Ermine -The Cinderella of the Buttercreams

Ermine -The Cinderella of the Buttercreams

American, Swiss, French, German, Italian.  What do they have in common? They are all buttercreams, of course!  With seemingly so many countries represented, and quite possibly there are even more, there could easily be a United Nations of Buttercream!


American is by far the simplest to make, composed virtually of only two ingredients:  butter and confectioner’s sugar.  Inevitably, there are those who use shortening instead of all, or part of the butter, and others who add a bit of milk or cream, but those are really just nuances.

The Swiss, French, Italian and German variations are much more complicated …and more finicky.  One uses egg yolks while another uses egg whites.  With one, some of the ingredients are cooked, which in effect pasteurizes the egg mixture, while with the others the ingredients are brought up to different temperatures and in some cases only a heated mixture is poured over the eggs.  And yes, all do use eggs which make the finished products a bit more delicate and refrigerator needy.  But on the plus side, all of these creams yield a product that is silky smooth, something that is hard to attain with the American variety which at times results in a gritty mouth feel and also has a tendency to be overly sweet for some palates.  To be quite honest, I’ve never even tried to make any one of these.  I just don’t want to take the chance that the eggs might not have been cooked well enough or that the frosting on a decorated cake might spoil, get too soft or simply weep when left out on the counter.  I prefer methods that are sure, that are one hundred percent safe and that will work for me every time.

Decorators, indeed, seem to be divided between those who swear by American buttercream and those who insist on the much more luxurious Swiss version.  Undeniably, these two do seem to be the most popular with frosting enthusiasts and with the ubiquitous on-line tutorials.

The other day while searching the net for new and interesting cake recipes, I came across a recipe entitled “Ermine Buttercream”.  Now why on earth would anyone want to make a frosting, or even name a frosting, after a weasel of sorts?  It does sound quite hideous, so no wonder it’s not promoted by the “Who’s Who” of the buttercream world.  Indeed I have yet to come across a tutorial given by a name in the field where “Ermine Buttercream” is the subject of the learning venture.  And just in case you are wondering, no animals appear in the list of ingredients!  Apparently though, the result is so soft that it resembles the fur of an ermine.  I’d much prefer another country name or to simply have it called the silken cream.  Perhaps because the name is so unappealing, many have come to call it “flour buttercream” or “boiled milk buttercream” which pretty much describes the way that it is made.  Honestly though, neither sounds very enticing, so I’ve decided to rename it “The Cinderella of the Buttercreams”.

Basically it is produced by boiling together four ingredients whose measurements don’t have to be terribly exact.  The hot mixture (no eggs here!!) is whisked and butter is added.  That’s it. No need for a candy thermometer.  No need for separating eggs.  And no need to worry about it not being stable when left out on the counter.  Because it does contain butter the cream should be refrigerated, but there is no problem leaving it out for several hours, achieving sharp corners or traveling with it already enhancing a decorated cake. The best part is that “Cinderella” is absolutely gorgeously smooth in taste and mouth feel.  And since it has relatively less sugar than its uppity cousins, it is also lower in calories.

So here it is: beautiful, delicious and even healthy (O.K. less unhealthy).

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
  • 1/3 cup (43 grams) flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (367 grams) milk
  • 1/3 cup (80 grams) heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups (340 grams) unsalted butter, soft, cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 Tablespoon honey (for a honey flavored version)


  • Combine the flour, sugar, heavy cream and milk in a saucepan and whisk until smooth.
  • Cook at medium heat whisking continuously.
  • Stir with a wooden spoon (or continue with the whisk) until the mixture thickens and starts bubbling.
  • Pour the hot mixture into the bowl of a standup mixer and using the paddle attachment beat on high speed for about ten minutes.
  • Reduce the speed to low and add the butter, a few pieces at a time. Increase the speed and beat for a few more minutes until light and fluffy
  • Add the honey and vanilla and beat again until combined.

I made only half the recipe as a trial and had enough for one generous layer of filling plus enough to crumb coat and cover a six inch cake.  There was even some left over … but that didn’t last too long 🙂

For flavor variations, melted chocolate could be added instead of the honey, or combinations of cinnamon, nuts or whatever you would add to flavor any of the buttercreams.

Cindy’s inaugural appearance at my house was when served last night for dessert. Several of my regular guests tend to automatically remove any and all outside coverings on cake as soon as the plate is handed over to them.  I explained that this one was a bit different and asked that they just taste it.  Well, there were no leftovers, nor was there any cream scraped delicately off and left at the side of the plate.  In fact the dessert forks were completely licked clean.  Truly the best of all worlds: easy to make, uses no eggs, tastes smooth and is thoroughly delicious.  And if someone does want it less sweet, a smaller quantity of sugar can be used without compromising the results.

The recipe was adapted from…

About the Author
"Let it be a challenge to you" is a saying that has accompanied me for all of my adult life. While studying education in N.Y.C. in the late 60's that was the typical response given to most work/school, related difficulties. Over the years I've found that viewing problematic situations as challenges makes them not only easier to cope with, but increases the satisfaction of having risen up to the challenge. My current challenge is trying to turn reality into cake. I am much more interested in an edible nature scene or an edible guitar than "the pretty cake". I am the mother of three and have been living in Israel for the past 40+ years. My hobbies include drawing, sculpting, photography, gardening, travel, and of late, cake decorating.
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    So I just tried this recipe and I’m conflicted! 🙂 The buttercream turned out beautifully! After the ten minutes of beating the ‘hot mixture’ it still hadn’t ‘developed’ into an icing. Then I added the butter, as the recipe called for. Still looked funky, but kept going. Finished adding the butter, turned up the mixer a few notches. And what do you know, it fluffed up and was gorgeous! I used it to fill and crumb coat a two layer 9″ cake… put it in the fridge to firm.. which is currently going well!
    I’m conflicted because I’m not too sure about the flavor. My 3 “taste testers” LOVED it, but i didn’t. It wasn’t that I disliked it, I’m just unsure. Then again I’m a salt lover, not a sweet lover (weird for a baker, i know). But I will continue with the cake and test it on others. I’m SURE ALL of my testers will love it! After all, my initial taste testers consisted of a teenage boy, a 30- something year old man, and a 60 year old woman. THAT’S DIVERSE. Thank you so much for your recipe!

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    When I mentioned solidly smooth-I meant firm and without air pockets. I think it is too soft for fondant..

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    I tried it. Did it exactly as the recipe was written. Silky smooth mouth feel, not super sweet, but I feel it went on not as solidly smooth as others. I am refrigerating it, will stir it again and maybe it will frost super smooth (no air pockets). I cannot eat Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I can eat this.

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    Interesting. I know too many that do not like the Swiss buttercream as it is too buttery, even with less butter. American is too sugary. I’ll give this a try and let you know.

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    I think you’ll be happy with this recipe. I also didn’t like the overly sweet American buttercream which also seemed to have a grainy feel to it. This is definitely firm enough under fondant and works well for piping too. If you are in a very warm country and / or want this to be super firm then you can a tablespoon of egg white powder just after adding the butter. Enjoy!

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    Can’t wait to try this, I’ve been looking for a buttercream recipe that’s not so sickly sweet for ages…..
    Is this firm enough for under fondant?
    Thank you

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