In the beginning there was American Buttercream, and it was actually pretty good.
The first time your mother let you use the electric mixer, you dumped in two sticks of butter, a 1-lb. box of powdered sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of milk. Were you ever happier than when you took a butter knife and glopped that stuff on cupcakes? Not often.
So what changed? It seems like all the grownups huddled together and decided that American Buttercream is too sweet. Unsophisticated. Only for children.
We are instructed to decamp for western Europe and buy an entire pound of high-fat butter. Using heat and electricity, we will force this mountain of fat into five egg whites and one cup of granulated sugar. Only then will we be worthy of the metric system.
There's Swiss Meringue Buttercream where you beat the egg whites and sugar over a double boiler before adding in the butter. Or Italian Meringue Buttercream, with hot sugar syrup poured into beaten egg whites. (But her stripper name is Mousseline.) You can get crazy with German Buttercream, which uses the whole egg. Or French Buttercream, with just yolks. Mon Dieu! For all I know, there are Serbian and Croatian Buttercreams, too. (Never serve them together.)
Shenanigans! I call shenanigans!
You know who thinks these frostings are awesome? Professional cake decorators. The people who gave us fondant.
Eurotrash frosting doesn't taste better - it's like eating a stick of butter! It does smooth out perfectly when you slide a warm spatula over it, giving you sharp corners and a glossy finish.
Sure, I'll put up with a lot for a pretty cake. But you have to refrigerate the stuff, since it's all butter and egg. Plus, you can't serve it cold, because it'll have the texture of cold butter (of course). And don't let it sit out too long, or the water will start to sweat out. So, if you want to eat a slice of cake, you need to plan ahead by at least 90 minutes. And don't dilly dally!
Did I mention that you have to let the frosting come to room temperature and re-beat the stuff if you make it in advance?
Also, holy crap that's a lot of butter to stick in your face at once!
How is this better than American Buttercream? I'm not seeing it.
I do see that the traditional American Buttercream might be a little too sweet and thick for an adult palate. So, here's my version, which lightens up with egg whites and sugar syrup. I'm calling it Baltimore Buttercream, after my no-BS hometown.
2 egg whites* (60g)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (100g)
1/3 cup corn syrup** (100g)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (165g)
2 cups (give or take) powdered sugar (260g)
pinch of table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
**Don't get snotty with me about the corn syrup. It's NOT the High Fructose Corn Syrup we're all supposed to blame for our giant rear ends. It just obviates the need to stand there with a candy thermometer waiting for the boiling sugar to reach the hard ball stage so it doesn't re-crystallize. Perspective, people!
Using the mixer's whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until frothy. Add two tablespoons of sugar and kick the mixer up to high, beating until soft peaks form.
Meanwhile, stir the remaining sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil for a full minute, then remove from the stove. In several additions, pour the hot sugar syrup into the meringue, beating after every addition. (I don't know why the hot corn syrup smells like rubber. Frankly, I don't want to know.)
When all the syrup is in, turn the mixer to medium-high and beat for several minutes until the bowl cools to room temperature. One tablespoon at a time, add the soft butter to the meringue, beating well after each addition. Once you've added the butter, take a little taste. If this suits your palette, then you should stick with the fancier buttercreams. If it makes you a little sick, you're not alone.
Beat in the vanilla, then the powdered sugar. The texture should be loose, but stiff enough to form soft peaks. If it's too loose, add a little more sugar. Too thick, add a teaspoon of milk.
This makes more than enough frosting for a two- or three-layer cake, or 24 cupcakes.