Butter cream is a wonderful goo full of fats and sugars used as frosting, icing and garnish. Many different goos are called butter cream : There are (at least) two kinds of American butter cream (both of which are simple, cheap and not so yummy) and three types of French butter cream (all of which are a lot of work and really yummy). All butter creams may be flavored with, vanilla, citrus zest, liqueur, mocha, praline, chocolate or pretty much anything else that doesn't contain much water. I have no direct experience with the two types of French butter cream with custard, but they sound good and I'll paraphrase from Larousse Gastronomique.
The industrial American butter cream recipe combines something like two parts powdered sugar to one part Crisco. It lasts forever, keeps its shape well, and pleases most palettes under age six. It's what you'll find on a cake you get real cheap at a drug store.
The home American butter cream recipe combines powdered sugar with butter and cream, and is pretty much as described in butter cream icing.
French butter cream with syrup, is just about the best thing you can put in your mouth that isn't part of someone else. It is made thus :
  1. Boil two cups of sugar in one and a half cups of water, until all the water is gone, or about 220o F or 110o C.
  2. Beat some egg yolks (two to twelve, depending on how rich your taste) in a mixer, at a high speed.
  3. While the mixer continues to mix, slowly add the hot sugar syrup.
  4. Turn the mixer speed down a bit, and continue mixing until it has cooled. You can accelerate the process by slipping an ice bath under the mixing bowl.
  5. When you added the syrup to the yolks, you beat quickly and added slowly to prevent any lumps of cooked yolk from forming. If you have lumps, you might want to insert a straining step here.
  6. Slowly add a pound of room temperature butter to the cooled mixture.
The only trick here is that sometimes the butter cream "breaks", meaning instead of being smooth and firm like butter it is lumpy and runny like cream of wheat. Breaking can be caused by excess water or the wrong phase of the moon. Sometimes adding a little flour and beating some more will un-break it, sometimes it won't. Broken butter cream is still quite yummy, just not as attractive or spreadable.
French butter cream with custard version I
  1. Make custard cream a.k.a. pastry cream as for filling eclairs.
  2. Beat in a pound of butter for every three cups of custard.

French butter cream with custard version II
  1. Combine 12 egg yolks, 1 pound fine sugar, one pint cream and flavoring.
  2. Mix until smooth.
  3. Whip over gentle heat until it becomes frothy, light and whitish.
  4. Remove from heat and continue to whip until cool.
  5. Cream a pound of butter separately, and mix well into the other mixture.

sources : personal experience my ex-wife Larousse Gastronomique

My usual frosting, the method I learned from my mother, is the standard American buttercream made with butter, icing sugar, and milk or cream (or, for that matter, orange juice or some other suitable flavoured liquid). Recently, though, I've been doing a fair bit of exploratory baking, trying out new and interesting recipes and techniques, and I decided it was time to try a real buttercream frosting.

Avjewe's writeup tells you how to make buttercream icing with egg yolks, but you can also use egg whites. I prefer this, because having used half a dozen yolks in the cake layers I'm usually looking for a good use for the orphaned whites.

Here's a recipe:

Ingredients:
4 egg whites
1 c. (190g) white sugar
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
1 lb (450g) very soft unsalted butter
Flavourings and/or colouring as desired

Utensils:
A double boiler, or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water
A hand whisk (a fork probably also works)
A thermometer
A mixer (either stand or handheld), with both whisks and beaters
A large bowl (if you're not using a stand mixer)

Whisk the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar together in the top of the double boiler. Heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture reaches 160°F (71°C). The sugar stops the egg from cooking, and heating pasteurizes it. Heating them both together also prevents the spectacular foam overflow that can result from pouring sugar syrup into beaten egg whites (as I discovered a couple Christmases ago while making nougat - but that's another story).

Once the egg white/sugar mixture has been heated, take it off the flame and pour it into the large bowl (unless, of course, it's already in said bowl). Beat with a whisk (preferably attached to an electric mixer) until it forms stiff peaks. If you're truly hard core, use a hand whisk. I don't have the arm muscles for it.

Once the whites are whipped, and the mixture is no longer hot to the touch, switch to ordinary beaters, and start adding the butter. The meringue mixture will fall a bit as the fat gets mixed in, and it may curdle if the butter is too cold. If that happens, keep beating; it will warm up and the icing will smooth out nicely.

At this point, proceed to add any flavours you like and beat them through: a couple teaspoons of vanilla, or perhaps coffee in the form of a tablespoon or two of instant coffee or espresso powder dissolved in the bare minimum of boiling water. Nut flavourings like almond or hazelnut work well too. I'm told fruit purees are good, although I haven't tried (yet). Up to 8 ounces (225g) of melted good chocolate (preferably as dark as possible) is, of course, an excellent option.

Final notes: You'll want to spread this while it's relatively warm; once cooled, it goes quite solid. If you want to keep it chilled to use later, it will need to come back up to room temperature. I'm told this stuff can even be frozen, although I haven't had a reason to try (why freeze frosting for later, when I could be eating cake now?)

Original source joepastry.com,
rewritten by me

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