It's happened to everyone. You needed to get your cake ready and finished, but you were almost done; the cake was nearly made cooling, the layers turned out entirely. All you need to do is complete your Buttercream.
You've got the mixer running, and it is almost done but, then, disaster strikes your Buttercream breaks before your very eyes.
Before you react badly and throw the whole thing away, only to find that you are out of butter and your entire cake is ruined, there are a few steps you can do to try and fix your buttercream.
Here is how to fix your unfortunately broken Buttercream frostings, no matter the reason.
Why Did your Buttercream Break?
While Buttercream is often touted as being one of the most comfortable possible frostings to make from scratch, it is actually a surprisingly finicky, difficult thing to master.
Buttercream is, fundamentally, an emulsion made up of a mixture of fats and liquids. As with all emulsions, if the conditions aren’t right, the liquids and fats might not bond together to form a stable emulsion.
When you see your Buttercream break, you see it fall apart into its constituent parts. This can happen with hollandaise sauce or even mayonnaise and even occurs with a salad dressing that is left to sit for too long after mixing it.
The fundamental problem is the ratio of fats to liquid, something that can usually be carefully calibrated when mixing more simple ingredients.
However, when you make Buttercream, you aren't working with simple ingredients; you are working with butter. Butter is tricky because it isn't just delicious fat, but also water in the form of residual water leftover from the butter creation process. If it were just fat, you'd be working with pure Ghee, and that wouldn't taste very good at all.
This means the main culprit when it comes to a broken Buttercream is a mismanaged temperature, causing the butter to either stiffen or melt before it is duly incorporated.
So, what do you do if your Buttercream has broken due to bad temperatures?
Fixing Your Buttercream: Stiff & Curdled
If your Buttercream has become incredibly dense, with a beautiful film of greasy texture to it, your Buttercream has curdled.
This happened when the butter you were using was simply too cold. This could be because you forgot to take it out of the fridge in advance, or even just because the ambient temperature around you was too cold.
Buttercream needs to be kept at a pretty constant temperature of 72 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain its emulsion as it forms, so it is likely that it dipped too far below this temp.
To fix it, place the bowl containing your Buttercream over a water bath in a basic Bain Marie setup.
Assuming your mixing bowl isn't made of plastic, this allowed a gradual increase of temperature for your Buttercream mixture, warming it up and allowing the butter to loosen up.
Once the mixture has started loosening, and the frosting has slightly melted around the very edges, you put it back in the mixer. Start it slow with a whisk attachment, as there is now more melted fat sloshing around in the mixture.
Gradually increase the speed and resume beating it for about four to five minutes until it reforms and fixes itself.
Fixing Your Buttercream: Thin & Soupy
This is easily the most common form of a broken Buttercream mixture; instead of the creamy, glossy Buttercream you were expecting, you get a thin, soup mess.
The soupiness can vary from complete running liquid to just a gentle softness, but regardless it usually spells bad news for the longevity and stability of your Buttercream.
This soupiness happens because your mixture was too warm, making the butter melt and leech out its butterfat and liquid, making the whole mix far too runny to form a stable emulsion.
This tends to happen due to hot ambient temperatures, such as making Buttercream during a hot summer, but it can also be due to a too-hot electric mixer. Sometimes the constant whirring of the paddles can warm the mixture up far beyond what you were expecting.
To quickly fix this catastrophe, simply take the whole bowl and put it in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes, or until the very edges of the Buttercream mixture beginning hardening again.
Most of the mixture will still be pretty soupy, but after mixing it for around four to five minutes at a low, then gradually higher speed in an electric combination, the temperatures will begin to equalize, and it will be like it was never soupy at all.
If it isn't soupy but is instead just a bit lose and jelly-like, still put it in the fridge and re-whip it, but only do it for about 10-15 minutes instead.
Remember – it is all about proper temperature control, so as long as you bring it back to the correct temp of between 72 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, your Buttercream will be beautiful in the end.