I know what you're thinking: Does buttercream really need any improvement? Isn't it already just about the best thing there is?
I get you. But I do have some easy ways to make buttercream even better. Read on if you have a spare 60 seconds to think about something delicious.
Upgrade your ingredients
Using high-quality ingredients is an easy way to take your buttercream from great to OMG.
Use better butter
All butters are not the same. European-style butter, which is higher in butterfat than the regular kind, will make your buttercream super luscious. Cultured butter, which is made with active cultures (just like yogurt is), has extra flavor and a subtle tang. The ultimate boost: homemade butter.
DIY your sugar
Homemade powdered sugar is a fantastic upgrade. Possibly even better: starting with infused or flavored sugar.
Add out-of-the-ordinary extracts
Substitute something unexpected for the usual vanilla extra, like almond, peppermint or lemon extract. Or, try mixing your vanilla extract with almond or another extract. Bonus points if you made your own flavoring extracts at home.
Mix in some salt!
Wait...salt? In buttercream? Oh yes. Adding the teensiest sprinkle can bring out every other flavor.
Go on a flavor quest
Vanilla buttercream is just the starting point.
Add a swirl of melted chocolate (cooled — not super hot). Substitute ganache for some of the butter. Stir in cocoa powder. It's all good.
Add a few tablespoons of coconut cream to your buttercream, stirring in a bit of extra sugar to adjust the consistency if necessary. For a more in-your-face coconut flavor, stir in toasted coconut, or garnish your cake with coconut shreds.
Fresh, juicy fruit
There are lots of ways to incorporate juicy fruits into buttercream, but fruit reductions are a fave. Here's how: Add some sugar to the fruit and wait until it begins to release its juices. Drain the fruit, blot dry and cut into tiny pieces to add to the buttercream, reserving the juice. Reduce the juice with sugar until it becomes a syrup; let this come to room temperature and add to the icing.
These are easy: just purée the bananas and add them to the buttercream in place of part of the butter.
These days, you can buy dried, ground fruit in powder form. You get all the color and flavor of the fruit without potentially messing up the buttercream's texture or consistency.
Citrus can add a wonderful brightness to buttercream. Add a few teaspoons of citrus juice, along with some chopped zest. You may have to add a little extra powdered sugar to make the buttercream firm.
Jams and curds
Adding several tablespoons of fruit curd can give icing a subtle fruit flavor. With stronger-flavored curds such as lemon, add just a little at a time.
Simply swap out a portion of the butter for cheese; the stronger the cheese, the less you'll need. And we're not just talking cream cheese here: Think homemade goat cheese or mascarpone. Cheese adds a nice tang and richness that is SO good with sweet cakes.
Add finely chopped toasted nuts to the icing for crunch and flavor, too. To double down on flavor, mix in flavored extract as a complement (such as toasted almonds with almond extract).
Nut butters — such as peanut butter, almond butter, or even Nutella — love buttercream. Just stir a couple of tablespoons into your recipe. Mix well to ensure the nut butter is evenly distributed.
Pudding or custard mix
Stir in about 2 tablespoons for a buttercream that will set firm and take on the flavor of the mix. However, be sure to use this icing soon after making it so it doesn't set before you've frosted your cake.
Herbs and spices
Add freshly ground spices a little at a time until you reach peak flavor.