All about buttercream!

Ah the great debate, buttercream. American buttercream, Italian/Swiss meringue buttercream, French buttercream, fondant, ganache, modelling chocolate or a bit of everything? Many of you reading may be thinking what are all these types? Well in short form, buttercream is typically a mixture of icing sugar and butter, the Swiss and Italian meringue buttercreams are usually based from a stiff fluffy meringue and butter or shortening added. Fondant is a cake decorators dream for decorating, well maybe just me personally, but it is the extremely sweet sugar paste (not the tastiest but it does give you that polished look). Ganache is probably my favourite, it’s a two ingredient mix of cream and chocolate, different ratios for different types of chocolate for e.g. dark chocolate is usually a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio depending on the weather, milk chocolate and white chocolate are usually 2:1 or 3:1 ratio for me, in warmer seasons I would go for a 4:1 ratio! Modelling chocolate is an interesting one, it tastes better than fondant and perfect to decorate your cupcakes, cookies and even décor your cake pops! Now the great debate…What do YOU prefer? Are you traditional and LOVE buttercream? Or are you a little more modern and prefer salty with your sweet and go for less sweetness in your desserts? Now I might get a bit ranty here, (yes I know ranty isn’t a word) desserts are SWEET and contain SUGAR! I know over the years’ desserts have evolved which is AWESOME! But also a little misleading in my opinion, truth be told I’m not much of a sweet tooth, I prefer savoury, but I also believe in traditional sweets. Anyway let’s leave that rant for another time, back to buttercream! Now the biggest issues I’ve faced with buttercream are 1) too sweet sometimes, 2) can leave a funny fatty after taste, and my BIGGEST issue is staying YELLOW! I know its butter and butter is yellow but when someone requests a white buttercream cake I go into panic mode, how am I supposed to tint buttercream, BUTTERcream white whilst retaining that delicious butter taste?! Well many cakers will tell you that you need different products such as titanium dioxide powder, white gel colourings, violet food colouring, beating your butter for 10-15 minutes, adding your icing sugar slowly, adding cream, white flavouring extracts, using shortening instead of butter, using vegan butters etc

Now here’s a funny story…When I first started I actually didn’t know what buttercream was HA! I literally typed into google “what is the icing that stands up on a cupcake” and what came up was “American buttercream” my initial thought was YUCK who wants to eat chunks of butter?! Well here we are 5 years later and we are making American/Swiss/Italian buttercream all the time! Might I add, I actually don’t mind it, yes its butter but it’s not just butter its whipped into a frenzy, reaching maximum fluffiness and flavoured, so its special butter OK! Now I have had the issue of the ‘whitening’ because I don’t want to use shortening to achieve the white, but I really want to achieve WHITE! Argh the frustration, however what has to be done has to be done. I have tried titanium dioxide powder, and NO it isn’t as white when you’re using real butter. I’ve tried white gels; it works but doesn’t achieve an ultra-bright white. However, I have tried the violet food colouring gel and IT WORKS! It does give you a ‘white’ but it isn’t an extremely bright white but it’s as white as can be with real butter! However, a tip, when using this method beat your butter for about 10 minutes, adding your sugar in little at a time and use it straight away! If you let it sit it starts to go yellow-ish. Now I also tried shortening, I first tried a full shortening batch and WOW was i blinded by that mesmerising bright white! I didn’t mind the taste, it wasn’t my favourite but it would be perfect to coat the outside of your naked cakes, butter creamed cakes (my suggestion for your naked cakes/buttercream cakes would be to fill your cakes with whatever filling you like and then use the 100% shortening buttercream to cover it if someone wants to have ULTRA WHITE). I then tried the 50/50 batch of shortening and butter and it was a lot whiter but still had that tinge (due to the butter), to my surprise, it wasn’t bad tasting, it was actually quite similar to an all butter buttercream, i did beat this for minimum 15 minutes. Now my favourite is the meringue based buttercreams, they are silky, smooth, less sweet and pipe nicely. They take a little longer to make but are delicious! You can also use shortening in your Swiss meringue/Italian meringue buttercreams to maintain that bright white, I guess we should call it shortening-cream. In my opinion, the Italian meringue is whiter and tastes better but Swiss is still delicious and white also! What I think will be best personally is filling your cakes with buttercream using real butter, and then icing your cake in an all shortening made buttercream if the ultra-white colour is requested. The number one thing to remember is to tell your guests or customers what they are eating! Don’t be misleading, make sure you tell them about what they are getting and understand the reason for what ingredients you’re using.  If you are interested here are a few of my go to buttercream recipes. If you have any questions, please just leave a comment below or shoot me an email!

American buttercream

To ice 24 cupcakes
500g butter or margarine

2-3 cups of icing sugar, if I’m being honest here’s my secret, I don’t measure my icing sugar! I go by taste and fluffiness! Just start with 1 cup and add ½ a cup until you achieve the sweetness and texture you like (SORRY). If i ever come up with a “non-instinctual” buttercream recipe ill post it up!

All butter buttercream cupcakes!


Buttercream using ALL shortening (to achieve bright white)

500g shortening

*same rules apply!

Buttercream using shortening and butter

250g butter or margarine 250g shortening

*same rules apply!

50/50 ratio of shortening and butter cake!


Note: if you halve these recipes they will ice 12 cupcakes perfectly!

Italian meringue buttercream

(My personal favourite and go to, but for people who want eggless frostings stick to your traditional buttercreams)

Perfect amount to frost 12 standard sized cupcakes!


4 egg whites

227g softened butter or shortening

1 cup caster sugar (granulated white sugar is fine)

½ cup of water

Vanilla or flavouring of your choice


  1. Add the sugar and water into a pot and allow the sugar to come to 230 degrees Celsius
  2. Whilst our sugar is coming up to temperature, whip your egg whites to soft peaks (you may also add a ½ tsp of cream of tartar to help stabilise your egg whites)
  3. After your sugar syrup has come to temperature, and your egg whites have frothed up to soft peaks, slowly but consistently pour your sugar syrup carefully in a stream into the egg mixture
  4. Once all the sugar mixture has incorporated into your meringue scrape down the bowl and beat for about 10 minutes until the bowl is cool to the touch
  5. Once cooled, you may add your butter or shortening small amounts at a time and beating well before incorporating more
  6. It may become soupy, do not panic, continue whisking/beating for an additional 10 minutes

Here are my delicious vanilla Italian meringue buttercream frosted moist chocolate cupcakes (what a mouthful!) ps. If you are trying to achieve baby blue, Italian meringue buttercream is perfect for this as its often hard to achieve a decent BLUE with ALL butter as yellow and blue make … GREEN.



TOP TIP: if your Italian meringue buttercream decides to ruin your life and split you can bring it back to life! Nope, not with the philosopher stone but if you heat about a ¼ cup of the mixture in the microwave NOT HOT, but slightly warm and melty, and add it back and whip it should come back!

These are just my tips that I’ve picked up along the way throughout my experiences I understand that all cakers have unique experiences, and subjective opinions on this particular topic.


Happy buttercream-ing! Love, Nelle xox







2 thoughts on “All about buttercream!

  1. Hi In the middle of this dilemma. What shortening do you use in the uk ? Preparing for a hot summers day wedding , is shortening cream good in the heat ? Is Italian buttercream good in heat or need to be refrigerated ? Can it be frozen ? Thank


    1. Hi Frankie, I’m not too sure about brands in the UK as I’m in Australia. I’d say definitely use a shortening base or a 50/50 shortening and butter base for summer days. I use SMBC in Australia and it works fine. My SMBC can be frozen.


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