French Buttercream: What’s the Difference?

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Ah, buttercream. Our cupcakes wouldn’t be the same without you, birthday cakes would be a fleeting memory, and licking the beaters wouldn’t be nearly as enticing. But all this we know. But did you know that all buttercreams aren’t created equal?

Buttercream is a beloved frosting made with a combination of fat and sugar. At my house, we’re all about the butter + confectioners sugar variety. But you’ve probably noticed that some buttercream is just downright better than others.

In actuality, there are many reasons one frosting may taste better than another, but French buttercream is certainly lighter and fluffier than what’s typically referred to as American buttercream (what we whip up at my house). French buttercream is made by heating a sugar syrup until it reaches soft ball stage and then whipping it into beaten egg yolks and soft butter. This is the shiny, rich frosting of your dreams.

Now it’s worth giving a shout-out to Italian buttercream because it’s not too shabby either. It’s similar to French buttercream in that you use a boiling syrup of sugar and water and cook it to soft-ball stage but then you pour it over beaten egg whites to create a meringue. As the meringue cools, you slowly add butter and mix like your life depended on it.

The best (and only) way to determine which buttercream is your favorite and which is most appropriate for your particular baking projects? You’ve got to try them all. No, not all in one sitting. But experiment with different frostings and textures with your desserts and find your go-to frosting, your never-let-me-down buttercream. Perhaps we can help.

Try One of Each:
American Buttercream Recipe – Pastry Chef Online
French Buttercream Recipe & Tutorial – Joe Pastry
Italian Buttercream Recipe – Martha Stewart