Buttercream Failed Big Time

Baking By MsNeuropil Updated 4 Apr 2013 , 2:00am by MsNeuropil

MsNeuropil Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 9:19pm
post #1 of 40


40+ years of making buttercream...and this happened as I was teaching my Granddaughter how to make BC.  The ONLY thing I did different from my usual was add MILK instead of water (trying to make it more stable in my GD hot little hands)  AND I added a about 1/8 tsp of orange oil (loranns).  I've added orange oil before...so only thing really different was the milk.  We used all shortening (with the trans fat) instead of half butter cause of her hot little hands...again.


The texture is NOT grainy sugary type of mouth feel...it is almost a fine curdled feel to the mouth.  Actually my GD said it tasted as if we put some flour into it. We only use CANE Powdered Sugar...so that isn't the problem.  Sugar was sifted and sifted again.


3 mins into beating...it was fine...still a little sugary to taste but exactly as expected.  8 mins into it was this mess.  I've tried to whip it more but that doesn't help a bit.  Needless to say...I won't let my GD even try to spread this onto a cake. It is so rough it wouldn't spread worth a darn even if we could get past the weird mouth feel. We went to plan B.


Ideas? Is it possible that the orange oil and the milk interacted and "curdled"?  Can this be rescued for another day?


The silver lining in this is that my GD tends to want to be a perfectionist (at 9 yrs old) and stresses when she can't get a smooth iced edged cake.  LOL!  I keep telling her we need to be realistic...she is only 9 and not a professional and she is way better than most young wives would even be...but she just loves decorating cakes and tends to get disappointed when her vision isn't realized.  :-)  It wasn't her fault...it was mine I am sure cause I told her to put milk instead of water. 

39 replies
-K8memphis Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 9:26pm
post #2 of 40

i don't know what happened but i know the milk would not curdle it like that


on a maybe maybe not related observation i just made some royal icing---


i haven't opened a 50# bag of powdered sugar in eons 'cause i always used smbc anyhow


but there is so much static in there it was a joke--srsly -laughable--was like mini popcorn kernels popping around going every which way as i scooped it out--very strange

MsNeuropil Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 9:39pm
post #3 of 40

I bought 50 lbs of powdered sugar (in 1 bag) a few years ago...(rest.supply place) and I had a lot of problems with static using that.  Although it was supposedly sifted...it needed sifting when I took it out of large bucket...then I sifted again after taking out of the 2lb bags I would make up.  It was such a pain.  Not sure I really saved any money because of all the time needed to sift and sift and have static everywhere.


50lbs of powdered sugar later...this batch was made with 2 lb bag of C and H from grocery store cause I have to drive to another town to buy 50 lbs...so powdered sugar should not be the issue with this bad buttercream. 


If you rub it between your thumb and finger...you can feel it...and it isn't the same feel a poorly mixed buttercream would have.

-K8memphis Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 9:43pm
post #4 of 40

that's a real shame about your buttercream--

MsGF Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 9:51pm
post #5 of 40

I use milk always and have never had that happen.  I've also used orange extract, not oil, with the milk no problem.   I'm thinking it's the orange oil and milk combo causing the trouble.


Too bad that happened.  Not sure it is savable.


Looking close at the photo it really does look curdled.

kazita Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 9:56pm
post #6 of 40

AWow I wonder what happened? I use heavy whipping cream and high ratio shortening in my buttercream so like k8 said I don't think the milk was the problem. Maybe post your recipe and just maybe we can figure what happened.

kazita Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 10:02pm
post #7 of 40

AWas your high ratio shortening lumpy? There was a gal on here who post that her buttercream came out lumpy when we discussed it more we discovered her high ratio shortening was lumpy to start out with. She did have to throw out her first batch of buttercream because no matter how much she beat it it stayed lumpy. She took a hand mixer and beat the lumps out of the shortening and proceeded to make her buttercream from there

liz at sugar Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 10:21pm
post #8 of 40

I think it is the orange oil and milk combo.  Could you put a drop of oil in a tablespoon of milk or two and see if it happens again?  Then you will know for sure, and if it happens, your granddaughter will learn a little about chemical reactions in the process. :)



MsNeuropil Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 10:42pm
post #9 of 40

The recipe I used was basically the Wiltons BC because I am getting her ready for her level 2 fondant class for kids by Wiltons. 


Since every year I give her Mom stuff on the Mom's birthday for her tool kit...I try to keep things simple and less confusing for her when she is baking with her Mom away from Nana's house.  Personally I prefer to weigh out my ingredients and I like the Winkbecklers recipe for 3lbs of powdered sugar since it fills my mixer.  But her mom always uses Wiltons, which is fine enough, though I prefer the SWBC.


It is just a shame that this had to happen on her very first buttercream she made all by herself.  And her cakes didn't quite rise as well as the ones I baked 2 days ago...so she noticed her's wasn't as thick. ( I checked to see if mix was the cut down net weight...but it was 18.25.   I was close by while she did this, (the cakes and icing) but she did it herself. 


Only thing it could be in my mind is the orange oil and the milk.  Since I make a lot of my own fresh cheeses...it is common to use lemon or orange juice, (or vinegar or citric acid) to curdle milk for ricotta and paneer. Curds made this way will be very fine if stirred...so if curdling is the problem then we beat that stuff into tiny tiny curds...LOL! 


Maybe if I had used an orange extract instead of an oil...it probably would not have happened.  Hopefully she won't get to discouraged...cause it wasn't her fault.

kazita Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 10:54pm
post #10 of 40

AOh poor baby I hope she doesn't get discouraged, to bad that happened. I didn't even know that they had wilton classes for kids. I've been making cakes for 15 years and took the courses about 10 years ago I decided to take them again just recently to refresh myself and we had two girls in there that were 10 years old the rest of use were adults anyways one the very first course in the second class they brought in buttercream made from there grandma who used her own recipe not the wilton recipe well it was very watery and didn't crust and when the girls tried to frost there cakes they became very messy so the instructer sp? Told them to only use the wilton recipe sadly to say they never came back.

MsNeuropil Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 10:58pm
post #11 of 40

Well I tried adding a few drops orange oil  to 2 tbsp of milk...heated it (since curds don't form with uncultured milk until 180 degree) and sure enough I got a few soft curds forming.  ( I only heated because I wanted a faster reaction than a long sit would accomplish.


You would not think a very small amount of milk in a buttercream would react to the orange oil...but apparently it did.  That might explain why 2 or 3 mins into beating it it was good and 8 mins into it it wasn't.  Perhaps that little bit of heat was enough to cause it to curdle.  The shortening was not lumpy because I beat it a little before adding the sugar. 


Well we learned a lesson. 

kazita Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:02pm
post #12 of 40

AWow 1/8th of a teaspoon and it curdled unreal.

Evoir Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:14pm
post #13 of 40

I'm not sure it was the flavouring oil. I suspect its a shortening issue. Have you tried adding some more liquid and beating it again?

MsNeuropil Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:14pm
post #14 of 40

My granddaughter just loved the level 1 buttercream cake class for kids...but she already knew how to do everything...plus she went completely prepared. 


All of the other kids had come with only a few items the list said was necessary.  A Mom brought her 2 kids without a cake even.  Just a tub of decorator frosting and a plastic knife. Not sure why the Mom thought she didn't need a cake.


Hailey ended up letting the whole class use all her (my) spatulas and colors since she took my tool chest.  I'm still missing a few.  LOL!


Classes are a bit pricey for the parents...35-40 dollars...one  2 or 3 hour class and probably a good $20.00 of needed supplies...BUT it was worth it for me because my GD saw how easy it was for her compared to the other kids.  She had hers done and was helping everyone else...which she loved.  It is a good marketing strategy for Wiltons I think.  They get to sell quite a bit of tools and icings and get those girls eager to decorate.  While I can teach her probably better than the teacher could...the teacher doesn't have to contend with gangnam style dancing while she is decorating cakes at Nana's.  LOL!  In other words teacher has her undivided attention and she can tell her friends that she had a CLASS.

carmijok Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:14pm
post #15 of 40

Well I personally hate any BC that has shortening in it...but that's my opinion and really has nothing to do with your question...however, I think it very well could be your powdered sugar.  I don't buy in bulk...and once I bought a C&H pure cane powdered sugar bag...like I always do...and mixed up my BC as  usual with butter and cream cheese and all looked OK until I tasted it and it was BLECHH!   It tasted like...well..nothing!  Almost like I had mixed up a bowl of flour and butter!   Luckily it was only that one bag, but I've learned to taste every bag I open to make sure it's OK.   Powdered sugar has cornstarch mixed with it and apparently that one had WAY too much in there.   I would think maybe excess cornstarch might not mix well with milk and shortening and might have cause the curdling issues.   Check your sugar. 

liz at sugar Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:17pm
post #16 of 40

Well, now your granddaughter will know something that most adult bakers haven't even come across - she will be a better baker knowing that!



MsNeuropil Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:27pm
post #17 of 40

don't know if you can tell that these are curds...but they are.  Very soft curds with a faint yellowish tint, just like I would see with a ricotta...but not as firm since ricotta is done up to 190 degrees.  But a stirred ricotta under minimal time...is very soft, faintly formed and would be almost cream cheese texture if not for the curd mouth feel to it.


BTW...this is curds that formed when I put orange oil into milk that was heated rather than cold from the frig.

MsNeuropil Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:32pm
post #18 of 40

I did try adding a little water to it and beat it again...and again...and no matter what it is curdled.  I am putting into frig and gonna try it later and see if something makes a diff cause I hate to throw away so much frosting cause I need a lot of frosting...(it's spring break and we are using a lot of sugar). 


Will NOT do this again if I can help it.  Wish it happened when I was doing it rather than her making it.

kazita Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:41pm
post #19 of 40

AI too think 1/8th of oil couldn't be the culprit but who s am I to disagree with grandma, lol. 3 cups of sugar might be the cause of it not mixing well. I too was way ahead of the other students because I had took the classes alreay however I didn't help the other students just for the simple fact that the instructor that I had wouldn't of liked that she wasn't very friendly and actually had complaints against her to the points where one of the ladies taking her class down right demanded that either give her money back or have a different instructor teach her.

MsNeuropil Posted 1 Apr 2013 , 11:52pm
post #20 of 40

Don't think it was the sugar since 1 lb of a bag was used yesterday to make royal icing without problems.  I had another bowl with 1 lb of another bag in it...and I combined 2   1/2 bag os C and H to make 2 lbs total.  If it was the sugar then the 1st lb of 1 bag would have been an issue for last cupcakes we did.  And the royal icing made with 1st lb of the 2nd bag is ok...smooth and just perfect.


I've had issues with generic brands of powdered sugar before...but mostly with puffy flowers due to the added cornstarch or sticky icings.  I live 30 miles N of Seattle on the edge of the Puget Sound.  Never a good idea to use anything but pure cane sugar up here because of the humidity.

MsNeuropil Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 12:03am
post #21 of 40

I made sure she added the sugar 1 cup at a time to shortening that was beat to be lump free, and that each cup was incorporated well under 2 or 3 speed of KA.  It was pretty smooth with a slight sugary grain 2 to 3 mins into the final mixing (level 4) with the beater (not a whip).  It was after I had her cover mixer with a damp  towel...and turned up the speed (with the beater almost covered with icing) that this occurred.  I've done this for many years and no problems except a bit of air if I don't use a 3 lb sugar recipe. 


It is hard to believe that a tiny amount of orange oil could curdle the small amt of milk..but something happened.  I don't know if she perhaps added the oil ontop of the milk she added or after the milk was incorporated since I was washing dishes while she worked right beside me. 


I've actually made ricotta pie (instead of cheese cake) and it does have a bit of the grainy curdy mouth feel like the butter cream has.  Nana's thinking of how to make cheese cake out of curds.  LOL!

kazita Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 12:04am
post #22 of 40

AI'm confused did you use 2 pounds sugar or 3 pounds sugar in the recipe that you made?

scrumdiddlycakes Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 12:06am
post #23 of 40

I'm in the same area as you, I get the humidity issue, blech.

Sugar could definitely affect texture and taste, but I cannot see how it could cause curdling, I would blame the acid in the orange oil reacting with the milk.

scrumdiddlycakes Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 12:08am
post #24 of 40

Oh I didn't read all the comments, I see you already did a oil and milk test, never mind me beating the dead horse :P

MsNeuropil Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 12:13am
post #25 of 40

This recipe was the Wiltons 2lb sugar BC recipe but I added 1 TBSP of meringe powder.


I ordinarily use a 3 lb Winkbecler recipe because it fills the bowl up to top of the beater of my KA thus a much less airy BC.  BUT this time I used the Wiltons because that is what she makes with her mother at their home.  I didn't want to confuse her since she just took a kids Wilton decorating class, and they recommend the Wiltons decorator frosting.  Once she gets her technique down I will teach her how to weigh out her ingredients instead of doing it by the cups.  But at her home she has limited recipes and her Mom uses the Wiltons.  Maybe I will buy her Mom a scale so she can use my regular recipe.  LOL!

kazita Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 12:28am
post #26 of 40

AIts probably best to stick to the wilton recipe while she's in the courses hmmm scraching my head as why your buttercream looks lumpy.

MsNeuropil Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 2:57am
post #27 of 40

I decided to strain the milk (test) with the few drops of orange oil in it after it had set for a few hours at room temp (after I initially removed those 2 larger curds I showed earlier.  This the amt of curds that formed in apprx 2 tbsp of milk.  Clearly curds.

kazita Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 3:28am
post #28 of 40

AThought I've read here on other threads of people using oils in there buttercream I must be mistaken.

scrumdiddlycakes Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 3:36am
post #29 of 40

It's the acidity, not the oil, that would cause curdling, like putting vinegar or lemon juice in milk to make buttermilk. Something like almond oil wouldn't have the same effect.

kazita Posted 2 Apr 2013 , 3:45am
post #30 of 40

ASo it is the ORANGE oil that she used ? Even in such a small amount?

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