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5 Things You MUST KNOW About Buttercream

Buttercream is my favourite frosting for cake decorating but to be successful with it you need to know these five things about it.

I use my 4 Minute Buttercream for all of my cakes!

What temperature is best for buttercream?

Let's start with the right temperature to work with buttercream. Since it's made with butter, just like butter it melts in the heat and gets hard when it's cold. If it's hot in the room you'll struggle with cake sweat, which are droplets of condensation on the frosting. You might even see colours running down the cake.

why do I have cake sweat condensation on cakes

For many techniques, the frosting needs to set before decorating it. For example, for stenciling the cake needs to be in the fridge for at least an hour first. When you take the cake out of the fridge, the buttercream won't stay firm for long in a warm room. When you press the stencil against the cake your fingers will melt the frosting and leave unwanted indents behind.

how to stencil on buttercream
chill cake before stenciling

Cold temperatures have their own set of problems. I attempted to frost this cake when there was a freeze where I live and look what happens! The cake isn't cold and the buttercream was at room temperature when I made it the day before. But the cold weather has chilled the buttercream as I smooth it so much that it's started to set. You can see the stiff texture on the cake on the left compared to the softness on the cake on the right.

frosting a cake in a cold room

So, what's the right temperature? Room temperature is around 72°F or 22°C and that's ideal.

How to colour buttercream

There are three things to watch out for when you tint buttercream. First, the consistency of the buttercream. The more colour you add, the runnier it will become especially if you're using liquid colours rather than gel colours.

buttercream gets watery with too much liquid color

If you know you're going to add a lot of colour, consider leaving out the milk or cream in the buttercream recipe. Wait until after you've added the colour so that you can add less than normal if necessary.

The second thing to keep in mind is that colours develop and darken with time. If you're aiming for a certain shade, mix the colour a little bit lighter than you want it to be. After a few hours it will be significantly darker.

buttercream gets darker with time

The third thing to beware of is the flavour of food colours. The more you add, the more you'll notice it, typically a bitter taste. To prevent it don't add more than a small squirt of gel to a bowl of buttercream. Then darken it with this method: scoop out a third of the buttercream microwave it for 10 seconds. Mix the runny, melted buttercream back into the main bowl.

melted buttercream using the microwave hack

The colour of the buttercream will get darker in the microwave. As you mix it back in it will make the whole batch darker. As a bonus side effect, the consistency will transform into absolute perfection!

microwave hack for buttercream

How to smooth frosting on a cake

Let's talk about how to smooth buttercream frosting on a cake. Here are my best tips:

1. Make sure the buttercream is a nice loose consistency that's easy to stir and leaves soft peaks:

ideal consistency for buttercream

2. Spread it diagonally upwards onto the cake to make a lip or wall around the top of the cake. This will give you sharp edges later instead of drooping or domed tops.

how to get smooth frosting on cakes

3. Before scraping around the cake with a cake comb, push the base of the comb down on the cake board. This lines the edge up straight against the cake to make straight sides on your cake.

4. Pull long spins on the turntable to prevent dents in the frosting caused by shorter jerky movements of the turntable.

5. For the top edge swipe sideways with your offset spatula, without pushing down. Pushing downwards will create a bulge in the frosting around the top of the sides of the cake, like this:

why is my buttercream bulging at the sides

Best buttercream for piping

For piping with buttercream the consistency should be fairly stiff so that the details will hold their shape. However, you don't want the buttercream to be too stiff or it will split around the edge of the piping. Also, stiff buttercream is difficult to push out through the piping tip so it will strain your wrist as you pipe. That strain won't give you smooth piping because the buttercream won't come out evenly.

buttercream consistency for piping

Top tip: if the buttercream gets runnier as you pipe, it's warming up from the warmth of your hands. Put the bag in the freezer for 1 minute and it will stiffen up for neater piping.

How do you store buttercream?

Buttercream should always be covered so it's airtight and doesn't dry out and crust. You can keep it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or a lid or put it in a tupperware or in a Ziploc or sandwich bag.

how to store buttercream

How long can you store buttercream? At room temperature for 2 to 3 days because the high ratio of sugar to dairy preserves the dairy. It can be refrigerated for 2 weeks or stored in the freezer for 2 months. Take it out of the fridge or freezer the night before you're going to use it so it has time to warm up to room temperature.

I hope these tips have been useful and that you're excited to decorate your next cake! For hundreds of cake decorating techniques and designs visit my cake school. You'll find online courses and also memberships to take your cake decorating to the next level!

You can also watch a video of this tutorial on 5 things you must know about buttercream:

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