Your cupcakes are on the cooling rack and look perfect. Or the feather-light layers of angel cake are just waiting for their final celestial touch. But that bowl of buttercream - well, it looks far from heavenly. A mess, really. Will you scrap it and start anew, risking the same outcome? Or attempt to fix it? You, dear cake maker, are going to fix it! And we'll help you do it.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Depending on the cause of the curdling, these are your tools:
- A large bowl of ice water - or your fridge or freezer
- A double boiler or a warm, damp towel
- Milk, cream or double-cream
- Icing sugar and maybe a some salt or lemon juice
The butter was too warm and the icing looks muddy. If you've been baking in a small kitchen, this is a common problem. You can avoid it in the future by timing when best to remove the butter from your fridge so it's soft enough to use but not too soft. If your icing is in a metal or glass bowl, simply immerse the bowl into a bowl of iced water and use a wooden spoon to mix for 10 minutes or more.
For ceramic, plastic, metal or glass bowls, you may place the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes or into the freezer for about 5 minutes. Mix by hand with a wooden spoon for several minutes or return to the electric mixer and let it go for 10 minutes using the paddle device.
The buttercream looks like rocky-road ice-cream - and that's what you intended. It's likely the butter wasn't soft enough and the fix is pretty much the opposite of the prior section, the icing sugar was clumpy or, shock horror, both.
Let's review the proper technique for mixing the ingredients. As in most cooking, ingredients should be prepped and then incorporated step by step.
For buttercream the butter should be beaten until fluffy and then the sifted icing sugar, added in parts - a third at a time. Then whatever flavourings you use may be added.
If the butter was just a bit too cold when you started mixing, try wrapping a warm, damp towel around the base of the bowl, then continue to beat. You may also use the double-boiler method with the water in the lower pot below a simmer - anywhere from 60 to 80 degrees C will do the trick. Alternatively, you may remove about a quarter of your mix to the double-boiler, then replace it to the mix when it has softened a bit.
Whichever method you select, just add enough warmth to achieve the desired consistency.
If your buttercream still doesn't have the desired texture, try these easy fixes: Add more sifted icing sugar if the mixture is too thin - start with a tablespoon at a time. Add a teaspoonful of lemon juice or a pinch of fine salt if you find the taste too sweet.
Add room temperature milk, cream or double cream, a tablespoon at a time to make the mix smoother.
The cause, the fix
Tips and warnings
- If using liquid flavourings to the buttercream - like fruit purée, juice or melted chocolate - you'll need to add extra icing sugar.
- Be sure to use unsalted butter and cut into small cubes.
- Try to maintain even temperatures for all ingredients.
- Don't apply icing to your cakes if they're still warm.
- You may plastic wrap and refrigerate the icing for up to a couple of days, then whip it up again when it's warmed to room temperature.
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