ShaunaNicole Posted 4 Jul 2012 , 11:10pm
post #1 of

Hi Everyone,
I am wondering what I am doing wrong in regards to coloring my buttercream. Today, for the 4th, I made cupcakes in red, white and blue. In regards to the dark red and blue, they color didn't "take" completely. It was almost like you could see little "beads" of white throughout the frosting, and mixing it more didn't seem to help. Is this do to the use of regular shortening? (I made buttercream with 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening) Does "high ratio" shortening not give this result? If so, I am ordering some today! If high ratio is indeed the answer to my dilemma, is one brand better than another!
Thanks so much!!
Shauna

20 replies
carmijok Posted 4 Jul 2012 , 11:17pm
post #2 of

I can't say for sure, but from what I've read this seems to be a shortening issue. I only use real butter and never had that problem. What kind of shortening are you using?

DeniseNH Posted 4 Jul 2012 , 11:39pm
post #3 of

Use milk instead of water to prevent this. I have no idea why this works but they say that the fat in whole milk mixes better with the fat in your icing. Remember, oil and water doesn't mix. But oil and milk does.

ShaunaNicole Posted 5 Jul 2012 , 5:06pm
post #4 of

Thanks for the replies! I actually did use milk, though it was only 1%. That makes total sense about oil/water-don't know why I didn't think of it! The shortening I used was a store brand WITH trans-fats, which I read was supposed to be better. Ugh, I really need to figure out how to get those even, vibrant colors.

kakeladi Posted 5 Jul 2012 , 6:48pm
post #5 of

.........The shortening I used was a store brand WITH trans-fats, which I read was supposed to be better.....

Yes, but...........what other ingredients are in it? Is it ALL vegetable or maybe it has some meat fat in it?
I have found most store brands have much more water in them....well, actually they are much softer which I figure is added water.

ShaunaNicole Posted 5 Jul 2012 , 8:07pm
post #6 of

Well, it's all vegetable shortening. But it is a cheap shortening-I looked all over town to find one with trans fats. Do you have a shortening you prefer?

I just did an experiment. I made two tiny batches of red frosting: one with all butter and one with 1:1 ratio of butter to shortening, and half and half as the liquid in both. The butter one came out better than the 1/2 to 1/2, but the 1/2 to 1/2 still had a whitish overcast sheen to even though no liquid other than half and half was used.... But it was better than the stuff I made yesterday. Today it literally looks like it's "separating"-gross.

And I DID notice as I was washing the spatula that water absolutely caused more white to show! So you were right-I thank you for that insight! Yesterday I used a bit of lemon juice in the frosting which is probably didn't help. But that isn't the whole story. When I buy prepackaged dark colored frosting, they look perfectly smooth and dark.

I've got to be able to recreate that somehow! I'm almost wondering if the amount of red gel I had to use is making the frosting less attractive as well. But I think I'm realizing that my frosting is just not as smooth as I'd like.

Sorry for this book!!

ShaunaNicole Posted 5 Jul 2012 , 8:36pm
post #7 of

Well, it's all vegetable shortening. But it is a cheap shortening-I looked all over town to find one with trans fats. Do you have a shortening you prefer?

I just did an experiment. I made two tiny batches of red frosting: one with all butter and one with 1:1 ratio of butter to shortening, and half and half as the liquid in both. The butter one came out better than the 1/2 to 1/2, but the 1/2 to 1/2 still had a whitish overcast sheen to even though no liquid other than half and half was used.... But it was better than the stuff I made yesterday. Today it literally looks like it's "separating"-gross.

And I DID notice as I was washing the spatula that water absolutely caused more white to show! So you were right-I thank you for that insight! Yesterday I used a bit of lemon juice in the frosting which is probably didn't help. But that isn't the whole story. When I buy prepackaged dark colored frosting, they look perfectly smooth and dark.

I've got to be able to recreate that somehow! I'm almost wondering if the amount of red gel I had to use is making the frosting less attractive as well. But I think I'm realizing that my frosting is just not as smooth as I'd like.

Sorry for this book!!

BakingIrene Posted 6 Jul 2012 , 3:08am
post #8 of

What are you using for sugar?

What are you using for liquid?

Both of these have a major impact on how the buttercream accepts colour.

ShaunaNicole Posted 6 Jul 2012 , 5:43am
post #9 of

I used store brand (Kroger) 10x powdered sugar. But I'm wondering if it is Beet sugar? It only says: "sugar, cornstarch" on the ingredient list.

for liquid I used 1% milk.

It is really bizarre. The longer the frosting sits, the more it "separates", looks greasy, and like it is "pearlized" or something. Uck!

I've got to figure out how to make smooth, well colored icing before I make a cake for someone in a couple weeks! I'm starting to panic, as I tried addling dreamwhip to it, cornstarch, more sugar, etc. (I split the frosting up into different bowls for this experiment). Nothing I did helped.

Thanks so much for taking the time for me!

hbquikcomjamesl Posted 6 Jul 2012 , 7:04am
Quote:
Quote:

Use milk instead of water to prevent this. I have no idea why this works



Basic chemistry. (All baking is an exercise in applied chemistry.) Aqueous liquids (e.g., water) are mutually incompatible with lipids (fats) or hydrocarbons (e.g., mineral oils). In plain language, oil and water don't stay mixed without a lot of help. That's why lithographic printing (e.g., photo-offset lithography) works: printer's ink is a thick, oily substance, similar to artist's oil paint. The stone or plate is first treated so that water will fully wet it, and then an image is placed on it in wax, grease, varnish, or some other substance that repels water. On the press, water is applied to the plate, which saturates the non-image areas, so they repel the ink, then the ink is applied, sticking only to the dry image areas.

That is also why a simple oil-and-vinegar salad dressing starts to separate almost immediately. Mayonnaise, on the other hand, contains eggs, which act as an emulsifier.

It's also why we use soap (another emulsifier) to wash with: soap is formed by boiling fat (e.g., beef tallow) with a strong base (e.g., sodium hydroxide), until they react to form a compound whose molecules have one end compatible with oils, and one end compatible with water.

Milk is an emulsion of butterfat and water, held together by another emulsifier, a sugar called lactose.

My hunch is that something in your frosting recipe is creating an unstable emulsion, and something in your food coloring is somehow prying the emulsion apart.

Personally, I've never had frosting break on me, and given that in various recipes, I've replaced significant amounts of milk with either strawberry jam or maple syrup, they had every right to do so. But I've always used 100% butter (specifically ordinary salted sweet butter) for the fat, I've always started by mixing the butter and sugar, before adding anything else, and I've always been fairly sparing with the food coloring.

And I don't think using 1% milk is part of the problem: with most of the butterfat missing, it should have excess lactose, and therefore more emulsifying potency than whole milk.

carmijok Posted 6 Jul 2012 , 7:33am

Why not just use all butter? It certainly tastes better and you're not left with a greasy separation. I love it!

ShaunaNicole Posted 6 Jul 2012 , 4:06pm

Well, it's all vegetable shortening. But it is a cheap shortening-I looked all over town to find one with trans fats. Do you have a shortening you prefer?

I just did an experiment. I made two tiny batches of red frosting: one with all butter and one with 1:1 ratio of butter to shortening, and half and half as the liquid in both. The butter one came out better than the 1/2 to 1/2, but the 1/2 to 1/2 still had a whitish overcast sheen to even though no liquid other than half and half was used.... But it was better than the stuff I made yesterday. Today it literally looks like it's "separating"-gross.

And I DID notice as I was washing the spatula that water absolutely caused more white to show! So you were right-I thank you for that insight! Yesterday I used a bit of lemon juice in the frosting which is probably didn't help. But that isn't the whole story. When I buy prepackaged dark colored frosting, they look perfectly smooth and dark.

I've got to be able to recreate that somehow! I'm almost wondering if the amount of red gel I had to use is making the frosting less attractive as well. But I think I'm realizing that my frosting is just not as smooth as I'd like.

Sorry for this book!!

ShaunaNicole Posted 6 Jul 2012 , 4:15pm

Wow, thanks for all the responses everyone!

As for using all butter, believe it or not, I just don't like the taste. It's way too rich for me. I felt like I was eating a stick of butter when I have made it that way. Maybe I'm using too much butter, though. I'm certainly open to cutting out the shortening if I can still decorate it, and if I can tame the overwhelming buttery taste somehow.

hbquikcomjamesl Posted 6 Jul 2012 , 6:16pm

I would guess that you're better off with 1% milk than with half-and-half. I would think that half-and-half probably already has all the fat that its lactose content can keep emulsified, whereas 1% milk would probably have an excess of lactose.

But then again, I'm not a chemist (least of all an organic chemist); neither do I play one on television.

BakingIrene Posted 7 Jul 2012 , 12:58am
Quote:
Originally Posted by ShaunaNicole

I used store brand (Kroger) 10x powdered sugar. But I'm wondering if it is Beet sugar? It only says: "sugar, cornstarch" on the ingredient list.

for liquid I used 1% milk.

It is really bizarre. The longer the frosting sits, the more it "separates", looks greasy, and like it is "pearlized" or something. Uck!




Speaking as a chemist, let's get one thing straight.
BEET SUGAR CANNOT CAUSE THIS KIND OF PROBLEM. I baked with beet sugar for 15 years.

Crappy large grains of sugar (even cane sugar) can. Try sifting your sugar before using it.

Another problem might be with the powdered creamer if you are using a "crusting" recipe. I have had bad experiences with cheap off label creamer that was mostly lactose (gross...). Buy the bulk pack of Carnation Coffeemate brand and you will eliminate this factor.

Finally, you need to have enough liquid in the mix to completely dissolve all the sugar. You may not be using enough. Your frosting that has gone "pearly" after sitting and separating, can be recovered by putting it into a food processor NOT mixer and giving it a minute with just the steel knife. The pearly appearance is the large grains of sugar that have finally dissolved.

If you are using milk based liquid, use heavy cream. The ability to emulsify has nothing to do with lactose in milk, it has to do with the fact that heavy cream has stabilizers that help your icing.

hbquikcomjamesl Posted 7 Jul 2012 , 3:19am

I stand corrected on the matter of the lactose. It is casein (milk protein, and if I'm not mistaken, one of the things one removes from melted butter when clarifying it) that acts as an emulsifier, forming micelle-like structures that keep the fat dispersed in milk. But while that certainly explains why an all-butter buttercream is less likely to break than one made with shortening, I see no reason to believe that heavy cream -- which already has all the fat it can hold -- would make a shortening-based buttercream more stable than 1% (or even skim) milk, given that they don't already have all the fat they can hold.

Incidentally, my normal procedure for mixing cold-process buttercream is to start with the specified amount of powdered sugar and butter (and jam, for my strawberry recipe), and stir with an ordinary dinner fork until the "cottage cheese" appearance goes away completely, leaving a completely homogeneous product, then add any flavorings (extracts, spices, and/or maple syrup), and only then add the milk, treating the specified amount as a maximum, until it is thinned to the needed consistency (and I like it considerably thicker for piping than for spreading).

BakingIrene Posted 7 Jul 2012 , 3:27am

Those of us who use electric mixers of any power know that you should whip a buttercream (butter or shortening or margarine) after you add liquid, and that the emulsification does NOT depend on this fictitious idea of casein blah blah blah. You can get a perfect emulsion using orange juice.

Basically, a buttercream is an emulsion of saturated sugar syrup and fat. Beating promotes the emulsification. Cream having less water and more fat promotes a stable emulsion. Heavy cream can even support a lot of air being added to the structure.

hbquikcomjamesl Posted 7 Jul 2012 , 4:03am

1. "an emulsion of saturated sugar syrup and fat" is a textbook definition of a hot-process buttercream (such as the one Alton Brown demonstrated in an episode of Good Eats.

2. There is nothing fictitious about casein forming micelle-like structures, and without such structures, an emulsion is unstable (although extremely high viscosity, as in a cold-process buttercream, can render the frosting stable enough that it will likely go bad before it falls apart)

3. "Buttercream" covers an extremely wide range of frostings, some mixed hot, and some mixed cold; some based on a cooked simple syrup, and some based on powdered sugar; and not all of which are whipped. About the only things they all have in common are butter and sugar. And personally, I have always preferred a thin layer of a dense, candy-like frosting to a thick layer of whipped frosting, which is why I've always preferred homemade cakes to bakery cakes. (And one of these days, I'm going to try fondant).

ShaunaNicole Posted 7 Jul 2012 , 6:07am

Could having softened my butter in the microwave been the problem? If so, is there any way to fix the problem, such as refridgerating it?

BakingIrene Posted 8 Jul 2012 , 3:14pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by hbquikcomjamesl

1. "an emulsion of saturated sugar syrup and fat" is a textbook definition of a hot-process buttercream (such as the one Alton Brown demonstrated in an episode of Good Eats




In fact the definition also applies to cold buttercream.

I don't know why you don't like being told facts. I came to the physical chemistry of icings after 20+ years of baking experience where it was a familiar process to make a buttercream with butter, powdered sugar, and any liquid that included straight rum, straight juice, and syrup but NO milk or cream.

There is ONLY ONE explanation for the common success factor--you beat the stuff long enough for the 20% water content of the butter to dissolve the sugar. Then you add a small additional amount of water to carry the flavour and adjust the consistency. The fact that excess liquid breaks cold buttercream is proof that it is an emulsion in its ideal state.

And regular shortening contains no water and therefore the sugar cannot dissolve until you start adding liquid. And hi-ratio shortening has water in it..so it makes better icing. And using a machine (including a blender and a food processor) improves the emulsion.

kakeladi Posted 8 Jul 2012 , 8:22pm

........Could having softened my butter in the microwave been the problem? If so, is there any way to fix the problem, such as refridgerating it? ......

In my opinion it does matter. I almost never softened my butter...just let it sit at room temp for 15-30 minutes.

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