Frosting gives you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to baked goods. Frosting can turn an ordinary boxed cake into an extraordinary celebration cake. Unless you are serving true foodies, most people will be so impressed with the frosting that they won't pay any attention to the cake--hence, don't waste time on making a fussy cake when you can make this easy frosting!
There are several types of buttercreme frosting but today we will make the simplest: American Buttercreme. It's a little sweet, a little rich, and very easy.
You only need three ingredients: Butter, Cream, and powdered sugar.
You can get creative and mix and match flavors, liquids, and even butter or shortening. We will begin by testing the differences between a butter vs. shortening frosting.
SO, let's begin with:
1 Cup (2 sticks) Butter, softened vs. 1 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 1/2 cup powdered or confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp milk or cream
By-the-way, that big bag of white powder IS sugar. In case you've ever wondered who would ever buy that 20 lb. bag of powdered sugar at Costco, you can stop wondering. I gave some away to friends when I moved and I was so paranoid that I would get arrested for possession with the intent to distribute that it gave me the idea for the name of this blog!
Anyhoo, back to frosting. Start by getting your butter out on the counter to soften. If you live in a cold environment, you may need to use the microwave for only 10 seconds. Any more than that and you'll get a greasy mess. Crisco is already soft and at room temperature so you don't need to do anything with it.
Next, sift your powdered sugar. I sift more than a cup at a time since I usually end up using more. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP--this is the only way to get lumps out, once it is mixed in you get very irritating hard bits. I use a fine sieve over a glass bowl.
If you don't have one-get one, it's totally worth it (about $3.50 at Walmart/ Target) and you can use it for pasta too!
Use a spoon to stir the sugar around and rub it through the sieve to make things go faster.
In the mean time, start beating your butter or shortening. You can use a handheld mixer--no need for the fancy stuff (but how I love thee). Here's a picture of whipped butter:
And here's a picture of the butter flavored Crisco:
The color of the crisco is kinda off-putting.
Once it is well beaten, add powdered sugar by the quarter cup. This helps keep it from flying up in your face and making a mess.
Do not worry if it looks crumbly. This is where you add your cream one tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you want. I've had a lot of luck with using vanilla coffee creamer as my liquid--this gets the most wows. BUT if you are worried about consuming artificial food, you can definitely use regular milk or half-n-half, or whipping cream. You can also use any flavor extract you want to make it extra special. Make sure you mix well!
At this point you can adjust the texture by adding more powdered sugar (see aren't you glad you sifted extra?) to make it a bit thicker or add more milk/cream to make it a but thinner. I like to keep it so that it's a bit on the thicker side but still spreadable. No exact science here.
Here are two different frostings on volunteer cupcakes.
I actually tested a 50% butter + 50% shortening frosting as well. Here are the results:
Taste- Butter tastes richer and has a nicer mouth feel as long as it's at room temperature. It gets oily if it's hot out. The butter Crisco was suprisingly good but it's less frosting taste and more like the middle of hostess cupcakes or oreos.
Texture- Butter was definitely smoother in the mouth but also felt dense so you need a pretty sturdy cake (no angel food cake for this frosting!). Crisco was gritty. The sugar didn't quite dissolve in the shortening which left a greasy feel and gritty bite. BUT, left to mellow overnight, the texture was identical to butter!
Appearance- Believe it or not, the yucky looking fake yellow Crisco whipped up white just like the butter frosting! Crisco was slightly darker but still appeared white, fluffy and creamy looking.
Convenience- Crisco is much better at convenience because you don't have to wait to soften the butter and it can be used in a wide range of temperatures, thus it's a little more fool-proof. You can also whip up the Crisco frosting a few days ahead and store in the refrigerator, take it out and begin frosting right away! You could whip the butter frosting as well but you would have to soften the butter and re-whip before frosting.
So the winner is: BUTTER AND SHORTENING! Just kidding, I hate when there's no clear answer. If you are making a big batch for a party, wedding, or it needs to travel in a hot car, definitely go with at least a 50% butter and 50% shortening mix--it'll be much more stable and easier to deal with. It just seems so wrong that a fake shortening would out perform real butter but it does for commercial reasons but the flavor of butter is definitely much deeper and more satisfying (so you eat less and don't feel sick after) than the shortening.
If you have extra frosting, just freeze and take it out for your next cake!
Enjoy your sugar coma.