(not sure if this is the right place for this)
Hello! I was just wondering if anyone could explain the differences between Swiss, American, French and Italian Buttercream? Which is best? Why ?
American BC-fat (shortening or butter) mixed with powdered sugar, flavorings, and liquid (for consistency). Usually crusting, depending on the fat to sugar ratio. Crusting means that when you ice the cake and let it sit for a few minutes, you can touch the icing and it won't stick to your finger. Many people on here will refer to the Viva paper towel method or the Melvira roller method or using plain white paper to smooth over their crusting buttercream so it gets a smooth finish.
Swiss and Italian Meringue Buttercreams are meringue based buttercreams which taste the same but are different in preparation. SMBC involves cooking the ingredients over a double boiler while IMBC (which I prefer) involves heating sugar and water into a syrup and then pouring into whipped egg whites, then adding butter. The final consistency is essentially the same, with some people stating that IMBC is stiffer or more stable. I can't say this as I've never made SMBC. Meringue buttercreams do not crust but smooth very easily with a flat scraper. A lot of people are very intimidated to try these recipes but once you try one and get the hang of it it's very easy.
French Buttercream is a whole egg buttercream. Obviously there is more color to the BC because of the yolk but it is very rich and custard-like. I've never made French buttercream but I have thought about it recently. I know Susan (scp1127) uses it. If you ever saw the episode where Martha Stewart and Julia Child make a wedding cake they use French buttercream.
There is no such thing as a "best" buttercream. It depends on many things...what you are comfortable working with, what your customers or clients prefer, and time of year. If you were doing a cake for an outside reception in July you should think twice (and even three or four times) before using a meringue buttercream.
The main difference is that with the meringue buttercreams you really need to pay attention to the quality of your ingredients. You need to use real unsalted butter and good quality vanilla. Those buttercreams are 100% butter and have a very distinct taste. Some people hate them while others love them. I love them personally, but they need to be WELL flavored otherwise they taste like solid butter.
American buttercreams give you a little more leeway because you can use all butter, all shortening, or a half and half mixture. They are usually fairly heat stable (if you use all shortening or a mixture of more shortening than butter). A lot of beginner decorators like to use American BCs because of this. You can have an icing that has no butter taste or as much butter as you want.
I have seen hybrid recipes that start out as a meringue and incorporate both powdered sugar and granulated sugar. Charlotte's whipped cream buttercream in the recipes section is one of those. It starts out using meringue powder that you whip up with boiling water and granulated sugar, then you add your powdered sugar and fat. I love that recipe because it is creamy and whipped and you can use any combo of fat.
So, get in the kitchen and start playing! That is the only way you will find out what is best for you.