Explain the whole weirdness of buttercream to me please

kuan

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My standard buttercream is a boiled sugar buttercream.  Karo, sugar, and butter.  Basically you make a meringue and you add softened butter.  It works fantastic, makes the lightest buttercream, stable even in the hottest and most humid of midwest days.

But, I have no idea why it works or how it works.  When I add the butter it causes the whole mixture to break, then as I add more butter it pulls back together and becomes this great melt in your mouth stuff.  But why?  Is it emulsification?  Homogenization?  What causes it to happen? 
 
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Buttercream is an emulsion, and a difficult one in the case Italian meringue buttercream because of the water content on the actual syrup being unwilling to co-mingle with the fat in the butter. That justifies heating the sugar syrup to the degree that you do, to reduce the water content. You also soften the butter to allow what water is left to emulsify into the fat.

French buttercream is a bit easier due to the lecithin in the egg yolks acting as the emulsifier for the fat.

you are essentially whipping the butter, but instead of adding air, you are adding meringue...

That is as far as my understanding goes.
 

kuan

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Emulsion doesn't really explain it because there is water in butter, and if you whip butter it does not break.  It just become whipped butter.  

Also, the butter stage is very quick.  You add all the butter in about 1 minute so it's not like a standard emulsion where you add it a little at a time.  The butter doesn't whip after you add it.
 
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True, you can whip butter without breaking it, however; have you ever creamed butter and sugar for too long? it curdles. 

Meringue buttercream is a suspension of fat in a meringue, like an emulsion. the mixture appears to curdle when the lumps of fat are still large, but as you mix the two components come together to make a smooth butter cream. I'm not sure if the meringue coats the fat, or the fat coats the meringue...

This feel like a science project in the making, 
 

kuan

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This is one of the things where I just do it and it works and it's the old way and I have no idea why it works so I just keep doing it the old way.  :D :D   

Just like a stubborn old guy.
 

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