Caramel Buttercream Tutorial

Troubleshooting Caramel Buttercream

caramel buttercream closeup

Do not confuse this with caramel frostings and icings, which develop a hard crust and act as more of a glaze. While all of these recipes share a rich caramel flavor, this one is a true caramel buttercream. Incredibly silky smooth but with that burnt sugar flavor we caramel fanatics crave. I admit this buttercream is persnickety. It is very sensitive to temperature. Emphasis on Very. I have included some before and after pics so you can see that indeed, all is not lost if it doesn’t come together for you initially. 99% of the time the mixture is too cold. Read the instructions through thoroughly and you will understand what I am referring to. If you are familiar with making Italian Meringue Buttercream then this will be easy for you. Don’t give up! You will be rewarded with an incredibly elegant, true caramel buttercream. Try it on white, yellow or chocolate cakes – or even banana cake (as seen below).

banana caramel cake whole

Refer to the Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe for tips on handling the temperature issues and how to re-constitute after refrigeration, if you decide to make it ahead.

Caramel Buttercream Tutorial
Makes: Makes about 4 cups
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cups water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks; ½ a pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
  1. Bring the cream to a boil in a saucepan; remove from heat and set aside, keeping warm.
  2. Combine the sugar and water in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Stir to combine. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer; wash sugar crystals down from the pan’s sides with a damp pastry brush if necessary. Do not stir. Swirl the pot occasionally to mix the contents gently.
  3. The mixture will begin to color. Temperature is not that important here; you just want it to be the proper color. It should be an attractive deep-amber, but not black or it will taste burned. When it develops the proper color, remove from the heat. Immediately, but slowly and steadily, pour in the warm cream. The mixture may boil up furiously. Have a whisk ready to stir it down.
  4. The mixture may seize up if the cream was too cool and you may be left with a hardened caramel ball. Just place the pot over a low-medium heat to melt out the caramel. Stir until smooth.
  5. Remove from heat and cool in pot. Pour into your stand mixer’s bowl and let sit overnight at a cool room temperature or refrigerate until firmed. The caramel mixture will become sticky and thick, but it should not be ice cold. (Pay attention to the temperature here; do not over-chill).
  6. Place the bowl on the mixer stand fitted with the balloon whip. Begin to whip on low-medium speed. If it is too cold the mixture will be too thick to whip. If it is still too warm, it will be soupy. Chill or warm as necessary using some of the tips suggested in the Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe. You want it to become pale, lightened in texture and very smooth.
  7. Add the soft butter two tablespoons at a time (eyeball this) while continuing to whip with mixer on high speed. Keep beating until all the butter is added and the mixture is soft, creamy and smooth. Keep whipping until the texture you want is reached. It should be thick enough to pipe out and spread with an icing spatula.
  8. OK, what can go wrong? The most common thing with this recipe is that you will add the butter and it will look like the first image below. It will look separated and “curdy”. This happened when the mixture is too cold overall. It happened to me as I took this photo shoot, but I was glad it did so I could show you the “before”. If you get to the point where it looks like the picture above, remove about 1 cup of the mixture, place in a microwave safe container and nuke it until it is very soft (you need to be familiar with your microwave to do this successfully). Start with 5-second bursts. Add this softened buttercream to the larger amount and it should smooth out. If it doesn’t, simply repeat until it works. I think I did it 3x during this particular go-round. Yes, it gave me some problems, but look at it in the bottom image. When it was done it was super smooth and so delectable you will want to eat it by a spoon - and this was a mere 5 minutes after the crisis point.
  9. The Caramel Buttercream is now ready to use or place in an airtight container and store refrigerated for up to a week. Read How to Reconstitute Italian Meringue Buttercream if you want to use it after refrigeration.

Below you can see the “curdled” stage. This is after butter has been added, but the mixture is still too cold.

caramel buttercream broken

Following the directions in the recipe, the image below shows the same buttercream less than 5 minutes after the above image was taken. I removed about a cup of the buttercream, microwaved it until very soft, and then used that softened buttercream to seed the whole batch. It was still a little “curdy”, so I repeated the microwave step 2 more times. Voila! As you can see below, it turned super smooth and ready to use in very little time. Don’t give up on this one!

caramel buttercream creamy

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9 Responses to Caramel Buttercream Tutorial

  1. Jackie Concetta Russo May 17, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    Could I use this to pipe into molded chocolate? I am looking for a suitable cream center to pipe. Thanks!

    • Dede Wilson May 17, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

      I wouldn’t. I don’t think this is stable enough for that. I would use a recipe meant for confectionery.

  2. yohoyle August 11, 2015 at 6:01 am #

    Hi Dede,

    I am baking a wedding cake for a friend (It’s my first time :)), and wanted to use you’re recipe for the filling. Do you think the caramel buttercream will be stable enough for an outdoor wedding, that is taking place in a warm temperature?


    • Dede Wilson August 11, 2015 at 11:52 am #

      It will be as stable as any Italian meringue. Which means it is…to an extent. If you are familiar with IMBC and how it reacts within warm circumstances, I think you will be fine. I would use it.

      • yohoyle August 13, 2015 at 9:43 am #

        Hey Dede, thank you for your reply.
        I’ve read your IMBC recipe, and it seemed very different from this one here (here there no eggs, and i guess you use the cream in the caramel syrup instead? so it’s not a meringue per se…).
        Do you think It would be better to use your IMBC recipe and to add caramel syrup to it? i thought of using this one:

        I would love to hear what you think.


        • Dede Wilson August 13, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

          I have never had success adding caramel to IMBC…texture wise it is iffy but beyond that, the caramel flavor isn’t strong enough. Stick with the recommended recipe…with the caveat that it is picky. Do a trial for sure.

  3. Calisun February 23, 2016 at 7:34 pm #

    Hi Dede, I’m planning to use this to frost my husband’s 40th birthday cake. I’ll have my hands full before the party, so I’m wondering if I can make this frosting a few weeks in advance. Would that work? If I froze it, how would I thaw it? Finally, how much frosting would I need to fill and frost a 3-layer 6″ cake and frost about 60 cupcakes? I use a 1M tip to pipe a simple rose on the cupcakes. Thanks!

    • Calisun February 23, 2016 at 7:35 pm #

      I meant if I made it a few weeks in advance AND froze it. Would that work?

  4. ADA Sign Lady April 29, 2021 at 7:27 pm #

    I had made myself a birthday cake and decided I’d use a caramel frosting. I always like to try new recipes, so found your caramel buttercream tutorial and wanted to follow it. Alas! I had just gotten a new induction burner, and although I’ve made caramel successfully many times, the induction burner absolutely REFUSED to caramelize! I was using my large Dutch oven, which would normally work just fine on the regular gas burner. I’m wondering if it was the water method. I did a little research and found others had trouble with induction burners when they were caramelizing sugar, and a group of chefs said they had gone to the “dry” method, which I presume is just doing the sugar without any water, and then adding liquid later. Have you experimented at all with this recipe on an induction burner? My other question about the recipe is, it would be very helpful if you would list the temperatures for the various stages. That would take away all the guesswork on whether the caramel is too hot or cold at various points. This recipe was from a while back, and of course instant thermometers were not as inexpensive and as common as they are now. I use mine all the time, and the precision it allows is very helpful. Thanks

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