French buttercream is a creamy, light icing used to decorate cakes, cupcakes, and other similar desserts.
It is rich and creamy due to egg yolks and sweet, unsalted butter which gives this buttercream a beautiful ivory color.
French buttercream is easy to adapt and flavor, which makes it an excellent option for your desserts, especially if you're not into cloyingly sweet frostings.
What is French Buttercream?
French buttercream is a meringue-based icing that is often made with whole eggs or just yolks, sweetened with liquid sugar and bulked up with softened unsalted butter.
The end result is a very smooth, airy buttercream with an excellent mouthfeel. This French buttercream requires no shortening or margarine, both of which tend to coat the mouth in oil when used in frosting recipes. Its beautiful hue makes it a very popular icing for wedding cakes, though its butter content makes it temperamental in warmer environments.
How to Make French Buttercream
My version of French buttercream is made with egg yolks. These are whipped until they are very fluffy and almost pale yellow in appearance.
While they're whipping, a simple sugar mixture (water and sugar) is boiled to 240°F (115°C). Once the sugar reaches temperature, it is slowly drizzled into the whipping egg yolks to heat them and add even more volume. This also cooks the eggs, making them safe to consume. The egg and sugar mixture is whipped until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch.
Finally, softened butter is gradually added to the sugar-egg mixture and whipped, leaving you with a luxurious and airy frosting.
How to Flavor French Buttercream
French buttercream can be flavored in a number of ways. I keep this recipe simple and flavor it with just vanilla extract, but feel free to experiment and swap out the vanilla extract for any of the options below:
- Lemon curd
- Fruit jams
- Nut butters
- Various liqueurs or extracts like coffee liqueur or amaretto
How to Color French Buttercream
Gel food colors are the best ways to tint your French buttercream. Avoid using the little vials of liquid food coloring you find in the grocery store; they're unpredictable in how they'll change the consistency of your buttercream.
Instead, add 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of the gel coloring to the finished buttercream and stir to combine by hand. This way, you don't risk breaking the buttercream with excessive whipping.
How to Store French Buttercream
French buttercream stores beautifully at room temperature for up to 2 hours, after that just transfer it to a covered container and store it in your fridge for up to 7 days.
You can also freeze French buttercream. The buttercream will require warming before it can regain its fluffy consistency.
The easiest way to warm and re-fluff the frosting is to break the refrigerated buttercream into chunks and add the chunks into a metal mixing bowl. I hit the outside of my mixing bowl with my butane torch while whipping the buttercream inside of the bowl with a whisk attachment.
If you don't have a butane torch, set up a double boiler and set the mixing bowl on top of a pot of simmering water, and let it heat for 4-5 minutes. You can then pop it onto your stand mixer to whip until fluffy. Remember, you don't want to melt the butter here; you just want to loosen it a bit before attempting to whip it.
If you’re re-fluffing frozen buttercream, you’ll first need to thaw it completely in the fridge before proceeding as instructed above.
Tips for Troubleshooting French Buttercream
Learning to bake and experiment with recipes always comes with trial and error. I’ve anticipated a few issues you may have if this is your first time making the recipe. Hopefully these suggestions will help you solve any unexpected frosting crisis.
- Broken buttercream: Broken buttercream looks like curdled milk. To repair it, use the same gentle warming method described above (warming over a double boiler). This will melt those clumps of milk fat and allow you to blend the mixture together again.
- Butter that is too cold when added to the egg mixture can also cause the buttercream to break. Make sure your butter is soft, but not liquid. It should give way to pressure from your thumb as you're adding it to the egg and sugar mixture.
- Grainy texture: This is most likely the result of your sugar not being adequately melted. When you're stirring together the water and sugar, make sure to brush down any sugar from the sides of your pot. Any rogue sugar crystals that do not submerged in the water will cause crystallization, which will make your buttercream grainy.
- If your butter melts as it is being added to the egg mixture that means the eggs are still too hot. Stop adding the butter and whip the egg yolks for 3-4 minutes longer to cool them down.
- If your finished buttercream is too soft you can pop the buttercream in the fridge to allow the butter solids to firm up a bit. Be sure to give it a good whipping before using.
- Taste: easily adaptable to any flavor you wish to give it. As vanilla buttercream, it is rich and tastes like custard.
- Texture: airy, silky, and has a luxurious mouthfeel
- Piping: great for spreading and piping simple borders. It can be used for piping roses, but they will require plenty of refrigeration after piping to ensure they don't melt or get too soft.
- Works best on: layer cakes, sheet cakes, cupcakes or as a dessert filing
Drawbacks to French Buttercream
- Not stable for hot, outdoor environments
- As I mentioned above, once refrigerated or frozen, the buttercream needs to be brought to room temperature and re-whipped before using.
This recipe will make enough French Buttercream to frost a 9-inch, 2-layer cake with enough leftover for a simple border. Or, a 9x13-inch, single-layer sheet cake.
1 1/4 cups (250g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
6 large (95g) egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (255g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed into 1-tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Candy thermometer
- Stand mixer
Combine sugar and water:
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Once the mixture resembles melted sand, place it on the stovetop over medium heat. Use a wet pastry brush to brush down any stray sugar crystals around the rim and sides of the pot.
Cook the sugar:
Without stirring, bring the sugar mixture to a gentle boil and use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. The sugar needs to reach 240°F (115°C). This should take no longer than 6 minutes.
Whip the egg yolks:
While the sugar comes to temperature, get to work on the egg yolks.
Add egg yolks and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the yolks over medium speed until they are a very pale yellow color and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Decrease the mixer’s speed to low and slowly stream sugar mixture into whipped egg yolks:
Once the sugar has reached 240°F (115°C), add it to the whipping egg yolks. Pour the sugar in a thin, steady stream into the bowl taking care to avoid the sides of the bowl and the whisk.
Continue to whisk the egg yolks and sugar mixture:
After all of the sugar has been added, increase the mixer’s speed to high and continue whipping the egg and sugar mixture until the outside of the bowl is just at room temperature.
An excellent way to test this is to place the underside of your forearm against the bottom of the bowl. If it's no longer warm, you can begin adding the butter.
Add the butter:
Decrease the mixer's speed to medium-low, then begin adding the softened butter, a tablespoon at a time. I like to pinch the pats of butter before adding it to the bowl; this helps them blend into the egg mixture better.
Allow each portion of butter to fully incorporate into the egg-sugar mixture before adding the next piece.
The buttercream will go from very voluminous to deflated midway through adding butter. The volume will be restored once all of the butter has been added. This step should take no longer than 6 minutes.
Add the vanilla extract:
After the butter has been added, scrape down the bowl and add the vanilla extract. Turn the mixer back up to medium-high speed and whip the buttercream for 3 additional minutes.
The buttercream should be an ivory color and will appear airy and fluffy.
Store the buttercream:
Use the buttercream as desired immediately or store for 3 to 4 days in a covered container in the refrigerator.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 15g||19%|
|Saturated Fat 9g||43%|
|Total Carbohydrate 16g||6%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 16g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|