5 Types of Buttercream Frosting to Top Your Cake

Need to frost a cake? Discover five types of buttercream frosting to find the best fit for your cake.

Buttercream frosting is not only delicious, but it’s also incredibly versatile. For many bakers, it’s their go-to frosting for topping cakes (of course!), along with cookies, brownies and even filling macarons. But not all types of buttercream are created equal.

While all of these homemade frostings start with butter and sugar, the method and texture vary between the main types of buttercream: American, French, Swiss, Italian and German. All are delicious, but you’ll find that certain varieties suit your sweets better than others.

Types of Buttercream Frosting

Types Of Buttercream Frosting Graphic 01Taste of Home, Getty Images

1. American Buttercream

American Buttercream FrostingTMB Studio

Other names: Buttercream, decorator’s buttercream, simple buttercream, decorator frosting

Level: Easy

American buttercream frosting is the easiest and most common buttercream frosting—and the quickest to make. It’s often used in a piping bag for decorating cakes. Plus, it’s the sturdiest option for writing on a cake.

This frosting is known for its sweet, rich flavor, but it can easily be changed by adding vanilla, almond, lemon or even mint extract. It’s made with three basic ingredients: butter, confectioners’ sugar and milk. The butter is beaten until creamy and smooth, the sugar is added to thicken it and the milk plays a role in its smooth texture. Lastly, flavorings are whipped in.

Editor’s Tip: Ever wonder why buttercream frosting becomes crusty? It’s because the milk tends to evaporate. A common fix for this issue is to add a tiny bit of light corn syrup into the mix.

How to store: American buttercream frosting can be left out at room temperature on a cake, or in a storage container, for up to three days.

Have a lot of leftover frosting? It can also be stored in the fridge or the freezer in an airtight container. Keep it in the fridge for one week or in the freezer for three months. Because this frosting is made up of just butter, sugar and milk, it will not go bad very fast.

2. French Buttercream

French ButtercreamTMB Studio

Other names: Pâté à bombe buttercream

Level: Difficult

French buttercream is a light, smooth and creamy frosting. It consists of sugar syrup, egg yolks and butter, making it custard-like. It is made using the pâté à bombe method. (Sounds fancy, but if Julia Child could master it, you can too!)

The method calls for the egg yolks and sugar syrup to be whisked together. Then butter and extracts are added to create the buttercream. It’s a great topping or filling for a cake, or it can be used to pipe simple decorations or cupcakes.

How to store: Due to the higher fat content, French buttercream can lose its shape in a warm environment quickly, so it’s best to use it immediately. Treats topped with French buttercream should be put in the fridge if they will be sitting out longer than one hour. Leftover French buttercream can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for one week.

3. German Buttercream

German ButtercreamTMB Studio

Other names: Crème mousseline and Bavarian buttercream

Level: Moderate

German buttercream is known for its creamy texture without being too sweet. It’s made with pastry cream, butter, confectioners’ sugar and flavorings. The pastry cream is a cooked mixture of milk or cream, cornstarch and egg yolk. The pastry cream and butter are beaten together then confectioners’ sugar is added.

Because it’s made with pastry cream, German buttercream can melt quickly and is not recommended for decorating. Its best use is as a filling. Why not try it between the layers of your favorite vintage cake?

How to store: With egg yolks in the recipe, German buttercream should be kept in the fridge at all times, whether applied to a cake or in an airtight container. The frosting will keep in the fridge in a storage container for up to one week, or it can be stored frozen for three months.

4. Swiss Meringue Buttercream

swiss meringue buttercreamTMB Studio

Level: Moderate

Swiss meringue buttercream is known for its silky, light and creamy texture without being too sweet. This texture comes from the meringue base, which is created by whisking egg whites and sugar in a bowl on top of a pot of boiling water until it reaches 160ºF. It’s then removed from the heat and whipped to stiff peaks until the mixture has cooled.

Butter and flavorings are beaten into the meringue to create the buttercream. Because of its stiff meringue base, the frosting holds up well, will not crust and is great for piping cupcakes and decorating cakes.

How to store: Swiss meringue buttercream can be left out at room temperature for one to two days before it starts to lose shape. Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container and can be kept in the fridge for one week or in the freezer for six months.

5. Italian Meringue Buttercream

italian meringue buttercreamTMB Studio

Level: Difficult

Italian meringue buttercream is identical in consistency and texture to Swiss meringue buttercream. However, the meringue is created using sugar syrup. The sugar syrup is mixed into whipped egg whites. Butter and flavorings are added at the last stage to create the buttercream.

The frosting holds well, will not crust and is also recommended for piping and decorating.

How to store: Italian meringue buttercream can be left out for one to two days at room temperature, whether on a cake or in an airtight container. Any leftovers should be kept in a container. It can be stored in the fridge for one week or in the freezer for six months.

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Molly Allen
Molly Allen is a previous bakery owner and former event planner. Now, a freelance writer and editor focused on food and beverage, lifestyle, travel and parties, she brings her years of experience and industry knowledge to readers across a variety of platforms.