Less Sweet American buttercream (aka American Dreamy Buttercream)

American Dreamy Buttercream is my version of an American buttercream that is less sweet, smooth, and buttery. Using only butter, corn syrup, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and heavy cream, my frosting comes together in less than 10 minutes and is stable enough for intricate piping and holding up large layer cakes.

This is my American Dreamy Buttercream on 3 layers of my sprinkle cake.

What is different about this version of American buttercream frosting?

My version of American buttercream will be far smoother, creamier, buttery, and less sweet than classic American buttercreams. It’s also different because it relies on forming an emulsion with the whipped butter and liquid corn syrup to create a stable buttercream. The resulting texture is much like the one in a condensed milk (Russian) buttercream or French buttercream.

For reference, it's good to know what a classic American buttercream is so you know the problem I'm trying to address. It's the frosting when you whip butter and add powdered sugar, a small amount of liquid (milk, cream, or water), and vanilla extract.

The ratio of powdered sugar to butter in classic American buttercreams vary from 1 to 1 ratio of sugar to butter up to 2 to 1 ratio. This is by weight, so for a 2 to 1 recipe, you’ll see something like for every stick of butter (113g or 1/2c), you’ll need about 1 3/4 cup or 226g of powdered sugar.

These buttercreams taste very sweet initially, then lingers with a slight buttery vanilla flavor. They also crust when exposed to air after a while because it contains a high proportion of sugar in the liquid and only one type of sugar molecule (sucrose).

Some people adore classic American buttercream; it is genuinely nostalgic, and I enjoy it in (very) small amounts like for cupcakes or piping when I need something more sturdy. I also have it in the Cakeculator (look for “Classic American Buttercream”) should you prefer this type of buttercream.

For the most part, I rarely use this type of frosting, particularly in large amounts due to the sweetness and texture. I wanted an alternative that was also quick and easy, which prompted me to figure out why traditional American buttercreams were grainy to begin with.

Why are American Buttercreams grainy?

Classic American buttercreams are grainy mostly because of the high proportion of undissolved sugar and anti-caking agents. This type of frosting is really just butter with sugar shoved into it. The sugar just sits amongst the butterfat, some of it dissolving within the water in the butter and added liquid, but for the most part, the sugar sits there undissolved, or in solid granular form.

I have made many types of frostings, and traditional American buttercream is on the sweeter side and far too grainy for me to use in large amounts. And by grainy, I mean I can feel the texture from the undissolved sugar. There is also texture from the anti-caking agents, such as cornstarch. No amount of mixing, sifting, or adjusting the granularity (fine-ness) or brand of the powdered sugar will remedy the grainy feeling.

The science behind this is that sugar dissolves into water (or water-based liquids), not fat (or butterfat.) Classic American buttercreams simply don’t have enough water (or milk or cream) to dissolve the high amount of sugar. The sugar has merely nowhere to go (dissolve) and remains solid.

So to remedy this, I sought a different way to add sugar to my buttercream, which is to use one that’s already dissolved. Or a syrup. You can use any type of syrup or even make your own, but corn syrup is pre-made, unflavored, and perfect for this application.

You'll see familiar ingredients below, but the proportions (and the underlying process by which it comes together) is different than Classic American buttercream.

What ingredients do you need for American Dreamy buttercream?

Unsalted butter is the base fat for this buttercream. It is key to any of my emulsion-based frostings because it contains a key component inside the butter called an emulsifier. This ties together ingredients; in this case, it’s bringing together the corn syrup and fat in the butter.

I always use unsalted butter in all my frostings because that allows you to customize the salty flavor at the end. Not all salted kinds of butter contain the same amount of salt, so the frosting may become too salty.

Light corn syrup is a syrup of sugars (glucose + maltose) derived from corn. (This is not high fructose corn syrup - another kind of syrup from corn that is treated with enzymes containing fructose.) The “light” is just an indication of the color of the syrup, not the sweetness.

You’ll probably be able to substitute other syrups here if you like, but corn syrup is a flavorless option that allows us to customize this recipe for different flavors later on. If you sub something else, know that corn syrup is less sweet than most other baking sugars. You’ll likely have to use less than what I’ve written in this recipe. (One such option is my honey buttercream, here.)

Powdered (confectioner's) sugar supplements the sweet taste along with the light corn syrup. You may be wondering why we have to add extra sugar - and the answer is that corn syrup is a liquid. Butter can only emulsify a finite amount of liquid before it breaks or becomes too loose to frost or pipe with. Since this sugar is solid, it can be added in greater amounts (just as you would a classic American buttercream recipe). The amount I give in the recipe below is of low to medium sweetness, so add more if you want a sweeter and/or firmer frosting.

Vanilla extract and salt are the flavoring agents for this frosting. You can sub out any extract you like but add salt, and it balances the sweetness of the sugars and creates a more well-rounded frosting taste.

Purple gel food coloring (not shown in pic) is used to offset the orange and yellow undertones of the butter to create a whiter buttercream. This is optional, but if you need whiter frosting, just use a toothpick’s end amount of purple gel food coloring.

*NOT PICTURED* Heavy cream is an optional ingredient you can add at the end to adjust the consistency and taste. Use full fat heavy whipping cream and the buttercream will loosen a bit and feel less dense and buttery on the palate.

Can American Dreamy Buttercream be left out?

This buttercream can be left at room temperature safely for a couple of days. The ingredients (butter, corn syrup, powdered sugar, flavors) are all room temperature stable. I do fridge my cakes after they’ve been frosted for a couple hours to set the design, then bring them out a couple hours before serving. Though if you’re doing everything within the same day, it’s safe on your counter if you prefer.


How to make my version of American Buttercream (American Dreamy Buttercream)

Step 1. Whip up butter

Add the slightly softened butter to the mixing bowl (1a). Use a whisk attachment and whip on high speed until it’s lighter in color and texture(1b). Here, you can see the difference between whipped and unwhipped butter (1c).

Step 2. Add in corn syrup

Add the corn syrup in 3 to 4 additions (2a), mixing after every addition (2b). After all the syrup has been added, mix for an additional minute at high speed. You can see the difference between the butter here (2c)

Step 3. Mix in powdered sugar

Taste to see how much sugar you will add in this step (3a). Add in the powdered sugar, one half first, then mix on low speed to reduce the mess (3b). Mix for another minute after all the sugar has been added (3c).

Step 4. Adjust for flavor, color, and texture

Add the vanilla and salt (4a). Add a small amount of purple gel food coloring if you want a whiter frosting (4b).

*NEW* and not pictured: I've gotten feedback from you all and made adjustments to this recipe. Give the frosting a taste at this point. Some bakers like their buttercreams to lean towards buttery and prefer a denser feel for frosting cakes and piping. But if it's too much for you, add some heavy cream. Start with one tablespoon of cold heavy cream, then mix on high speed.

Keep repeating this process until you like the texture. The butter can handle more liquid, but you'll want to stop when it reaches a very firm and thick Greek yogurt type consistency. If you get to the point where it looks too loose or perhaps broken, don't worry. Just add softened butter, one tablespoon at a time, then whip on high speed to reform the emulsion. (You may have to add a touch of powdered sugar to get the sweetness back up as well.)

Switch to the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until smooth and creamy (4c).

Here’s the finished buttercream ready to use! 

And here's a video that goes more into the science background of this frosting as well as a visual on what this looks like when frosting a large cake:

Use my recipe below or visit my Cakeculator for different frosting amounts:

Almost all of my frostings can be found in my cakeculator, which allows you to customize your frosting flavors and amounts based on the cake you're baking. The vanilla buttercream frosting recipe below makes 3 cups, but if you need another quantity, go to my Cakeculator here and choose "American Dreamy Buttercream".

IMPORTANT NOTE: You can perfectly replicate all my cake and frosting recipes using gram measurements. Weighing is the most accurate way to bake and I use it exclusively.

For American bakers, I have converted grams to estimated volumes (cups, teaspoons, etc.), which are not as accurate and may have awkward proportions, but they still work. 

This is the OXO scale I use on a daily basis. If you’re interested in other tools I use for my baking, I’ve compiled a list here.

Hi! I'm Adriana.

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