Cake Decorating Blog

6 Tasty Types of Buttercream You’ve Got to Try

They’re all luscious, delectable and perfect for enhancing your favorites treats, but of all the different types of buttercream, is there one that beats out all the rest? We’ll leave that up to you to decide, but keep reading to find out more about each of these delicious varieties.

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Creamed buttercreams

White buttercream in bowl

Creamed buttercreams are made by first creaming butter with sugar and other ingredients. There are a few popular varieties:

American buttercream

AKA: AMBC, crusting buttercream

Method: Cream fats, typically butter or shortening or a combination of both, with confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and a little bit of milk. A small amount of corn syrup or piping gel can be added if you don’t want the buttercream to form a crust.  

Pros: AMBC is the easiest and quickest frosting to make. It’s a hit with kids and those who swear by canned frosting. It’s also great to use as a cake finish and when piping details like buttercream flowers or borders. AMBC holds up well in warmer weather when it’s made with at least 50% shortening. 

Cons: Very, very sweet. And, AMBC can have a grittier mouth-feel when compared to other frosting. If made with shortening it can also leave a greasy feel on the lips.

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Cream cheese frosting

Method: Cream butter and cream cheese with confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and a little bit of milk. 

Pros: Terrific as a cupcake frosting or cake filling. Many people also feel it’s the perfect icing for red velvet cake.  

Cons: The addition of cream cheese makes this a much softer frosting than AMBC. It doesn’t hold up well in warm environments, and doesn’t work well as a cake finish as it won’t hold sharp corners or piped details.  

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Meringue-based buttercreams

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

As you might guess from the name, meringue buttercreams use eggs to make a fluffy, irresistible frosting. There are a few varieties, and the methods for making them vary just slightly.

Swiss meringue buttercream

AKA: SMBC

Method: Egg whites and sugar are cooked over a double boiler. Once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches at least 140 degrees F, it’s whipped to a stiff meringue before adding softened butter and flavorings. After butter is added, SMBC will first appear curdled before finally coming together.  

Pros: Smooth as silk and melt-on-your-tongue delicious. Works beautifully as a cake finish and when creating details like flowers or borders. SMBC is a very stable frosting and is commonly used to fill and finish fine wedding cakes. Works like a dream under fondant. 

Cons: Requires some time and patience, as well as a double boiler and candy thermometer, which can be intimidating. SMBC will soften quickly in warmer conditions.

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Italian meringue buttercream

AKA: IMBC

Method: Sugar and water are first cooked to the “soft ball stage”*, then drizzled into egg whites before being whipped into a fluffy meringue. Softened butter and flavorings are added to the meringue, similar to the method for SMBC.  

*At this stage, a little sugar syrup dropped into cold water will form a soft ball. When the ball is taken from the water, it will flatten in your hand after a few seconds.

Pros: Very smooth and creamy with all of the same attributes as SMBC. IMBC is a little more stable than SMBC in warmer weather since the sugar is cooked to a higher temperature. 

Cons: Pouring hot sugar into whipping egg whites is not for the faint of heart. This can take a lot of trial and error to master. 

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French buttercream

Method: Same process as IMBC, except egg yolks are used instead of whites. Some recipes call for the whole egg, but traditionally only yolks are used. 

Pros: This frosting is every butter lover’s dream, silky and smooth with a rich flavor. French buttercream works well as a cake filling or as a soft buttercream finish. 

Cons: French buttercream is a very soft frosting, so it doesn’t work well if you’re looking to achieve sharp corners or pipe details. It does not work well under fondant or hold up well in warmer environments. 

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Boiled frosting

AKA: 7-Minute Frosting

Method: Technically, this isn’t a buttercream — there’s no butter! It’s essentially IMBC, except you stop before adding butter. Flavoring is added directly to the egg whites. 

Pros: This icing comes together very quickly, hence one of its names. It’s the brightest white of all the cake frostings and typically retains a glossy finish. It’s relatively stable in warmer weather, but humidity will soften it. 

Cons: Boiled frosting needs to be used immediately and can’t be stored. It’s a softer icing that doesn’t pipe well. Since it’s so light, it would not hold up well as a filling for stacked cakes. It cannot be used under fondant. 

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Custard-based buttercreams

Custard buttercream

Of course, custard-based buttercreams use sugar, milk and some sort of thickener to create the frosting. Two types of buttercream live in this category:

Ermine buttercream

AKA: flour buttercream, cooked milk buttercream

Method: Flour, sugar, and milk are cooked until they reach a thick, pudding-like consistency. Once cooled, this mixture is slowly added to creamed butter along with flavoring. 

Pros: Very smooth and simple to make. It’s a great compromise if AMBC is too sweet and gritty for you, but meringue-based buttercream seems too difficult to make or you want to avoid eggs in your frosting. It holds up well in warm conditions, pipes easily and can be used under fondant. Fun fact: while many people believe cream cheese frosting to be the best pairing for red velvet cake, Ermine frosting is what’s called for in most of the older, traditional recipes.  

Cons: It’s more labor-intensive than AMBC and can have a heavier or thicker mouth-feel than a meringue-based buttercream. 

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German buttercream

Method: Same as ermine, except made with a traditional cooked custard (or thick pastry cream) consisting of milk, sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch. 

Pros: Very smooth and flavorful. Works well as a cupcake topping or cake filling

Cons: German buttercream is a softer frosting, with similar drawbacks as the other softer buttercreams. It also has a yellowish tint, which can make it difficult to color. 

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Now you have six tempting buttercream options for decorating and filling your cakes and cookies. Which of these types of buttercream is your go-to?

Learn how to make different types of buttercream!

better buttercream craftsy clas

Create your most delicious cakes yet. Whip up the melt-in-your-mouth Swiss, Italian and French buttercreams that sweet dreams are made of with 7 HD video lessons. Enroll Now »

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2015 and has been updated with recipes.

40 Comments

Jane

Your cakes are gorgeous! I love the colorway on the cakes on each photo! They look really expensive.

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Debbie L

I have been making American Buttercream but using whipping cream for the liquid, which gives it a better flavor. Sometimes I add more than needed to make it more like a whipped cream frosting but holds up better.

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Alma Grace Bayong

Hi debbie, I was thinking about doing the same as what you have been doing. Do you mind sharing your recipe? 🙂

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Sarah

Thank you for acknowledging ermine frosting as being the traditional frosting for red velvet cake!!! I’ve always snubbed those who put cream cheese frosting on red velvet cake

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jan

Me too!

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Anna

Same here! I think ermine pairs so much better with red velvet

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Joanne

Hi, with SMBC, it’s not safe for pregnant lady to consume, is it? If I’m not wrong, the egg didn’t reach the temperature to be considered as safe. Please correct me if i’m wrong 🙂

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Terry Paterson

The eggs need to be cooked to 160F to kill salmonella. Some recipes say 145F and that is not correct and some people don’t even take the temperature. Be safe and go to 160F.

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Mikel

You can use pasteurized egg whites from a carton to make the frosting and then it will be safe.

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Deborah

If you use pastured free range eggs, the chances of salmonella are much MUCH less than those almost worthless grocery store eggs. And they are far better for you overall.

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Daluce

Really helpful post. Can I ask with ermine frosting if it can be make ahead of time and stored ? If so does it need to be refrigerated ? Thanks !

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Erin Gardner

Hi! Yes, it can definitely be made ahead of time. Store it in the fridge if you’re making it a few days ahead of time, but overnight it should be fine at room temp. Thanks! 🙂

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Elizabeth

I always wondered how can buttercream be left at room temperature if it has milk in it?

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Erin

The USDA recommends that milk (or things that contain milk) should not be left unrefrigerated for more than 4 hours. With anything, just use your best judgement. I’ve left plenty of cakes out overnight in cool-isa temperatures and never had an issue. If it’s very warm and humid where you are, then refrigeration would be best. Thanks!

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Alexandria Tevis

Is there a good recipe for a whipped cream layer cake filling and icing that will hold up?

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Erin Gardner

Hi! When I do whipped cream I typically do 2 cups of powdered sugar to 4 cups of cream, plus a little vanilla extract (or other flavor). You can also add gelatin or a small amount of piping gel to stabilize the whipped cream. It’s not a very stable filling, so you’d want to add it shortly before serving. It will also not hold up well in warm weather. Thanks!

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Matthew

Great post! I used to get confused over pastry cream/creme patissiere, French buttercream and German buttercream/creme mousseline. They all taste amazing, as any egg yolk custard will. Creme mousseline is probably my favourite because it is relatively stable, and the cornflour is not thick and wheaty like ermine can be. It’s not too sweet or too buttery, and I love the yellow colour.

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Shan

Butter can be kept at room temperature as many old-fashioned containers attest however I have made the mistake of leaving a whipped cream iced cake out overnight only to discover it has spoiled/curdled.
My favorite frosting i call the 3-2-1 d(can’t find or recall) due to recipe directions of mixing 2 separate bowls: one is more shortning than 10x (powdered) sugar resulting in a heavy mixture while the second bowl has a reverse of 10x & shortning resulting in a light, airy mixture. The final step involves beating the 2 mixtures together with a powerful electric mixer. The final result is a stable, fluffy frosting that holds up to all uses. It holds the shape of each different tip (leaves, roses, shells), remains fluffy & airy under fondant, to being melted to pour over or dip petit-a-fors in & flavored to use as fillings (cakes, donuts, cookies).

As with all “white”, buttercream type frostings, (unless a specific flavor like strawberry or mint is used) I use Almond extract. Seems to add a wonderful layer while preventing that “makes your teeth hurt” sweetness. I have never been one to shy away from sugar/sweetness albeit cotton candy, wedding cake flavored snow cones or boxed cake mix (mixed w/water in a cup & eaten with a spoon) I only like icing/frosting flavored with almond. It even adds a pleasant option in chocolate icing, especially when vanilla is called for.

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Yamile

Where I’m from italian meringue (7 minute frosting) is the standard for all cakes and done right and with some practice it can be piped nicely into rosettes, ruffles, borders…. I use it under fondant all the time too! Just make sure to add 2-3 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the beating eggs whites before the syrup and let it mix until it’s cool (about 12-15 mins)

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Samantha Forcash

Smbc! Very stable you can make it stiffer or softer. I love the non granulated taste. Not over sweet. I don’t use a double boiler. I put my mixer bowl on simmering water. Invest in a thermometer… cheap cheap. Best frosting. Ever.

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Natalie DeCanter

I have tried to make smbc several times. I used the recipe from the Cake Boss. I have followed it to a T. But every time I incorporate the butter it never regains it’s fluff. It always looks soupy. My only conclusion is maybe the butter (just plain on blue bonnet). Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

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Erin Gardner

Hi! Sorry you’re having trouble! SMBC is kind of weird. It will look very broken before it looks awesome! It’s funny like that. 😉 Once all of the butter is added, the mixture looks very chunky, curdled, and soupy. Make sure you’re using the whisk attachment. Then just let the mixer go and do its work! Depending how warm it is in your kitchen, this could take a while, as long as 10 minutes. Another tip is to use cold, but not ice cold, butter. The whipped meringue will still have some warmth in it and will soften the cool butter as you add it. Starting with room temp butter can sometimes make the buttercream greasy or too soft. I hope this helps!

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Sarah

Natalie-If you are using blue bonnet I believe that might be your problem. It is not real butter (made of cream from an animal), but it is a brand of margarine (a “substitute” for butter made of oils and fats). This will make it react very differently when mixed with your other ingredients than real butter reacts. Try using real butter, be patient when mixing through the broken stage, and see what happens. 🙂

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Erin Gardner

Ah, yes! Good catch. 🙂 I never use margarine, so I didn’t recognize the brand. That would definitely make a difference. Margarine has a much higher water content than water.

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Bex

Keep whipping . if it goes soupy just keep whipping. Even walk away as it can be testing to watch. It will come together.
Possible that the meringue is too warm for the butter, but even then it will eventyally come together just keep it beating on medium speed. I use a whip attachment the entire time

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susan

I only use 84% butterfat butters-usually from Europe) with never a problem with my SMBC

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Carolyn

Isn’t blue bonnett – margerine? not butter, does that make a difference?

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Sandra Seagraves

Does it make a difference if you use margarine instead of butter?

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Erin Gardner

Hi! It really does. Margarine has a higher water content than butter, so it won’t work on its own. You could split it 50/50 with shortening or just use shorting. I’ve seen butter flavored shortening at the supermarket and some cake decorating supply sites sell butter flavoring, if that’s what you’re after. Thanks!

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River

Erin – for the ermine frosting – Could I use arrowroot as the starch. I can’t use corn and may not be able to use wheat either.

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Erin Gardner

Hi! Yes – I would absolutely think so. Use whatever thickener works best for you.

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Vhon

hi there… I’ve just made an heart red velvet cake for my daughters 14th birthday on Tuesday, and I’m actually using the Ermine frosting. am I right in thinking I can use the Ermine to crumb coat as well.

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Erin Gardner

Of course! It acts just like any other buttercream.

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Tania

Hi. Can I leave Smbc out over night?

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Erin Gardner

Hi! Well, that’s really up to you. 🙂 If you are making cakes for sale with SMBC, then I would absolutely refrigerate the cake over night. When I’m at home and I’m making a cake just for myself and my family, I will leave the cake out and it’s just fine.

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Tee

So helpful, thank you!

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Jacquie

I made Joshua John Russel’s SMBC recipe. I used part vegetable shortening as recommended in the recipe, as it has been hot. I feel like the recipe turned out well. tastes great, very creamy. My problem is that it seems that it is too soft to make flowers. I refrigerate it, take it out, but am having a difficult time finding that perfect temperature for piping flowers. Is the temperature of my hands warming the buttercream too quickly? Any tips would be appreciated.
thx J

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Hilda

I’ve read a tip somewhere that says to use gloves to hold your piping bag if you have a warm hand (like mine) hahaha, but sorry i have never tried that. I also live in a very warm climate country, and use shortening along with butter for SMBC. Problem with humid weather is your SMBC can get watery after you left it long in room temp. I usually re-beat it again until smooth

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Sally

We love American buttercream frosting but it’s not super sweet because we make it with LOTS of cocoa powder (far more than is called for in recipes) and a bit more vanilla. You can avoid grittiness by using room temperature butter and beating it to a really light fluffiness. Darn it, now I have an urge to make a cake.

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Rose Goldberg

Has anyone tried to tint swiss buttercream, and had vivid colors? If so which brand did you use?

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