Cakes and cupcakes are delightful treats that are made even more delicious with the right frosting.
Two of the most common frosting choices are whipping cream and buttercream.
While both can add sweetness and moisture to baked goods, they have some notable differences.
What is Whipping Cream?
To make whipped cream frosting, start by chilling a metal bowl and beaters/whisk attachment. Cold equipment helps the cream whip up faster. Pour cold heavy cream into the bowl and beat on medium-high speed while slowly adding sugar, until stiff peaks form.
Whipped cream can be flavored by adding vanilla extract, cinnamon, lemon zest, or other ingredients. For added stability, a small amount of cream of tartar or corn starch can be added before whipping.
The finished whipped cream will have a smooth, billowy texture. When piped or spread onto cakes and cupcakes, it provides a delicately sweet flavor and soft, cloud-like texture.
Compared to other frostings, whipped cream is lighter and not as rich or sweet. It has a high air content from the whipping process, which gives it a soft, melt-in-your-mouth quality. However, the air bubbles are delicate and can deflate if overmixed or exposed to heat.
Pros of Whipped Cream Frosting:
- Light, airy texture
- Subtly sweet flavor
- Easy to make with just cream and sugar
- Lovely finishing touch for cakes and cupcakes
Cons of Whipped Cream Frosting:
- Not very stable, air bubbles can deflate
- Needs refrigeration to keep its shape
- Difficult to use for piping decorative details
Key Takeaway: Whipping cream is made by whisking heavy cream with sugar until stiff peaks form. It has a light, airy texture.
What is Buttercream?
Buttercream frosting is a creamy, sweet icing made with butter, powdered sugar, and sometimes milk or cream. It's popular for frosting cakes and cupcakes due to its smooth, spreadable texture.
To make basic buttercream, softened butter is creamed together with powdered sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Milk or cream can be added to thin out the consistency. Butter provides a rich flavor, while the powdered sugar sweetens it.
There are several variations of buttercream:
- American buttercream - The simplest version, using just butter, powdered sugar, milk/cream, and flavorings.
- Swiss meringue buttercream - Egg whites and sugar are heated over a double boiler then whipped into meringue before adding butter.
- Italian meringue buttercream - Hot sugar syrup is poured into whipped egg whites to create the meringue base.
- French buttercream - Made with egg yolks instead of whites for a glossy, silky texture.
Buttercream can be colored and flavored easily. It holds its shape well for cake decorating. Since it contains minimal air, it's also more stable than whipped cream. However, the high butter content means it should be refrigerated if keeping longer than a few days.
Pros of Buttercream Frosting:
- Creamy, smooth texture
- Rich buttery flavor
- Ideal for frosting cakes and piping decorations
- Holds shape well at room temperature
Cons of Buttercream Frosting:
- High in butter and sugar
- Needs refrigeration for long term storage
- Can be difficult to pipe if too soft or warm
Key Takeaway: Buttercream is made by creaming butter and sugar together. It has a rich, creamy texture perfect for decorating cakes.
Key Differences Between Whipping Cream and Buttercream
|Made with heavy cream||Made with butter, sugar, sometimes milk/cream|
|Light, fluffy texture||Creamy, smooth texture|
|Subtly sweet||Very sweet|
|Delicate - air bubbles can deflate||Stable, minimal air incorporated|
|Needs refrigeration||Can be left at room temp short term|
|Difficult to pipe details||Great for piping and decorating|
|Short shelf life - 3 days max||Lasts 2 weeks refrigerated|
In summary, the main differences come down to:
- Ingredients - Whipping cream uses cream as the base while buttercream is based on butter.
- Texture - Whipped cream is lighter and airier; buttercream is creamy and densely textured.
- Stability - The air incorporated into whipped cream makes it less stable than the rich buttercream.
- Flavor - Whipped cream has a subtle sweetness; buttercream is quite sweet and buttery.
- Decorating - Buttercream is better for frosting cakes and piping while whipped cream is too delicate.
- Storage - Whipped cream has a much shorter shelf life than refrigerated buttercream.
Best Uses for Whipping Cream vs Buttercream Frosting
When should you use whipped cream versus buttercream? Here are some guidelines:
Whipped Cream Frosting
- Cupcakes or unfrosted cakes eaten immediately
- Toppings for pies, trifles, parfaits
- Filling for sponge or chiffon cakes
- Simple piping borders, not intricate designs
- Smooth frosting onto cakes just before serving
- Layer cakes and stacked cakes
- Cupcakes and cakes being served later
- Piping flowers, writing, and decorative details
- Frosting cupcakes, cookies, and cake pops
- Filling and frosting for cream puffs or eclairs
- Cover cake in crumbs before piping buttercream
Ultimately, the choice depends on the flavor and texture you prefer as well as how soon the frosted cake will be eaten. Whipped cream works for unfussy frosting and eating immediately while buttercream is ideal for decorating and longevity.
Key Takeaway: Whipped cream is perfect for cakes being served soon after frosting while buttercream works better for decorating and cakes being served later.
Making the Most of Whipping Cream and Buttercream Frosting
With a basic understanding of these two popular frostings under your belt, let's go over some tips for working with whipped cream and buttercream:
- Refrigerate cakes frosted with whipped cream as it will deflate quickly at room temperature. Enjoy buttercream frosted cakes within 3 days.
- If whipped cream starts to deflate, briefly re-whip it but don't overmix. Refrigerate piping bags of whipped cream.
- To thin buttercream, add milk/cream a spoonful at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Flavor buttercream with extracts, cocoa powder, fruit purees, Nutella, caramel, and more. Avoid adding excess liquids to whipped cream.
- Color both frostings using gel food coloring for the best results.
- Pipe whipped cream using a round tip and avoid intricate decorations. Use various piping tips to decorate with buttercream.
- Layer dense cakes with buttercream and lighter cakes with whipped cream for ideal pairings.
- Make stabilized whipped cream by adding gelatin, cream cheese, or marshmallows to increase longevity.
With the right techniques, both buttercream and whipped cream can help you create stunning cakes and cupcakes! Give them each a try to discover your favorite.
Can you add food coloring to whipped cream frosting?
Yes, but gel food coloring is recommended to avoid thinning the whipped cream. Use sparingly and mix gently to maintain the airy texture.
How long does buttercream last unrefrigerated?
Properly stored buttercream can be kept at room temperature for 2-3 days. After that, it's best to refrigerate it.
What's the difference between whipped cream and whipped topping?
Whipped cream is made from heavy cream while whipped topping contains dairy ingredients other than cream, along with stabilizers and emulsifiers.
Should you refrigerate buttercream frosted cakes?
Yes, refrigeration helps buttercream frosted cakes last longer - up to 2 weeks if airtight. Let refrigerated cakes come to room temp before serving.
Can you freeze buttercream?
Absolutely! Make sure cakes are completely cooled and frosted before freezing. Thaw overnight in the fridge before serving.
Whipping cream and buttercream offer two distinctly different frosting options for cakes and cupcakes. Light and fluffy whipped cream delivers an airy sweetness while rich buttercream boasts a creamy indulgent flavor and texture.
Take into account your dessert plans, decorating needs, and personal taste preferences when deciding between these sweet frostings. With the right handling, both can help create bakery-worthy treats!