Sunday, 2 November 2008

Clare's simple buttercream icing

Buttercream icing is simple to make and very forgiving. It works on fairy cakes that have risen or those that haven’t and you don’t need a professional’s hand to produce a lovely buttercream swirl. A bit of irregularity just adds to the charm.

Now I’m criticised for writing too much. Of course I think it’s all very interesting and useful stuff, but for those of you who want to cut to the chase, here’s a speedy version of the recipe…

Speedy version...

- Beat 50g of unsalted soft butter (with an electric beater).
- Slowly add 100g of icing sugar (and a little flavouring and colour if you wish) and keep beating for 5 minutes. Add a little hot water if it’s too stiff.
- Apply the icing with a palette knife, or pipe it on with a large nozzle.
- Go for swooshes and peaks, not a smooth finish.
- Ice then decorate a few at a time.
- Be very proud.

The calm and far more interesting version…


Before you start, here are some top tips for success…

- Use best quality ingredients: unsalted butter, not margarine
- Take the butter out of the fridge early, it should be properly soft. If you forget you can soften it (carefully) in the microwave – low temperature and 10-20 seconds at a time, to avoid a mass of molten butter
- Weigh out your ingredients and sift the icing sugar
- Decide your technique for applying the icing first – palette knife or piping bag. Read on for guidance…


For 12 fairy cakes:

110 g unsalted butter - soft
220 g sifted icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
A little hot water if needed – up to 2 tablespoons
A few drops of food colour, optional (paste is best)
Sprinkles, sparkles or sweets to finish, optional


Large mixing bowl
Hand mixer
Palette knife and a glass of hot water or…
Piping bag and nozzle (approx 1cm star or round) and an empty pint glass or jug, all will be revealed…

To make…

Put the soft butter into the mixing bowl and beat it thoroughly until light and fluffy. Add the icing sugar (gradually, to avoid a snowstorm in the kitchen) and any colouring and/or flavouring you want to use. Mix very thoroughly; the longer you mix for, the softer the icing will be – at least 5 minutes.

The finished icing should be fluffy and light, and should hold its own in the bowl. If it’s too stiff add hot water, a teaspoon at a time and mix again.

And now to apply the icing…

You have two choices – a swirl with a wet palette knife, or a peaked affair with a piping bag and nozzle. Both are simple and both benefit from flamboyant application.

It’s your choice. Me? I like the flourish of piping and it really is very easy to get a professional finish…

Which ever method you choose ice with confidence and you’ll be AMAZED by the results. Even if you don’t feel confident, try not to show it.

Once you’ve done a few cakes you’ll realise that the first one, which you thought looked so awful, doesn’t, in the company of friends…

You’ll also discover that your technique will improve very quickly and soon you’ll be joyfully icing your cakes with a flourish.

Oh and finally, ice and decorate a few cakes at a time so your decorations stick while the icing is still soft rather than bouncing to the floor.

Piping method

- Fit the nozzle into the piping bag. Put the bag into a glass or jug, the right size to let you pull the edges of the bag over the rim of the vessel – so creating an opening into which to drop your icing.
- Hold the bag in place, and with the spatula, drop buttercream into the bag. Don’t over fill it or you’ll have icing squeezing out of both ends – not very domestic goddess. 3 generous dollops at a time is probably enough.
- Remove the bag. Use one hand to gather the bag at the top and gently squeeze the icing down towards the nozzle. Guide the nozzle with your other hand.
- The pressure you apply when squeezing will determine how fast the icing comes out – try to aim for a steady even flow.
- Gently start piping around the outside of the cake and spiral in to the middle then pull the bag up and away to create a nice swish on top. Oh and stop squeezing…
- Hooray! You’ve piped your first cake. Stand back and admire then do a couple more.

Remember you’re not after perfection!

Palette knife application…

- Submerge your palette knife blade in hot water. While you ice, dip the knife and wipe it dry frequently – it stops the icing sticking to the knife.
- Scoop up a dollop of icing onto your palette knife. Pick up the cake in one hand and put the icing on the centre of the cake. Elbows out, turn the cake one way and the knife the other, to spread the icing to the edges of the cake. Then swap directions and push some of the icing back to form a little flourish in the middle. Remember you aren’t after a smooth finish – it should have movement and swish.
- If it doesn’t work the first time, just dip your palette knife into the water and swirl again. Be gentle, you don’t want to drag crumbs into the icing.

Some other thoughts…


Go for a liberal sprinkling of sweets, sprinkles or sparkles or a sophisticated careful positioning of a single loveliness on top - perhaps a gold chocolate dragee, a chocolate-dipped cherry or a crystallised violet.

Flavour variations

- Chocolate is always popular, but I don’t hold with the ‘add a teaspoon of cocoa powder to make it brown’ school of thought – that is NOT chocolate buttercream. For true chocolate flavour, omit the water from the basic recipe; melt 50g of dark chocolate over simmering water, let it cool a bit and then add it to your icing.
- For coffee icing, mix 2 tablespoons of instant espresso or coffee powder in 2 tablespoons of hot water and add it instead of the water and vanilla.
- Or swap the liquids for other lovely flavourings like cordials (ginger or elderflower maybe), or citrus juice.


No comments: