Troubleshooting Caramel Buttercream
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).
- 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
- Bring the cream to a boil in a saucepan; remove from heat and set aside, keeping warm.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!