French Buttercream

Close up of French buttercream in a glass jar

French buttercream is silky, rich, custardy, and just sinfully delicious. It’s my absolute favorite among all the classic buttercreams, hands down, because of its heavenly taste! It’s not the quickest or easiest to make, but the flavor is so worth the extra effort. Just give it a try, and I bet this buttercream will quickly become one of your go-to frostings.

What is French buttercream made of?

Classic French buttercream is made of sugar syrup, egg yolks, and, of course, butter. While butter is the main ingredient, egg yolks are what distinguish it from other buttercreams and give this frosting a specific custardy and charming flavor. They also give it a strong yellow shade, so keep this in mind if color is important to you.

Chocolate cupcake frosted with French buttercream

Two methods to make French buttercream

This buttercream contains egg yolks, so you might wonder if they are raw in the final buttercream. Or are they safe to consume for everybody?

The usual way to make French buttercream is by slowly drizzling 114°C / 237°F sugar syrup into egg yolks, that are being whipped at the same time, and adding butter after the egg mixture cools down. Sugar syrup that is so hot, might sound like enough to cook the eggs and make them safe to consume. But if we care about egg safety, we should concentrate on egg temperature, not the syrup temperature. And as a dedicated experimenter in the kitchen, I’ve for sure tested it.

Immediately after all the syrup was incorporated into the egg yolks, the temperature of the mixture was 50°C / 122°F, and after 5 minutes of whipping, it was already down to 24°C / 75°F. Egg yolks get heated and they might be considered partly cooked, but these temperatures are far away from pasteurization. Gladly, if you prefer safe eggs in your frostings like me, there is another way to make this buttercream.

Heating eggs above steaming water

Have you ever made Swiss meringue buttercream before? If yes, you are already familiar with the method, only we work with yolks instead of egg whites in this case. No sugar syrup is involved, but egg yolks and sugar are heated until they reach pasteurization temperature (above 62°C / 144°F) before whipping. No, they don’t scramble if you do everything properly. Eggs are whipped after that until they get back to room temperature, and all the further process is the same as with the sugar syrup method.

I’ve described both methods in this recipe, so you are free to try both and choose the one you prefer. Both require a thermometer, as the precise temperatures are important here, but the pasteurized eggs method is slightly easier. The final result in its texture and taste is the same, whichever method you choose to use.

Chocolate cupcakes frosted with French buttercream

What to use French buttercream for?

I love using this buttercream to fill macarons. While after making macaron shells there are always some leftover egg yolks, it’s just a perfect way to use them. Also, because of its lovely taste, it’s one of not many buttercreams I use for frosting cakes and cupcakes. It pipes really well, so it’s also great for decorating cakes.

How to flavor French buttercream?

In this recipe, I flavored the buttercream only with vanilla extract, but other options and their combinations are also possible:

  • Coffee. This buttercream can hold some liquid, and a bit of strong coffee, like I did in my coffee cupcakes recipe, elevates the taste to the next level. Especially for coffee lovers like me.
  • A bit of strong alcohol, like rum or brandy, adds some ‘bite’ that goes very well with the custardy taste.
  • Lyophilized powdered berries give a nice taste and color at the same time.
  • Try adding some melted chocolate or cocoa powder for a chocolate French buttercream version.
  • Ground cinnamon or a mix of winter spices creates a Christmasy version.

Troubleshooting French buttercream

Problems that you might face making this buttercream are the same usual ones that might happen with any other frosting that contains butter. All of them are temperature-related and easily fixable.

How to fix soupy buttercream

If your French buttercream does not hold its shape, looks too thin, or even soupy, it’s too warm. Most likely, you’ve started adding butter when the egg mixture was still above 30°C / 86 °F and it melted the butter. Let the buttercream cool down, chill it in the fridge for half an hour or so, and then whip again until it becomes fluffy.

Close up of a soupy French buttercream

How to fix curdled buttercream

Broken or curdled buttercream is a problem that happens to me quite often. So don’t worry, you are not alone here. Even if it looks like scrambled eggs, don’t worry, this is not what happened. It’s how the cold butter behaves when it’s whipped. If your French buttercream is curdled, you most likely added too cold butter or re-whipped cold refrigerated buttercream. Put the bowl with the buttercream above the steaming water bath, and mix it until it starts melting. Now whip it again until it comes together and becomes light and fluffy. Works like magic every time!

Close up of a broken French buttercream

How to prevent buttercream issues

While all of these problems are easy to solve, saving the buttercream takes time. Especially, if you are working with a big batch. If you are making this buttercream, you already have a thermometer, so use it to prevent issues!

  • Measure egg temperature before adding butter.
  • Check the butter temperature to make sure it’s not too cold.
  • Measure the buttercream temperature before re-whipping it.

It takes just a few extra seconds! From my experience, the sweet spot for the perfect texture is 22-23°C / 71-73°F.

How to store French buttercream

French buttercream can stay on the counter for a few hours. If you are not using it the same day, store it in a fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. You can also freeze it for even later use. Before using refrigerated or frozen buttercream, bring it back to room temperature and re-whip it to bring back the fluffy texture. Remember, if you whip the buttercream that’s still cold, it will curdle.

French buttercream in a glass jar

French Buttercream: Classic Method with Sugar Syrup

Bowl full of French buttercream frosting

The classic method to make French buttercream, that is silky, rich, custardy, and just sinfully delicious. If you prefer making this buttercream with pasteurized eggs, see the recipe below.

  • Prep Time30 min
  • Total Time30 min
  • Yield~380 g / ~13,4 oz

Ingredients

  • 5 egg yolks (100-120 g / 3,5-4,2 oz)
  • 100 g / 3,5 oz granulated sugar
  • 40 ml / 1,4 fl oz water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice 
  • 220 g / 7,8 oz unsalted butter (softened, cubed)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ⅛ tsp salt

Directions

1

Place the egg yolks into a bowl and prepare them for whipping.

2

Combine 40 ml / 1,4 fl oz water, teaspoon of lemon juice, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat over low heat till the sugar fully dissolves, and the syrup starts bubbling lightly on the sides. You can stir carefully from time to time to speed up the melting of sugar, but be careful not to splash the sides of the saucepan.

Slowly heating sugar syrup in a saucepan, till the sugar dissolves

3

Insert a candy thermometer into the sugar syrup, increase heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and continue cooking until the syrup reaches 114°C / 237°F.

Boiling sugar syrup

4

In the meantime, start whipping the egg yolks with a handheld or a stand mixer.

5

Remove the sugar syrup from the heat and immediately start drizzling it very slowly into the egg yolks, with the mixer running slow. Try to drizzle it in between the bowl edge and the whisk attachment to prevent splashing it all around. Some of the syrup will splash on the sides of the bowl anyway.

Drizzling sugar syrup into egg yolks

6

Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and continue whipping until the yolk mixture cools down to room temperature – the bottom of the bowl will be cool to the touch.

Whipped egg yolks with sugar syrup

7

While whipping further, add softened butter, one cube at a time, allowing each piece to incorporate before adding the next. After adding all the butter, stop the mixer and scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl, then whisk a bit more to mix in all the butter evenly.

Adding butter one cube at a time

8

Add vanilla extract and salt. Whip an extra minute or so to incorporate.

Finished French buttercream frosting

9

If you are using a stand mixer, switch to a paddle attachment and mix for a few more minutes at a slow speed to remove big air bubbles and smooth out the buttercream. If you are using a handheld mixer, turn it off and mix the buttercream with a spatula or a spoon to smooth it out.

Smoothed out French buttercream frosting

notes

  • This is a classic method to make French buttercream, where eggs are not pasteurized. I would not serve this buttercream for kids and pregnant women.
  • It’s not a very big batch. With this amount of French buttercream, you can frost 12 cupcakes, but double the batch if you need it for a bigger cake.

French Buttercream: Method with Pasteurized Egg Yolks

Close up of a glass jar full of French buttercream frosting

Silky, rich, custardy, and just sinfully delicious French buttercream, made with pasteurized egg yolks and safe to eat for everyone.

  • Prep Time30 min
  • Total Time30 min
  • Yield~380 g / ~13,4 oz

Ingredients

  • 5 egg yolks (100-120 g / 3,5-4,2 oz)
  • 100 g / 3,5 oz granulated sugar
  • 220 g / 7,8 oz unsalted butter (softened, cubed)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ⅛ tsp salt

Directions

1

In a mixing bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar. Boil some water in a saucepan, then reduce the heat to medium to keep the water steaming but not bubbling vigorously. Put the bowl with egg yolks and sugar on top of the saucepan with steaming water while making sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water.

Putting a metal a bowl on a top of a saucepan with steaming water

2

Heat the mixture stirring with a silicone spatula or a spoon all the time. Do not whisk or whip yet. Scrape the sides to make sure that all the sugar fully dissolves. When the temperature reaches 62°C / 144°F, start the timer. To pasteurize eggs, keep the temperature above 62°C / 144°F, but below 72°C / 161°F, for 5 minutes. You want to pasteurize but not scramble them. That’s how I do it: after starting the timer, I keep stirring and heating the eggs, but if the temperature reaches 70°C / 158°F before the time is up, I turn off the stove or move the saucepan off the heat but keep the bowl with eggs above the steaming water – the temperature starts dropping slowly. If it drops to 64°C / 147°F before the time is up, I turn the heat back on, and the temperature slowly rises again.

Heating and mixing egg yolks with sugar

3

After pasteurizing eggs, remove them from the heat and start whipping immediately with a handheld or stand mixer. Whip until eggs cool down to room temperature and the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch. The mixture will get thick and pale yellow.

Whipped pasteurized egg yolks with sugar

4

While whipping further, add softened butter, one cube at a time, allowing each piece to incorporate before adding the next. After adding all the butter, stop the mixer and scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl, then whisk a bit more to mix in all the butter evenly.

Adding butter one cube at a time

5

Add vanilla extract and salt. Whip an extra minute or so to incorporate.

Finished French buttercream frosting

6

If you are using a stand mixer, switch to a paddle attachment and mix for a few more minutes at a slow speed to remove big air bubbles and smooth out the buttercream. If you are using a handheld mixer, turn it off and mix the buttercream with a spatula or a spoon to smooth it out.

Smoothed out French buttercream frosting

notes

  • This version of French buttercream is safe to eat for everyone.
  • It’s not a very big batch. With this amount of French buttercream, you can frost 12 cupcakes, but double the batch if you need it for a bigger cake.
Chocolate cupcake frosted with French buttercream
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