Sometimes people tell me that they don't like buttercream, that it's too sweet or too rich. I get that; many times I find that same thing, especially with American buttercream. (I think I've told you before I am a buttercream snob.) If the frosting is too sweet it almost makes the cake not worth eating. If the cake is too sweet as well – then – I have been known to throw it away rather than eat it. Which, I am pretty sure is a misdemeanor in some states. Before you write off buttercream entirely, for the sake of fairness, you simply must try this one.
This is the queen of buttercreams. It's rich but not too rich, creamy, silky smooth and absolutely not too sweet. More than a year after bringing in some cupcakes to work, coworkers have come up to me to tell me how wonderful the cupcakes were. I have heard more than once, "best cake I have ever had in my life". I'll tell you a secret - it's not the cake or the cupcakes, it's the frosting. It's THAT good. No, really, I wish I were joking. The last time I made it, I absentmindedly threw the whisk into the sink after I was done. My Mother was here visiting and she actually yelled at me. Not kidding yelling, actual she was upset with me yelling. Luckily there wasn't anything in the sink so I could rescue it and let her lick off the teensy bit of frosting that clung to the wires. She was only slightly mollified.
With a little practice, this buttercream is easy to make. You do have to make a simple syrup and then add that syrup to egg yolks. That can be tricky, to be sure. But it can be done. A candy thermometer is an essential tool here, precision is important. Ms Beranbaum has a great suggestion that I now use every time that I need to add hot syrup to eggs or to make marshmallows. See that measuring cup? I grease one and keep it by the stovetop. Then when the sugar has reached the proper temperature, I pour it into the measuring cup to stop the syrup from cooking. It is so much easier to then add the sugar to the yolks from the measuring cup rather than pouring it from the pot.
It's important that the egg yolks are room temperature. While the sugar cooks I whisk the yolks until they are a pale yellow. Don't lose track of the sugar though, that stuff can get too hot in the blink of an eye.
After carefully adding all of the sugar (in stages so as little as possible gets whipped on the sides of the bowl) it's time to take a much deserved break and let the mixer do its thing until the mixture is completely cool. It usually takes me between 8 and 10 minutes or so on high.
Before you stop me, yes - that is a lot of butter. I never said this was a diet food or healthy for you, just that it was amazing. Somehow, the combination of the meringue and the butter still ends up being light and silky. Magic.
The butter does need to be a dded slowly, just a piece at a time. It's also really important that it is the correct temperature before you add it in. It needs to be soft enough so that it gives slightly when you press into it, but it shouldn't be mushy and it shouldn't be cold. I also add the butter with the mixer on low, I've found it works better to take the process slow. I even count to twenty or so between additions and scrap down the bowl after each stick, just to make sure everything gets incorporated.
It takes a bit of whipping and initially when you start adding butter, the meringue will deflate. At that point you might think you have made a mistake, but have faith - keep whipping and it should eventually come together. If the mixture doesn't seem to be once all the butter has been added, it may be too warm and it may help to put the whole bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes and then whip again. I usually find that if I have the butter at the right temperature and I let the meringue cool completely - there is a moment soon after the butter is added that it pulls together. When that happens, it is my favorite moment of the whole process. Well, maybe tasting it is my favorite part - this is a very close second.
French Meringue Buttercream
Classic buttercream made from egg yolks, not the whites. Decedant but still light and not too sweet. Makes 4 cups. Adapted slightly from "The Cake Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/8 teaspoon (pinch) salt
- 2 cups (4 sticks, 454g) unsalted butter (room temp)
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1. Lightly grease a glass, heat proof measuring cup. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg yolks until they are light in color.
3. While the eggs are working, combine the sugar, water, and salt in a small saucepan with a candy thermometer. Heat on medium high heat, stirring continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is boiling. Stop stirring and continue to boil until the temperature on the candy thermometer reads 238°. Immediately pour the syrup into the measuring cup to stop the cooking.
4. Gradually and carefully add the syrup to the yolks, turning the mixer off briefly for each addition and then quickly turning it back to high for a few seconds before adding the next addition. You don't want to cook the eggs - so the mixer needs to be turned on immediately after adding the syrup - and you don't want to add while the whisk is running because the sugar will tangle up in the whisk and on the side of the bowl. For the last addition, use a spatula to scrape the last of the syrup out of the measuring cup and a do quick scrape down of the bowl.
5. Continue whisking on high until the mixture is completely cool, about 8 to 10 minutes.
6. Switch the mixer speed to low and begin adding the butter 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time . Make sure the butter is fully incorporated before adding the next addition. Once all the butter has been whisked in, add the vanilla and continue whisking until frosting is smooth and silky. Use the frosting at room temperature.
Keeps 6 hours at room temperature, 1 week refrigerated, and up to 8 months frozen. Frosting may need to be rebeat after chilling, but bring back to room temperature before you do or it may curdle.