Bake It Easy: Perfectly Smooth Icing With a Simple Buttercream Trick

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You've smeared it, slathered it, smoothed it and piped it, but have you ever poured it? Pourable icing might just be one of the best-kept secrets in cake decorating. It seems like it would involve a very complex recipe that requires years of training and practice — but I think you can handle it.

You want to know the secret?

It's... melted buttercream. 

Yes! Melted buttercream is the secret to making pourable icing. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. Even though the process is about as simple as it gets, there are still a few rules to follow to ensure you don't end up with a runny mess. 

How to use pourable icing

  • Topping cupcakes that need to be very smooth because you'll be adding a flat or domed topper, edible image or other decor.
  • Coating petit fours
  • Creating the popular drip finish
  • Adding a splatter paint effect 
  • Icing cookies
  • Glazing a cake that's been crumb coated with traditional buttercream or ganache

How to make pourable icing

Supplies:

  • Your favorite buttercream (American, Italian, Swiss meringue, canned — yes, canned buttercream works)
  • Microwave-safe container
  • Gel food coloring

Step 1: 

If you aren't working with freshly made buttercream, bring your chilled buttercream back to a fluffy and workable consistency.

Place the buttercream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if you're using a hand mixer. Beat the buttercream until it's the same consistency you'd use to frost a cake or pipe a border. 

Step 2: 

Move some or all of the buttercream to a microwave-safe container. Gently warm the buttercream for 10 seconds at a time in the microwave. Stir the buttercream after every interval.

The buttercream around the sides of the container will melt much quicker than the middle. I worked with about a cup of buttercream here and it took 30 seconds (three 10-second intervals) to get to a pourable, but still slightly thick consistency.

The perfect pourable buttercream will resemble a melted milkshake. That's really the best analogy I can think of. Gravy is too thin, mayo is too thick. The buttercream will still appear to be aerated, but fluid.

Step 3: 

Tint the poured buttercream in your desired shade with a few drops of gel food coloring. The color may appear spotty at first. Smooth the color out by returning the buttercream to the microwave for 2-4 seconds. Just a few moments of warmth is all that's needed to help the color dissipate and deepen. 

Step 4: 

You have two options for using your buttercream — dip or pour it. In this project, I did both! I also used a cupcake liner that made things more complicated than they needed to be.

Dipping is the ideal method for coating cupcakes, petit fours or cookies with a smooth, even coat of buttercream. Dip the item you're coating as many times as you like to achieve as much coverage as needed.

Gently tap the cupcake against your work surface to help smooth out the buttercream. I dipped my cupcakes and then poured a little extra on to fill in the cupcake liner. Allow the items to cool at room temperature or pop them in the fridge to firm up. The buttercream will set up with a crusted, glossy finish.

Step 5:

I added a poured detail to the tops of my cupcakes by dolloping some of the poured buttercream on top with a spoon.

Dust the buttercream with rainbow sprinkles (or other decorations) while it's still wet, otherwise, the sprinkles won't stick. 

Poured buttercream needs to be used right away. You can gently re-warm the buttercream if it starts to get thick, but it's not something that can be melted and re-used many times.

Over time the buttercream will lose its fluffy but fluid consistency, so only work with as much as you need at the time and melt more as you go. Store anything coated with poured buttercream just as you would store it if it were covered traditionally with buttercream.  

To finish off my ice-cream-sundae-inspired cupcakes, I rolled up a small ball of chewy pink candy and inserted a short length of black rope licorice to create a cherry. I set the cherries on the cupcakes while the white buttercream was still soft to give them a more realistic appearance. 

I'm loving the endless possibilities for this technique. It's a great way to achieve smooth buttercream on small surfaces and can act as a substitute for fondant or ganache in certain projects.

What will you make with poured buttercream?

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Bake It Easy: Perfectly Smooth Icing With a Simple Buttercream Trick