Sweet ReMarks: Buttercream vs. Frosting

by | Desserts, In the Kitchen, Recipes

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LKNConnect welcomes Chef Keli Marks, pastry chef and owner of Bakery 28 in Cornelius, NC. Sweet ReMarks is her new column on baking which is published twice per month. — EH Stafford, Managing Editor


Is there really a difference between buttercream and frosting?

American buttercream is probably the one that is most familiar and widely used in home kitchens. It consists of unsalted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and a splash of milk. It is thick, super sweet and nearly addictive.

A variation of American buttercream is called frosting. Frosting is the same recipe except shortening is used instead of butter. Frosting is much cheaper due to the price of shortening vs. butter. It also has a longer shelf life than buttercream. It is pure white, which can be a plus for weddings, but the drawback is that shortening is usually partially hydrogenated.

Shortening can be labeled as “no trans-fat” if it’s <0.5 grams per serving, but fully hydrogenated fats are healthier than partially hydrogenated fats. So be sure to read labels.


Here is a list of the many buttercreams you can make PLUS my recipe for the Best Tasting American Buttercream ever!



Whip shortening with powdered sugar. Add flavoring to taste and optional tablespoon(s) of milk. Very sweet — typically used at home, on grocery store cakes and in some bakeries.


American Buttercream


American Buttercream

Paddle unsalted butter with sifted powdered sugar, add flavoring and a few tablespoons of milk. Very sweet and widely used in cupcake shops.


Swiss Buttercream




Swiss Buttercream

Place egg whites and sugar over a double boiler until the sugar is dissolved, then whip until meringue peaks and add softened butter. Whip until smooth. Super creamy, balanced sweetness.








Italian Buttercream



Italian Buttercream

The most stable of all butter creams. Cook sugar syrup to 121C, slowly pour in whipped whites. Whip until it reaches a stiff peak. Add the softened butter. Whip until smooth. Super creamy and balanced sweetness.



German Buttercream

This one is best used as a filling since it’s consistency is more like a mousseline and is very creamy. Take fresh-made pastry cream and slowly whip in softened unsalted butter. Flavor as desired. In my German buttercream recipe, I add ¼ of Italian buttercream to lighten up consistency and add stability.


French Buttercream

No egg whites in this recipe! Cook sugar syrup to 121C, slowly pour into the whipped egg yolks. Whip until pale yellow and thick. Add softened butter. Whip until smooth. Not used very often but has a rich flavor and buttery color.


Russian Buttercream

Whip unsalted butter until light and creamy. Slowly pour in sweetened condensed milk. Add optional vanilla extract or other flavoring. This variation is starting to gain some traction in the pastry world. Give it a try — it’s super easy and delicious.



Chef Keli’s Recipe for White Chocolate American Buttercream



2 cups             Unsalted butter, room temperature

2 ½ cups         Powdered sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon      Pure vanilla extract

4 oz.                White chocolate, melted



In a mixer fitted with whisk attachment (I use a KitchenAid), whip butter for 5 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Whip until it comes together. Pour in the melted white chocolate and whip for 30 seconds.


Perfect for cupcakes or icing a cake with fresh berries!



Pastry Chef Keli Marks

Pastry Chef Keli Marks is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. She received a full year education at the French Pastry School in Chicago, IL in exchange for being the very first assistant to Jacquy Pfeiffer & Sebastien Canonne, MOF when they opened the school in 1996.

Keli has been on the Food Network on three separate occasions: Sugar Rush, Romance Novel Cake Challenge and The Holiday Baking Championships. In addition, she was on the Chicago chapter’s board for Les Dames d’Escoffier from 2009 – 2011 and was a guest pastry chef at the famed James Beard House in NYC in 2013.

As the pastry chef owner of Bakery 28, she incorporates local ingredients from farmers within the Carolinas and promises to only use natural ingredients.



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