smooth out and come together.
- Add the chocolate and espresso. Mix until combined then frost on cakes as desired. For a stable Italian Mocha Buttercream for pipping purposes, mix this frosting with 1/3 to 1/2 of the American Mocha Recipe below.
American Mocha Butter Recipe
Makes about 2 cups
- 2 cups softened unsalted butter
- 3 cups sifted powdered sugar
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder mixed with a splash of hot water
- In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter until light and fluffy.
- Add powdered sugar and beat on low until roughly combined then increase speed. Continue to beat until fluffy.
- Add cocoa powder, vanilla extract and coffee. Beat until combined.