I receive lots of emails and messages from people telling me that they have no problems when it comes to making cakes but when it comes to the buttercream they struggle.
Buttercream is a relatively easy thing to make but there are some factors that will effect the texture, consistency and taste. Butter and icing sugar are the main ingredients in a basic buttercream recipe although you may need to add milk, hot water or other ingredients such as vanilla extract for added flavour.
First of all, I always recommend using block butter. I know there are many people who use soft spread butter or baking spread, which if this is your preferred option due to taste and texture that’s fine but block butter is always my recommendation and produces the best results in my experience. Also soft spreads and baking spread such as stork tend to be very soft and oily and can either end up splitting your buttercream or be extremely soft and not set properly.
I always leave my butter on top of a kitchen counter overnight until it comes to room temperature i.e a soft and squidgy texture but not too soft that it starts looking oily. You can however in emergency situations heat it slightly in the microwave to bring it to the right texture but only in short bursts of 10-15 seconds or so. If you over heat it return it to the fridge for a few minutes.
Regarding icing sugar, you want to make sure you buy a brand that doesn’t contain maize starch. In my experience they are very clumpy and can result in a very lumpy and grainy buttercream. Try to buy a brand that contains tricalcium phosphate (an anti caking ingredient).
I also recommend sieving your icing sugar before adding it to the butter. I must admit I don’t always do this due to time constraints but it will make a difference to your buttercream texture as it produces a finer powder and elements any lumps that may have formed in the packet.
So here is my basic buttercream to get you started…
Ingredients (makes enough buttercream for 12 cupcakes)
250g unsalted butter (room temperature)
440g icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
15ml milk or hot water
1/4tsp salt (optional)
1. Beat the butter in a mixer on a medium speed until it increases in volume and turns a pale white colour (this may take a few minutes and it should look similar to double cream)
2. Scrape down the bowl and add the icing sugar in 3 stages, making sure you beat well between each stage. (Start on the lowest speed until icing sugar has blended into the butter, then increase to a medium speed – you don’t want your kitchen looking like a scene from frozen!)
3. Scrape down the bowl again and on the slowest setting, add the vanilla and milk/hot water.
4. Once the vanilla and milk has been well incorporated into the mix, increase your mixer setting to a medium speed and beat for another minute or so. (You may want to add more milk if the buttercream is still a little thick)
5. And that’s it, simply transfer to a piping bag and use it to top your favourite cupcakes.
Once you’ve mastered this you could try adding different flavours to the mix or even slightly change the quantities depending on the sweetness level or texture you prefer.