Food & Drink

Buttercream Basics is fun book to get the family baking together

By Joan Leotta

For The Sun News

Simply looking at the luscious cover of this book gave me a sugar rush. Yes, I am one who eats the icing first! Author, Carey Madden is well qualified to bring us a book of innovative and inspiring cake decorating techniques. Her own cakes and cupcakes have been featured in magazines like Vogue and Mademoiselle. If you are in Philadelphia you can stop by her shop, Violet, where she employs local and organic ingredients to transform cakes and cupcakes into breathtaking works of art, celebratory culinary creations that tempt the eye and please the palate.

Yes, she does wield the dreaded (for me) pastry bag. Her explanations, however, even without the you-tube sites, do make the technique seem almost doable. However, her artistry design instruction does not wholly rely on that tool for success. She also offers tips on using ribbon and sugared fruits, and simple swirling with a spatula to create amazing things. The more than 300 photographs and author Cary Madden’s charming prose and obvious artistry make it seem simple to re-create the wonderful delights she presents. She advises making the cake and icing or using your own cake recipe and then making the icing and to achieve decoration Nirvana, starting with the less complicated techniques and then moving on. Her cheering attitude rubs off and she wants us, the readers, to become confident in our decorating skills. She even projects that after using some of her recommended ideas, we can move on to inventing our own designs.

One downside of the book is the icing recipe itself—while not complex to use, her “Swiss Buttercream.” icing recipe requires a pasteurization process for the egg whites. Again, not complicated, but if one does not get it right…well, it made me nervous to think about the health issues that could be involved. She notes that using a more ordinary buttercream frosting/icing will require practice and “adjustments” (not specified) to achieve her lovely effects .

In that spirit, I asked the author to send me her favorite ordinary buttercream recipe. Unfortunately, she was not able to get back to me by deadline so I reached out the Wilton folks (who make all of those great cake decorating items you can find in craft stores) and to Both gave us permission to reprint their recipe. I am not sure yet which is the one I will be using as the basis as I try out Madden’s artistic suggestions. Nevertheless, I wanted to give you the options.

I think this is a fun book to bring into the family to inspire one’s own baking and to spark creative aspirations of children in the kitchen—after all, who doesn’t love icing and whether you try her more complex Swiss buttercream, or one of the two options below, licking the spoon afterwards will be a delight.

At A Glance

Title | Buttercream Basics: Learn the Art of Buttercream Decorating

Author | Carey Madden

Publisher | Robert Rose Publishing

Cost | $24.95

Buttercream Frosting from Wilton

(c)2017 Wilton Industries, Inc. Used with permission.


1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

butter or margarine

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine (softened)

clear vanilla extract

1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract

sifted confectioners sugar

4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar ((approximately 1 lb.))


2 tablespoons milk


In large bowl, beat shortening and butter with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla.

Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry.

Gradually add milk; beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.

For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk.

For Pure White Icing (stiff consistency), omit butter; substitute an additional 1/2 cup shortening for butter and add 1/2 teaspoon No-Color Butter Flavor. Add up to 4 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk to thin for icing cakes.


Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

If using a hand mixer, beat shortening, butter, if used, and liquid first, then add sugar, as above. It may be necessary to add additional sugar for the correct consistency. Buttercream Icing

Reprinted with permission from


1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons milk

3 drops food coloring, or as needed (optional)


Cream room temperature butter with a hand mixer, the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, or a wooden spoon until smooth and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until fully incorporated. Beat in vanilla extract.

Pour in milk and beat for an additional 3-4 minutes. Add food coloring, if using, and beat for thirty seconds until smooth or until desired color is reached.