Buttercream is a dream — all that rich, silky deliciousness. Except sometimes it's a total nightmare. Instead of a creamy buttercream swirl, you get those dreaded air bubbles. Or a dried-out frosting. Or a soggy mess.
Help! What to do?
Believe it or not, the answer could be as simple as this: Find a buttercream recipe that works better, or try adjusting the ingredients, methods or equipment you're using. Also, check your mood. Seriously, if you're stressed or frustrated, you might be transferring that emotion into your buttercream (say, by over-whipping the ingredients). Take a deep breath, visualize the luscious cake you're about to make, and try again.
If none of that works, it's time to troubleshoot. Here are some tips for fixing common buttercream #fails and get the perfect texture for swirls.
You've Got Air Bubbles
You whip up a beautiful buttercream and start spreading it over your cupcake (get some more cupcake decorating ideas here!) , only to see air bubbles popping up everywhere. Argh! What went wrong?
Those pesky little bubbles happen when you whip too much air into your buttercream. Try these bubble-busting strategies to avoid that.
Soften the Butter
Instead of using chilled butter to make your buttercream, start with softened butter. When butter is chilled, it's stiffer and more troublesome to cream. That means you'll end up having to mix and whip it more, and that's how you get those bubbles. Using softened butter keeps you from having to over-mix.
Warm Up the Buttercream
Adding a little heat to your buttercream will go a long way when you're mixing it. A couple of tablespoons of boiling water, or even a bit of butter that's been zapped quickly in the microwave, can make the buttercream easier to mix — especially if you started out with chilled butter.
Turn the Mixer Off
Sometimes the solution is just to do less. Don't whip or cream your buttercream as much. It's tempting to leave the mixer on while you're filling cake pans or checking recipes, but you'll get better results if you watch it closely and switch it off in time.
The Texture's Stiff
You've probably seen this happen before: Your buttercream comes out super dry, and creates rough edges when you spread it on your cupcake. The culprits? Stiff butter, or too much sugar. Here's what to do.
Go Easy on the Sugar
Taste your buttercream as you go, and adjust the amount of sugar if necessary. Ideally, you want to taste equal amounts of butter and sugar in your frosting. Neither ingredient should overpower the other.
Try Another Brand of Butter
If you've adjusted the sugar amount but your buttercream is still stiff and dry, test out a few different brands of butter. Butter made with buttermilk is worth a try since it can get you a silkier frosting. Once you've found the brand that works for you, use it every time.
You're Looking at Lumps
Those unsightly lumps and bumps that can show up in your buttercream are a major bummer. The problem gets even worse if you're rushing through the recipe. Try these tips for smoother frosting.
Start Out With Softened Butter
Making sure the butter is soft when you start mixing will not only keep air bubbles out, but also help avoid those ugly lumps.
Melt Chocolate All the Way
When you're adding chocolate, make sure every single piece has melted. It doesn't pay to rush through this part. It's also best to use good-quality couverture chocolate, which melts much better and gets super silky.
Sift Your Sugar
Bumps in your buttercream also happen when the powdered sugar clumps up. Make sure to sift your sugar before adding it in.
Your Frosting's Got the Flops
It happens to everyone at some point: Your buttercream ends up droopy. If your buttercream mysteriously flops, spreads or loses shape once you pipe it or spread it on your cake, here's what to do.
Try Another Butter
Once again, the suspect here may just be the butter you're using ... or not using. If you're using margarine to shave off a few calories or grams of fat, your buttercream will likely disintegrate into a sloppy pile. Margarine generally contains a higher ratio of water than butter, so there's a lot less fat to give buttercream the structure it needs. The same goes for vegan butter alternatives. Even the regular butter you're using might need swapping out.
Let Your Cakes Cool
Sometimes you'll get floppy buttercream simply because you haven't let your cakes cool down enough before frosting them. The heat inside the cakes rises up and starts to melt your buttercream, so don't rush to frost them when they come out of the oven. Give them a chance to cool completely.
Add More Sugar
You might just need more confectioner's sugar (or powdered or icing sugar) in your buttercream. Not adding enough can lead to sloppy or wet-looking buttercream. Sift a little more sugar in, and make sure to taste-test as you go. Remember that you'll want to taste equal amounts of butter and sugar in your buttercream.
One of these tips should fix whatever ails your buttercream. And if you don't succeed the first time, you know what they say: Try, try again. So keep on mixing up that buttercream and sampling it as you go (yum!). At least this is one problem that has a tasty solution.
Photos by Juniper Cakery
Learn More Now
Get more tips for flavoring buttercream and decking out cakes and cupcakes in our free guide, Not-So-Basic Buttercream Decorating Ideas.