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failed buttercream


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#1 amccomb

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 06:30 AM

So, I was trying to make a caramel buttercream last night. I boiled some brown sugar and water to 238 degrees and poured the mixture carefully in a steady stream into whipped eggwhites. It looked beautiful - a soft, fluffy, glossy mixture with just the right caramel color and taste. I whipped it for quite awhile and felt the sides of the bowl - barely warm. I added in the first chunk of butter, and the whole thing shrunk and liquified! I added the rest of the butter and kept whipping, but it was still the consitency of cake batter. So, I decided to let it firm up in the fridge, and thought I would whip it up this morning. Well, as I was scooping it into the (cold) mixing bowl, I noticed tiny granules in the buttercream - butter! It had broken, so I thought I could whip it back together. No luck, it became like curds and whey.

This has happened to me two times before, and both of those times, I was making a white chocolate buttercream and assumed it had something to do with the chocolate. Now I know it has something to do with me.

What am I doing wrong? Luckily, I was able to use plain caramel as my cake filling, but I don't want to be in this position again, but with nothing to use as a filling!

#2 RuthWells

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 07:00 AM

So, I was trying to make a caramel buttercream last night.  I boiled some brown sugar and water to 238 degrees and poured the mixture carefully in a steady stream into whipped eggwhites.  It looked beautiful - a soft, fluffy, glossy mixture with just the right caramel color and taste.  I whipped it for quite awhile and felt the sides of the bowl - barely warm.  I added in the first chunk of butter, and the whole thing shrunk and liquified!  I added the rest of the butter and kept whipping, but it was still the consitency of cake batter.  So, I decided to let it firm up in the fridge, and thought I would whip it up this morning.  Well, as I was scooping it into the (cold) mixing bowl, I noticed tiny granules in the buttercream - butter!  It had broken, so I thought I could whip it back together.  No luck, it became like curds and whey.

This has happened to me two times before, and both of those times, I was making a white chocolate buttercream and assumed it had something to do with the chocolate.  Now I know it has something to do with me.

What am I doing wrong?  Luckily, I was able to use plain caramel as my cake filling, but I don't want to be in this position again, but with nothing to use as a filling!

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Hi Am,

The meringue will always "liquify" at the first addition of butter. There are 2 possible problems with your buttercream -- one is your formula, one is temperature. If your bowl was "barely warm" when you started adding the butter, you should be okay with temperature -- as long as your butter was at cool room temp (not too mushy, not too cold). Remember, you're making an emulsion, and you want your 2 masses (meringue and butter) to be about equal in temp to assist in the emulsification. (I always pound my cool/room temp butter a bit to soften it before adding it to the meringue, but again, it doesn't *sound* like temperature was your problem.)

What is your egg whites-to-butter ratio?

#3 bkeith

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 07:02 AM

What was the condition of your butter? If it was at room temp, I'd have let the meringue whip until it was all the way to room temp as well. If the meringue was still barely warm, it would have melted the butter as it went in instead of making an emulsion. The only time I'll add butter to a warm meringue is if the butter still has a chill on it -- that way they kinda balance each other out.

When I make caramel buttercream, I make a caramel sauce (caramelized sugar plus hot cream) and I make a regular buttercream, then add the cooled sauce to the buttercream after the butter is in.
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#4 amccomb

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 07:17 AM

What is your egg whites-to-butter ratio?

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5 egg whites to 1lb butter

as long as your butter was at cool room temp (not too mushy, not too cold)

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What was the condition of your butter?  If it was at room temp, I'd have let the meringue whip until it was all the way to room temp as well.  If the meringue was still barely warm, it would have melted the butter as it went in instead of making an emulsion.  The only time I'll add butter to a warm meringue is if the butter still has a chill on it -- that way they kinda balance each other out.

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This very well could have been the problem - my butter was VERY room temp and soft. It had been sitting over the dishwasher, in fact, so maybe a bit over room temp, even. This was also the case with my past failed white chocolate buttercreams (over the dishwasher is the only counter space) - not only had the butter been out for hours, the melted white chocolate was probably slightly above room temp as well, due to my lack of patience.

This makes me want to go try it again right now, even though the cake is already assembled!

Thanks.

#5 Sugarella

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 10:18 AM

Your whites to butter ratio is just right, and I personally have added very soft butter to my buttercream; it just takes a lot longer to whip the 2 together. Then again, maybe my whites have always been slightly too warm? :wacko:

Next try, remember it takes quite a long time for the whites & butter to meld together. If it looks like it's ruined again, just keep beating it and it'll eventually thicken up.

#6 chiantiglace

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 10:44 AM

to tell you the truth, sounds like you didnt have any problems at all. I think your worrying too much. Next time let the buttercream sit out at room temp to soften up, just so you'll notice you made it right. If you try beating cold buttercream in a cold bowl all over again, its going to break, but it will come back together once it warms up. Gte a heat gun or torch and lightly heat it while mixing it, it will come back together.
Dean Anthony Anderson
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#7 choux

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 01:46 PM

I was going to say that you didn't do anything wrong, too. When I make an egg white buttercream, I just walk away when I add the butter. It looks so nasty and curdled. but if you whip the hell out of it, it will come together. Buttercream does not like to be watched. :blink:

#8 amccomb

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 01:58 PM

Now I wish I hadn't thrown it out! It tasted really good before it broke, but then it tasted like watery butter. Oh well, live and learn! :laugh:

#9 freddurf

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 04:08 PM

I'm so glad you started this thread. I've been meaning to ask for help in this area, but have not had the time. I love the taste of IMB, but the consistency seems wrong, it's like batter. I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong. The directions say after pouring the hot sugar mixture into the whipped egg whites, continue beating up to 2 minutes or until cool. If not completely cool, continue beating. What I'm not sure about is, if I add a liquid that's 248 degrees, how can it cool down in 2 minutes? I've beat mine 10-20 min and it's still hot. What temp. should it be when I add the butter? After I add the butter, what should the consistency be? I've only made this 4 times. The last time, I put it in the fridge to let it firm up and then whipped it up again so it was easier to work with. Should I be able to use this fresh off the mixer? Help please :shock:

#10 RuthWells

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 04:22 PM

Should I be able to use this fresh off the mixer?  Help please :shock:

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I use IMB fresh off the mixer all the time. I agree that 2 minutes is not enough to cool down the merigue & syrup mixture -- I let the Kitchen Aide go (on medium) for however long it takes for the outside of the bowl to feel just barely warm. If you add butter to a still-hot meringue, you run the risk of melting the butter into liquid.

Another key for this buttercream is to add the butter gradually (about 1-2 Tbs at a time) and, once adding the butter, to run the mixer at no higher than medium speed to minimize air bubbles in the finished icing.

I make IBM all the time -- I'll try to take pix next time and post it as a demo if folks think it would be helpful.

#11 choux

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 04:51 PM

I usually dump the butter into the mixer in big chunks and let the mixer do the work. As long as the butter is pretty soft it's worked OK for me so far!

#12 chiantiglace

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 06:23 PM

i also do what coux does. I beat my butter cold until its light and fluffy, that way i know its a perfect working temp when i put it in the meringue. Because even though ideal kitch temps would be 70degrees to work with pastry, we all know that no matter what kind of air conditioning, it gets HOT in there. Its still getin up to 90 degrees where i work even though its cooled off outside. so the butter can easily be too warm.

I really dont find butter cream to be fenacy. After you've emulsified so many things you just gain an I for it. The worst thing during emulsyfication is fear. so many people get scared and make drastic reactions. When they dont know that if they keep doing what they were doing it will all come together. I cant even tell you how many things and times i've fixed something broken for someone that was ready to throw it all away. You just get scared, and thats ok, comes with experience.

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#13 LindaK

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 08:08 PM

Has there ever been a demo or eGCI class on buttercream? I had a quick look over the pinned threads but didn't see one.

Buttercream seems like a perfect candidate to me. There are many variations as well as basic technical information (temperatures, egg white: butter ratios, for example) where some detailed info would benefit both novices (me) as well as experienced pastry chefs. Not to mention pictures--I'd love to see one go from early "break" to emulsion. I have mixed experience with buttercreams and don't feel like I understand the "science" behind them to be consistently successful.

Sorry if this is beyond the reach of this thread. Everyone's comments here are helpful but I would love something more systematic.

note: edited because spell-check has made me lazy.

Edited by LindaK, 28 September 2005 - 08:10 PM.


 


#14 freddurf

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 12:47 AM

[/quote]

I use IMB fresh off the mixer all the time. I agree that 2 minutes is not enough to cool down the merigue & syrup mixture -- I let the Kitchen Aide go (on medium) for however long it takes for the outside of the bowl to feel just barely warm. If you add butter to a still-hot meringue, you run the risk of melting the butter into liquid.

Another key for this buttercream is to add the butter gradually (about 1-2 Tbs at a time) and, once adding the butter, to run the mixer at no higher than medium speed to minimize air bubbles in the finished icing.

I make IBM all the time -- I'll try to take pix next time and post it as a demo if folks think it would be helpful.

View Post

[/quote]
I would LOVE to see a demo on this! Please!

I think my problem is I'm adding the butter to a still hot meringue. I can see that it's turning it to liquid. You said you let it mix for as long as it takes for the outside of the bowl to feel barely warm. Appox. how long is that? This may be crazy, but would it help to surround the bowl in ice packs?
The butter should still be slightly cold when adding to the whites, right?
What is the correct temp. for the sugar mixture? I've seen several recipes and they have varied in temp. ? Thank for all your help

#15 RuthWells

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 06:12 AM

I would LOVE to see a demo on this!  Please!

I think my problem is I'm adding the butter to a still hot meringue. I can see that it's turning it to liquid.  You said you let it mix for as long as it takes for the outside of the bowl to feel barely warm.  Appox. how long is that?  This may be crazy, but would it help to surround the bowl in ice packs? 
The butter should still be slightly cold when adding to the whites, right?
What is the correct temp. for the sugar mixture?  I've seen several recipes and they have varied in temp. ?  Thank for all your help

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Okey doke -- I'll try to get to a demo in the next week or so. Meanwhile, if you're seeing the butter liquify, then temp is your problem, for sure. I'd say, depending on my kitchen temp, I let the meringue cool while beating for anywhere from 5 to 15 mintues. I don't grudge the downtime (as it were) because while the mixer is doing the work, I can clean my workspace or prep the next thing I'm going to be working on. Ice packs could certainly help cool things down, but might be cumbersome (I've never tried it). (My most common intervention is the opposite -- using a hot, well towel to warm up the bowl after I add butter that was too cold to begin with.)

I cook my sugar syrup to 248* and pour it immediately into a greased Pyrex measuring cup to stop the cooking and for ease of pouring into the meringue.

As for the actual temp of the butter, I've recently stopped focusing on temp and am instead using texture as a benchmark. I want the butter soft and pliable, but not at all mushy. I err on the side of cooler butter, and I tend to smush the butter between my fingers (inside the wrapper) as I add it if it's not quite pliable.

#16 chefpeon

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 02:23 PM

You know, I've always added cold butter to all my buttercreams. The action of the mixer warms the butter up soon enough anyway and it always whips up nice. Not only that, I never have to worry about the butter or the buttercream being too warm and hard to work with.

#17 RuthWells

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 04:13 PM

You know, I've always added cold butter to all my buttercreams. The action of the mixer warms the butter up soon enough anyway and it always whips up nice. Not only that, I never have to worry about the butter or the buttercream being too warm and hard to work with.

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But not butter straight from the fridge, right? I mean, it would eventually warm up and incorporate in the mixer, but I imagine it would take quite a while.

#18 JeanneCake

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 06:59 PM

I cook my sugar syrup to 248* and pour it immediately into a greased Pyrex measuring cup to stop the cooking and for ease of pouring into the meringue.

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In class, we were taught to pour the hot syrup directly from the pan into the whites in a steady stream (the stream being about the thickness of a pencil) . If you're using a probe thermometer, let it get to 244 and by the time you get it to your meringue, it will be closer to 248 without having to resort to the greased pyrex (which means another thing to wash/prep). The butter is cool, but not ice cold - if the butter is too warm, it won't emulsify as well and you can get soup rather than buttercream. And about whether it has to be beaten first - my instructor said that it was a step we could skip if we wanted or needed to; it would simply mean a less airy final product.

Edited by JeanneCake, 29 September 2005 - 06:59 PM.


#19 RuthWells

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 07:13 PM

I cook my sugar syrup to 248* and pour it immediately into a greased Pyrex measuring cup to stop the cooking and for ease of pouring into the meringue.

View Post


In class, we were taught to pour the hot syrup directly from the pan into the whites in a steady stream (the stream being about the thickness of a pencil) . If you're using a probe thermometer, let it get to 244 and by the time you get it to your meringue, it will be closer to 248 without having to resort to the greased pyrex (which means another thing to wash/prep). The butter is cool, but not ice cold - if the butter is too warm, it won't emulsify as well and you can get soup rather than buttercream. And about whether it has to be beaten first - my instructor said that it was a step we could skip if we wanted or needed to; it would simply mean a less airy final product.

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I agree on all fronts, JeanneCake. I am simply more comfortable pouring from a Pyrex than I am pouring from a hot saucepan. More control, etc. As for beating the butter before adding it, I used to do this, too, until I realized that it was unneccesary. I simply smoosh (or not) the butter as needed as it goes into the bowl.

#20 chefpeon

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 07:50 PM

But not butter straight from the fridge, right? I mean, it would eventually warm up and incorporate in the mixer, but I imagine it would take quite a while.


Yep. :smile: Straight from the fridge. It doesn't really take that much longer either. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes. I feel I have much more control when my buttercream is as cool as it can be. Also, I work in hot commercial kitchens....everything gets "out of control warm" pretty quickly. But even then, at home, I still use cold butter. Always works fine.

#21 freddurf

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 11:54 PM

RuthWells, thanks for offering to do the demo. When you make your buttercream, will you take a temp. reading on your egg white/sugar syrup mixture right before you add the butter so I can get an accurate idea of what "cool" is? Thanks!

#22 RuthWells

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 06:33 AM

RuthWells, thanks for offering to do the demo.  When you make your buttercream, will you take a temp. reading on your egg white/sugar syrup mixture right before you add the butter so I can get an accurate idea of what "cool" is?  Thanks!

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Will do, Fred. I'm going away this weekend so likely won't be able to put this together until next week......

#23 JamericanDiva

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 08:54 AM

I add the hot syrup to my meringue in a slow, steady stream. Then I add the room temp. butter (it's still is firm to the touch, but has give) half a stick at a time. Eventually the mixture will break and get soupy, but the mixing bowl is also quite warm to the touch. I then continue beating it for like 30 minutes. I set the timer and walk away, only to check on it occasionally. That works for me....

Edited by JamericanDiva, 30 September 2005 - 08:55 AM.

Diva

#24 RuthWells

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 09:22 AM

I then continue beating it for like 30 minutes. I set the timer and walk away, only to check on it occasionally. That works for me....

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This is the primary reason I don't add the butter when it's too cool or cold -- I don't want to beat the buttercream any longer than I have to to get it to emulsify. I don't want the extra air bubbles when I'm trying to smooth the icing on the cake. Do you ever have air bubbles as an issue, or have I convinced myself of a problem that doesn't exist? :wink:

#25 JamericanDiva

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 09:59 AM

I then continue beating it for like 30 minutes. I set the timer and walk away, only to check on it occasionally. That works for me....

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This is the primary reason I don't add the butter when it's too cool or cold -- I don't want to beat the buttercream any longer than I have to to get it to emulsify. I don't want the extra air bubbles when I'm trying to smooth the icing on the cake. Do you ever have air bubbles as an issue, or have I convinced myself of a problem that doesn't exist? :wink:

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Nope, no air bubbles. I beat it on a medium speed. I find that if I beat it too high, then there's the air bubble issue.... :rolleyes:
Diva

#26 EllenC

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 01:06 PM

Do you beat this with the paddle or the whip on your KitchenAid?

#27 RuthWells

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 01:38 PM

Do you beat this with the paddle or the whip on your KitchenAid?

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Hi,

Not sure who you were asking, but I always use the paddle to avoid excess air bubbles.

#28 EllenC

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 02:56 PM

Do you beat this with the paddle or the whip on your KitchenAid?

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Hi,

Not sure who you were asking, but I always use the paddle to avoid excess air bubbles.

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Thank you. I was wondering how you beat in the butter. I usually whip the egg whites with the whip and pour the syrup in while still whipping withthe whip. I just wanted to see if you switch to your paddle when you mix in the butter? I am not very coherent today... :unsure:

#29 RuthWells

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 04:23 PM

I usually whip the egg whites with the whip and pour the syrup in while still whipping withthe whip.  I just wanted to see if you switch to your paddle when you mix in the butter?  I am not very coherent today... :unsure:

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I've done that once or twice -- switched from the whip to the paddle -- but I get just as good results using the paddle for the egg whites, so I'm now a paddle girl from start to finish.

#30 Kris

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 04:30 PM

You know, I've always added cold butter to all my buttercreams. The action of the mixer warms the butter up soon enough anyway and it always whips up nice. Not only that, I never have to worry about the butter or the buttercream being too warm and hard to work with.

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Ditto. Cold and hard butter works better for me.

And once I add the sugar syrup to the meringue, I beat it for quite a while in my KitchenAid...approximately 15 minutes.

I also cook my sugar syrup to 248 degrees F.

I use the wire whip from start to finish.