The World’s Best Buttercreams: Swiss, French and Italian

You may recall when son (and ANC webmaster) Joe Domke and I accepted the grand challenge last year to bake a five-tier wedding cake for my nephew and his lovely bride.

First I wrote about our process; with Joe in the Czech Republic and I in California, testing cake and frosting recipes from other sides of the world, and sharing tips, flops, failures and baking philosophies. (Click here for that story.)

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Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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29 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    I have found that the cupcake craze is unappealing because, although the cake part is generally quite good, the frosting tastes like sweetened Crisco which is real stopper for me. And you have confirmed my theory. As an aside, when you and Joe were practicing with various decorations for THE cake, I came across a photo of a cake covered in pink roses – and your tiny cake above looks exactly like the one I saw. My un-artistic self wondered how something so beautiful was created – and Doin’ Doni did it! Gorgeous.

    • Yes, one of my greatest complaints about store-bought cakes in general, and especially wedding cakes, is that they may look pretty, but their taste doesn’t match their looks.

      You know a recipe I would love to have: Beverly’s – from the dearly departed old Cake Company on Bechelli – brownie recipe. I can still smell it and almost taste it. And, for that matter, their cakes had a certain flavor, too, that I’ve never been able to place or replicate but would love to know how they achieved that flavor.

  2. AJ AJ says:

    I’ve NEVER liked “butter”cream frosting. When I was a kid I would always asked for what I called a “lucky” piece. My mother knew that meant a piece from the middle that had no frosting on the side and NO ROSE, PLEASE! I always thought it was because I was just weird. Well, that too, but now I understand my anathema a little better. Guess I’ll just have to find some way to try the other options. Anyone for a trip to Switzerland, France and Italy?

    • Beverly Stafford says:

      I, too, always chose barely frosted cake pieces. You’re on, AJ, about a trip. But how about we just hire Doni to do a tasting of tiny cakes as a fund raiser for our favorite news magazine?

      By the way, I so agree with Doni about the term “hack.” Hack is what bad guys do to computers and credit cards and bank accounts. I’ve yet to understand how it segued into meaning something good.

  3. Joe Domke Joe Domke says:

    Swiss buttercream is delicious, I was fighting for American buttercream because it’s so stable and the cake would be sitting out for a long time.

    I think our American buttercream recipe was good, hopefully you’ll share it ?

    • LOL, Joe, I love how loyal you are to your American buttercream. Go ahead and insert it in my column. You have all the power. 😉 Go for it!

      And you are absolutely 100-percent correct that our American buttercream used for Aaron & Erin’s wedding cake worked beautifully! It tasted delicious, piped beautifully, and best of all, it held up in the heat inside the barn. (Plus, your American buttercream actually contained butter.)

      No doubt whatsoever that my favorite Swiss buttercream would have probably not survived the day in those conditions.

      One of my life’s greatest highlights was making that cake with you. Thank you, Joe! I couldn’t wish for a better co-baker.

  4. Matthew Grigsby says:

    This is really fascinating, and since it’s something I would never achieve or even attempt, I get to enjoy the story of your journey.
    It seems to me that while the French buttercream might not hold shapes very well, it seems like it might make very pretty…waves? Like the frosting is spread so it looks like soft waves on the ocean instead of being perfectly smooth. Then you could add American buttercream for decorations along the top, which also sounds like a ton of extra work so never mind. Still, your photos are gorgeous and are making me hungry!

    • Actually, Matt, that’s a very good idea, to use the French buttercream as the base, and use American buttercream to pipe the pretty stuff. You have a cook’s instincts, Matt.

  5. erin friedman says:

    I much prefer swiss buttercream – but this piece has made me nostalgic for my Grandma’s Famous Fudge frosting. She would make yellow cupcakes, substituting orange juice for whatever liquid was in the recipe. Then she would make fudge from the Hershey’s cocoa recipe and beat it until it was almost hardened – then she’d quickly frost the cupcakes. We kids LOVED these — we’d hoard our lovely chunks of fudge frosting as we devoured the cupcakes. My cousin and I got together and recreated them about 10 years ago. Maybe time for a d0-over. 🙂

    • Oh my gosh, they sound delicious! If you submit an article about your Grandma’s Famous Fudge frosting, I will publish it. With the recipe, if you have it, of course. (You say it’s basically the Hershey’s Cocoa fudge recipe? Brilliant to turn fudge into frosting! I’ll bet it was really firm!

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        Erin, yes please submit the fudge frosting recipe. All this talk of buttercream is informative, and the photos are beautiful, but it’s not chocolate. As far as I’m concerned, if it ain’t chocolate, it ain’t dessert.

  6. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    I’ve never, ever liked buttercream-as-I-know-it (American). Too sweet, too crunchy, and yep, I always looked for the piece of cake with the least icing – and happily gave my frosting-rose away if I was unlucky enough to get one :). Plus I’ve always been more of a savory girl than a lover of sweet stuff… even so, the Swiss and French buttercream sound SO GOOD, and I love the look of your tiny cakes!

    As far as icing/frosting/etc. goes I think my favorite will always be the cream cheese variety that goes on carrot cakes. But I’d happily taste my way around the European buttercream versions any day!

    Please, please never start using ‘hacks’ instead of ‘tips’. It’s one of the most ridiculous terms ever, at least in my opinion!

    • You have my word: I will not use the term “hack”.

      And you MUST a savory eater, if you like cream cheese frosting best, because it’s the least sweet, and has a bit of a tang to it. (I’m making an upcoming red velvet tiny birthday cake, and although cream cheese frosting is it’s classic pairing, this person wants chocolate ganache frosting, which I was really happy about. )

  7. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Other than American buttercream, the only time I attempted an authentic version was with Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Neoclassic Buttercream from The Cake Bible. It eliminates the need for the thermometer because it includes corn syrup, which stabilizes the sugar and prevents crystallization. She says it produces identical results to Classic Buttercream (she didn’t break it down by country of origin). I wouldn’t know since I didn’t try the other versions, but it was simple and did make a very delicious frosting for a special occasion cake.

  8. Hmmm. I’ll have to check it out. So the egg whites must be beaten as usual, and then the corn syrup is added? I sure wouldn’t mind skipping that double-boiler part. Thanks! I’ll try it!

    • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

      She explained it well in The Cake Bible (she explains EVERYTHING well) but here is a link to Real Baking With Rose and the recipe. I made it for her cake A Taste of Heaven, Genoise flavored with kirsch, Dacquoise layers, kirsch syrup, slivered almonds. It was a project but worth it.

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        Interesting that she uses white chocolate instead of powdered sugar in her cream cheese frosting. I would never have thought of that substitution. I seldom use powdered sugar; instead, I use glazing sugar from King Arthur Flour. It’s as “powdery” as powdered sugar, but there’s no cornstarch in it. It mixes and disolves readily, but there’s no cornstsrch taste to cover up with flavoring.

  9. Steve DuBois Steve DuBois says:

    Your wedding cake is gorgeous!

  10. Meredith Fisher says:

    Ever since I was a little girl my mom always ordered the same birthday cake: white cake, lemon filling with buttercream frosting and flowers. One birthday, I cried when I didn’t get a corner with a rose. Forever more we only had round cakes!
    I love buttercream frosting and have been known to freeze the cake so frosting is like awesome ice cream!
    I am officially volunteering for a buttercream taste comparison!!

    • What a great tradition your mom had for you. I love the idea of having a round cake so there are no corners. 🙂

      I know what you’re talking about with regard to frozen frosting. It IS like ice cream.

      You all are cracking me up about the buttercream comparison. 🙂

  11. Janine Hall says:

    Here is a great idea! I would love to bid on some butter cream cupcakes in the Carr fire auction. I would pay big bucks for a single Swiss or French butter cream cupcake. I might even bid on more than one. 🙂

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