Crusting Buttercream: How to Make Buttercream That Sets Firm

“We must increase our crust!”

When you think of the word “crust,” you probably think more of pie than cake. But crust can also be an important term to assign to cakes–particularly pertaining to buttercream. A crusting buttercream is one that will set up firmly enough so that it can be touched lightly without making a mark. Although still relatively delicate, this crust can be a very helpful asset to decorators, making a nicely primed surface for all sorts of cake decoration, from decorative piping to fondant or gum paste adornment.

Wooden spoon with cartoon smiley face

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How does it work? In a nutshell, the buttercream will “crust” as a result of the sugar and liquid solidifying.

What is the purpose of crusting buttercream? To give a couple of examples:

Cake with cursted buttercream piping

Photo via Craftsy member Ditut

As a primer.

Crusting buttercream can be an asset as a “base” atop which additional adornment will be applied. Once it sets, you will have a firmer working surface, which will make your life a lot easier when applying delicate piping such as in the photo above. This firmer surface will also act as a wonderful backdrop for adhering fondant or gum paste decorations.

Pink Buttercream Cake with Piped Rosettes

Photo via Craftsy member Jimmy Camacho

As armor.

Cakes that are covered all over with a piped design as its primary icing, such as the one above, can benefit from using a crusting buttercream. The icing is piped while the buttercream is still quite soft, but as it “sets” it will become firm, which makes the delicate shapes a bit sturdier. Additionally, cakes that are decorated or iced with a crusting buttercream are better able to withstand the elements, making it a decorator’s friend when it comes to hot weather cake decoration.

Are there any downsides to crusting buttercream? Here are some considerations that may be of interest:

  • Many crusting buttercream recipes rely heavily on solid vegetable shortening. Some include all vegetable shortening (no butter), some include part butter and part vegetable shortening. The solid nature of shortening and the fact that it doesn’t melt as quickly makes it a good choice, texture-wise; however, many agree that the flavor benefits from the addition of at least some butter.
  • Because confectioners’ sugar is vital to getting the texture right, crusting buttercreams tend to be very sweet.
  • This type of buttercream does, as the name implies, “crust” and become firm, so making changes or wiping away part of the icing and having a re-do can be difficult.

Now that you’re educated on the ways of the crusting buttercream, let’s discuss how to make it for your next cake! Before offering the recipe, here are some notes and suggestions:

  • Be sure you have your cake(s) baked, cooled, leveled and ready. Although a crusting buttercream won’t set up instantly, it is best to be used to ice a cake fairly soon after whipping up a batch.
  • If you are not able to ice your cake directly after making the icing, it’s OK. Although it is best the same day made, the icing can be stored overnight at cool room temperature in an airtight container, or refrigerated for several days in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before using to ice a cake.
  • Be sure that you have enough time allotted to allow the buttercream to set before adding other decoration or icings.
  • If you want a pure white crusting buttercream, strive to use butter without colorings added (read the label to see if it has any added) or consider using all shortening instead of part butter. Also, use clear vanilla extract instead of the regular brown-tinted extract, which will add a slight beige tint to the buttercream.
  • If you’d like to impart a different flavor, you can use any number of different extracts instead of vanilla, but be aware that if they have a tint, it may impart a color to the buttercream.
  • Adding coloring to the buttercream is fine, but keep in mind that you may want to reduce the amount of liquid you add to the mixture.
  • When it comes to the milk in the recipe, you can also substitute water, lower-fat milk or even cream. Just be sure to add the liquid a little at a time to see the quantity that will give you a consistency that works for you. Keep in mind that the amount of liquid you add may vary depending on the season, as weather conditions (humidity and heat) can affect the texture.

Crusting buttercream icing

buttercream icing ingredients

This recipe is adapted from what is often called the “Viva” method–named after a brand of paper towels, which, owing to their flat (non-quilted or textured) surface, works extremely well for flattening the surface of your crusting buttercream.

Ingredients

  • 1 bag (2 pounds) sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 ½ cups solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract
  • ⅛ to ½ cup whole milk (to desired consistency)

Step 1:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, shortening and vanilla extract until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes on medium speed. Stop the mixer.

Step 2:

Add about ¼ of the confectioners’ sugar. You need to add this gradually, or you might have a sugary snowstorm in your kitchen when you start to mix.

Mix on low speed until incorporated. Pause to scrape the sides of the bowl down with a rubber spatula and add another ¼ of the confectioners’ sugar. Continue mixing and pausing down to scrape the sides of the bowl and add more confectioners’ sugar until you’ve added it all. This mixture will likely be quite thick.

Step 3:

Add ⅛ cup of the milk and mix at low speed until incorporated. At this point, it’s up to you whether or not you’d like to add more–it’s a matter of your preference for the consistency.

Step 4:

Ice your cake. Try to apply the icing as smoothly as possible.

Step 5:

Let set for 20-30 minutes to form a “crust”.

Step 6:

If you’d like a flat surface on your cake, once it has crusted, you can use a square of un-patterned paper towel (or, if you don’t have that, a sheet of clean, white paper or parchment paper will do). Lay the paper on the area of the cake you want smoothed and using your hand, a spatula, a fondant smoother or even a clean and unused credit card, smooth the icing.

Step 7:

Once smoothed, decorate in any way you’d like!

Crusting Buttercream

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41 Comments

Sheena Hudson

I find it very frustrating as a member of Craftsy, but not an American, that you cannot provide weight measurements in a universal manner i.e. grams?

Could this be resolved so that all your members can provided for.

Lets see if I get a response…..

Reply
Stacy Brown

I would simply convert using an internet resource as that’s what I do when the opposite is given for measurements. There are many many options on line for computer, apps, Ipads, etc…

Reply
CakeSpy

Hi there Sheena, I’m Jessie, the writer of the article. I apologize for the frustration! Luckily there are a lot of different tools that you can use online to enter your ingredients and get the conversions.

I did it for this recipe, and here’s what I got. I apologize for not knowing, but I’m not sure if butter is measured in the same sticks where you are. I have left it as is below.

907 grams confectioners’ sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened and cut into ½ inch cubes
339 grams solid vegetable shortening
22 ml vanilla extract
up to 119 ml whole milk (to desired consistency)

I thought this guide was helpful. http://www.foodgeeks.com/resources/conversion_charts

Reply
Ber Gear

about that stick of butter in this recipe~one stick= 1/2 cup :)

Reply
Sheena Hudson

Thank you all for your generous help and no we don’t have “sticks” of butter in England. Just plain old packs weighing a universal 250g.

Time to get “buttercreaming”

Reply
cakingit

Grams, are not “universal” and not everyone uses weights. In fact the majority of Americans (and there are over 300 million of us) use cups instead of weights and as this is obviously an American recipe hence the Crisco it is understandably using American measurements… good luck procuring Crisco or an actual substitute in the UK if finding a weight converter is beyond you. The person who wrote this article was being incredibly helpful and there were much more polite ways of asking for it to be made so you can understand it. The internet is a diverse and exciting place with information from around the world, you can not expect everything to be tailored to you, I wouldn’t think of going on Delia’s Smiths page and bemoaning the lack of cups.

Cynthia Lorow

I have been decorating cakes for less than 2 years, and am always trying to learn new techniques.I use Swiss meringue butter-cream and home-made fondant which my clients love. I have seen crusting butter-cream mentioned a number of times but even after reading this article I don’t really understand why anyone would choose to use it. Do clients like it? Not all my clients want to eat the fondant but they know it can be peeled back . Is this only used on the outside? Do you make SMBC or IMBC for the filling? I really don’t want to offend anyone, but I really want to know. I live in South Florida where heat and humidity are always an issue. So if this would hold up for an outdoor wedding here, I might have to consider it. Thank you for your assistance.

Reply
Maria

Hi Cynthia i live in south florida as well, and yes i can totally understand heat and humidity are a serious issue.

Reply
Katarina

I dont know if anyone has tried this recipe. I really dont mean to be rude but it tastes terrible! That veg. shortening has such a strong taste! I am not sure but i used Holsum, is anyone experiencing the same? I need to cover the cake today but i wont use this mixture.

Reply
Cheryl

I think possibly by “universal” the comment meant “universal” to her country. No “sticks” of butter and there is just one form to buy it in, which is 250g.

That being said, I’ve recently started an food allergy friendly blog in the U.S. and I will not be providing conversions, but if I had members or subscribers from other countries, I would have a handy conversion chart or ap available as a curtesy.

Let us all be tolerant and kind!

Reply
sonia

Is it posssible to do a white chocolate version of this crusting buttercream??

Reply
CakeSpy

Hi Sonia: I have never tried it, but honestly I don’t see why not. White chocolate certainly couldn’t hurt the stabilization, but if it were melted you’d have to wait until it was sort of lukewarm before you added it or it might melt the butter or shortening. I will try to look for a recipe for you, ok? Thanks for the great question.

Reply
Machelle

I’ve used white chocolate, salted caramel, preserves etc in this recipe. You have to adjust the sugar/milk based on the amount of liquid but it works well

Reply
Sara

Hi, Ms. Moore.
I just wanted to let you know, I am a 20-year-old, budding cake artist and your recipe and advice saved my first wedding cake! I originally decorated my cake with italian meringue buttercream, but my fillings were so soft and the cakes so delicate, that the buttercream just couldn’t hold up and began to slide and crack. I was devastated when I looked in the fridge and saw them that way, so I rushed to my computer, looked up “stiff buttercreams” and was brought to your post. I fashioned new cake boards a 1/4″ thicker than the cakes and re-frosted them with your buttercream. Sure enough they are staying in place and look beautiful. Thank you so much for your wisdom!

Reply
Jessie Oleson Moore

Thank you so much, Sara! That really makes me feel wonderful. I am so glad the tips worked in such a serendipitous way for you!

Reply
Lynn

Hello! Ms. Moore, I would like to thank you for this recipe on how to make a very tasteful buttercream. I didn’t add as much milk as you had called for nor did I add as much Crisco(I only used one cup of Crisco and one stick of butter). The buttercream was a hit. Thanks.

Reply
CakeSpy

Lynn: I am so glad to hear it. One thing I love about buttercream is that unlike a cake recipe, you can adjust more easily the quantities and not mess up any chemical reactions. So you really can tailor it to your taste! Sounds like you did so in a wonderfully successful way!

Reply
Kerry

Hi just a quick question can I use ‘crust buttercream’ if I’m wanting to cover with fondant? As I find with justrnormal buttercream you see all the bumps etc under the icing.

Thanks :)

Reply
Jodi

When I leave it to crust, is this in the fridge? I live in Australia and it is really got here right now. I did a cake the other night and left it to crust (albeit, with a different butter cream recipe, but not far off this). We don’t have viva so I tried parchment paper and the butter cream stuck to it. Would the heat have affected the crusting? Thanks.

Reply
janet

hi re measurements: in professional bakery weights are generally used as there is much less margin for error. weights can be imperial or metric. cups,spoons and other volume containers are inherently prone to error, depending on how you fill your container etc. Bags/sticks are usually specific to a region or country. In a global baking community it would be convenient to all speak the same measurement language; but conversions are easy to find …make a chart and keep it nearby when googling

Reply
CakeSpy

Hi Jodi: Based on what you tell me about the heat where you are, I would probably use the refrigerator if you don’t have access to a cool, air conditioned place. Ideally, a cool dry place would work, but it sounds like you don’t have that luxury right now!

Reply
Jodi

Thank you so much for your reply. I will try aircon, but it was 38 degrees (100 for you guys!) yesterday so I don’t think that would even help, so may have to try fridge! Thanks again.

Reply
Johanna

hi!is it the same.buttercream that they use for filling? will they also crust or hardened? I’m so confused. thank you.

Reply
Wendy

First off, Thank you so much for taking time and sharing this with us all! For buttercream, I’ve always relied on a crusting formula, similar to the one you listed here, as a tool for decorating, it’s just easier to smooth and takes color better, in my opinion. I fill my cakes with a variety of things and have used swiss meringue buttercream to fill so many times while still finishing it in a crusting buttercream. I recommend using a shortening/butter combo in hotter weather as the shortening doesn’t melt the same as butter. I’d hate to spend hours making a cake a work of art just to have it melt in a matter of minutes. But, everyone has a different preference. There’s a learning curve to everything, and thanks again for sharing your knowledge.

Reply
Wendy

I’d also like to add, high fat ratio shortening, not crisco, will make a much smoother buttercream. And make sure to sift the powdered sugar, makes a world of difference.

Reply
Cristi

Thank you so much for your recipe!! Although it nearly burned out my cheapie mixer…it tastes great!!

Reply
Trisha

I am in the UK and one of the biggest benefits for me of using the net is being able to use recipes and techniques from around the world. I use a conversion chart from Diana’s Desserts.com which is fantastic as it converts ingredients to every method of weight
Hope this helps

Reply
Maria

Hi I was wondering if I can substitute the butter with margarine since I am lactose intolerance and also the milk with almond milk or coconut milk.

Reply
Jessie Oleson Moore

Maria, I have not tried it that way but I see no problem.

Reply
Machelle

I’ve been using this exact recipe for years. Any suggestions on how to get it where it’s not so overwhelmingly sweet?

Reply
tgress

Machelle, I found the way to cut down on the sweetness is to use salt. I’ve been using a similar recipe for years now and it’s always a hit. To cut down on the sweetness I add about a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt and that does the trick. For those who complain about the taste of the shortening, just add more flavoring to it and it will go away. A combination of almond, vanilla and butter flavoring gives great results.

I am also in Florida but also bake in the Caribbean and when it’s really hot if the cake will be outside I choose to use all shortening. If the cake will be in a cool environment I use half butter half shortening. The butter flavoring is key and will mask the unpleasantness of the shortening.

Reply
Carla

I have found that if I use more of the Crisco and less of the butter is cuts the sweetness in the buttercream for me and my customers like it more that way. There have been times I have used just the Crisco or just the butter to make the icing but here to it would depend on the customer and what it was for. Occasions are what I mean when I say what it is for. For it to hold up for a long period of time I use more Crisco in the mix and it holds up for a very long time for all the guesses at the event.

Reply
Finlay

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Reply
Hefziba Ramirez

hello for this recipe how many cupcakes can it decorate? Or frosting?

Reply

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