Professional Style French Buttercream

When I first started baking I became obsessed with making everything from scratch. I didn't want to use a sauce, batter or candy that wasn't first made by me.

So, naturally, I began making my own buttercream.

I started out the way we all do: powdered sugar based buttercream. It was good, but the texture never sat well with me. It was almost as if I could taste and feel the powdered sugar grains. I knew there had to be a different way, but every recipe I found was powdered sugar based. I assumed that was just how it was.

A few years ago, my parents gave me a giant book called "Baking" by James Peterson. I had always wanted to go to pastry school but decided instead of pursuing a secondary education (#studentloans) that I would just teach myself as much as I could. This book was perfect. It has taught me SO many things about the science of baking, and I recommend it to anyone looking to further their baking knowledge.

When I stumbled upon the buttercream recipe in this book I was shocked. The preface to the recipe talked about how most home bakers are satisfied with using powdered sugar to whip up their buttercream, but that it created a texture difference that usually went unnoticed.

FINALLY. All of my feelings towards powdered sugar based buttercream were validated.

I kid you not, I was so jazzed that I rushed to the store my boyfriend works at to tell him about it (and buy butter to make the recipe). This was before we started dating...and I'm sure he thought I was just a crazy baker. 😉

Friends, this is the smoothest buttercream I have ever tasted. It's delicious. And you can add any flavor to it to change it up! It's perfect.

Now, don't get me wrong. I still enjoy a good powdered sugar based buttercream. I'm just all heart eyes about this French buttercream recipe, so I had to tell you about it.

So, here's the skinny. This is a simple recipe to make as long as you follow the directions very closely. However, if things go a little awry, it's not the end of the world.

There are a few tools you'll need to correctly execute this recipe:

  • Stand mixer. The egg yolk mixture will need to beat for about 8 minutes to achieve the right consistency. While the egg yolks are beating, you will have to keep an eye on the temperature of the sugar syrup. A hand mixer will work, but it will be a difficult job.
  • Candy thermometer. This isn't a required tool, but it makes the process so much simpler. You will need to heat your sugar syrup to 238 degrees. This is referred to as the "soft ball stage." You can test the sugar syrup by using the soft ball stage method (see note below), but it can be a real headache. However, I have successfully made this buttercream without a candy thermometer so it can be done.
You may notice I said egg yolks. Yes, you read correctly. Egg yolks and sugar syrup make up the base of this buttercream, but don't you worry. When the sugar syrup is ready, it's slowly poured into the whipping egg yolks, fully cooking (but not scrambling!) the eggs. Whipping these two things together is called a "bombe" mixture.

The flavor options for your buttercream only stop where your imagination does. You can add in spices, spirits or extracts. I used vanilla here, but have also experimented with chocolate (pro tip: use melted bittersweet chocolate and not cocoa powder like I did). 

With these tips and a little patience, you are on your way to a delicious professional style buttercream. I made a half recipe here, but feel free to double it if you are decorating a multi-layer cake. With the half recipe, I was able to frost 80 mini cupcakes and have a little leftover.

Let me know how yours turns out, and what you frosted with it!

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Professional Style Vanilla French Buttercream
Rich and creamy French-style buttercream made by whisking hot sugar syrup into beaten egg yolks.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water, plus more as needed
  • 4 egg yolks, slightly warmed
  • 1 1/4 cups cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Prepare the butter by cutting into cubes and placing cut cubes back into the fridge. Put whole eggs into a bowl of hot water for 5-10 minutes to slightly warm the yolks.2. Secure candy thermometer to side of a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add sugar and water to pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.3. While the syrup is cooking, in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the yolks on high speed for about 8 minutes, or until they have quadrupled in volume and are very pale.4. While the egg yolks are beating, check the temperature of the syrup. The syrup will need to reach the "soft ball stage," (see note) or 238 degrees F. If the syrup is ready before the egg yolks, add 1 tablespoon of water to the syrup and keep simmering.5. When the syrup and yolks are ready, keeping the mixer on high speed, pour the syrup into the yolks between the whisk and the sides of the bowl. Try to keep the syrup from touching the whisk or bowl, because it will harden and break off into the buttercream (though a few are unavoidable).6. Continue beating the egg yolk-sugar mixture (called a "bombe" mixture) until it is just slightly warmer than room temperature. To test, hold your hand on the bottom of the mixer bowl; ideally, it should feel neither hot nor cold.7. Turn down the mixer speed to medium and add the butter cubes, a small handful at a time. Wait until each batch is absorbed before adding more. Beat for about 10 more minutes, or until smooth and fluffy. Beat in vanilla until fully incorporated.8. Frost immediately, or freeze in an airtight container. Buttercream can be kept in the freezer for up to several months. Bring to room temperature before using.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: About 2 1/2 cups

Soft Ball Stage
To test your syrup to see if it has reached the soft ball stage, use a spoon to put a small amount of the hot syrup into some ice water, then pinch the syrup between your thumb and forefinger.

Early in the process, the sugar will dissolve in the water, so continue boiling. Next, it will form a thread between your two fingers, so wait and test again. Eventually, it will become thick enough to roll into a soft ball with the consistency of chewed gum. If the sugar hardens completely when you stick it in the water, it has reached the hard crack stage and is over cooked. Add a few tablespoons of water to the hot syrup and start testing again.

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