Classic Lemon Buttercream Frosting

"Cordon Rose Banana Cake," from Make It Like a Man! Classic Lemon Buttercream Frosting

Cake and frosting should resemble partners in a romantic relationship. Each should be lovely and compelling on its own, yet their combination should seem irresistible. That’s a tough call for many cakes, but I stand by it. What self-respecting cake aspires to be nothing more than an excuse for frosting? (A cupcake, that’s who – which is why I don’t especially care for them.) Perhaps the general lack of eligible cakes explains why many of the frostings I have known seem to be such dominatrices. I’m the last person in the world to criticize whatever kind of relationship two consenting pastry items desire, but I know myself well, and what I want is a cake and frosting founded in equality and mutuality.

Given that a cake is sufficiently ready to take on the demands that an intimate bond with frosting requires, texture and flavor are of course important qualities that it seeks in a potential mate. It’s when a frosting is too sweet that it becomes, to my mind, “not relationship material.” This Classic Lemon Buttercream Frosting hits that mark perfectly. It’s sweet, but that’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you taste it. Its sweetness is perfectly balanced and your attention isn’t drawn to the sugar. Instead, it’s drawn first to a pleasant tang and subtle citrus flavor. Next, you notice that it’s smooth as silk. Finally, you sense that it is also quite substantial, but not in a way that makes it overpowering.

This French buttercream comes from The Cake Bible (“Classic Lemon”), by Rose Levy Beranbaum. New York: William Morrow, 1988. 234 (228-29). I used it to frost a delicious banana cake from that same cookbook.

"Cordon Rose Banana Cake," from Make It Like a Man! Classic Lemon Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients (all at room temperature)

4 oz. egg yolks (from 6 large eggs)
7 oz. sugar (1 cup)
2 oz. water (1/4 cup)
2 oz. lemon juice, freshly squeezed (1/4 cup)
1 lb. unsalted butter (2 cups)
1/4 tsp lemon extract

How To:

Lightly oil a measuring cup; set aside. Beat egg yolks on speed 6 (of 10) until pale. Meanwhile, stir sugar, water, and juice in a (maybe nonstick) pot over a high flame until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, no longer stirring, and let boil until it reaches the soft ball stage (238ºF). Immediately pour into prepared measuring cup. With the mixer off, pour a small amount of the liquid over the yolks, then immediately beat for 5 seconds. In a similar way, add a larger amount of the liquid. Continuing in the same manner, add the remaining liquid. Beat until the mixture is cool, interrupting once to add any remaining liquid you can scrape from the measuring cup with a spatula.

Beat in the butter, a half-stick at a time, beating until completely smooth. Along with the last half-stick, add the extract.

Notes: 1) For long-term storage, refrigerate. Allow to come to room temperature before using or serving. 2) Buttercreams are sensitive to temperature, and if you beat one when it is either too hot or too cold, it will either turn to soup, or it will break. Should either of these things happen, check this out. This also has ramifications for frosting a cake with a refrigerated buttercream. It won’t spread right if it’s too cold. 3) However, if you let a (slice of) frosted cake come to room temperature, the buttercream will be just as perfect as it was when you frosted the cake. 4) If you swap out as much as half of the (granulated) sugar with demerara, you’ll get a flavor nearly identical to the original, but a color that is a bit deeper yellow. 5) I think you could easily get by with less butter.

"Cordon Rose Banana Cake," from Make It Like a Man! Classic Lemon Buttercream Frosting

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Classic Lemon Buttercream Frosting

Credit for images on this page: Make It Like a Man! This content was not solicited by The Cake Bible, or The (actual) Bible, or anyone else, nor was it written in exchange for anything.

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"Cordon Rose Banana Cake," from Make It Like a Man! Classic Lemon Buttercream Frosting

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24 thoughts on “Classic Lemon Buttercream Frosting

  1. Couldn’t agree more regarding “over the top” frostings. The cake and frosting should dance together. Never thought of pairing such a bold frosting with banana cake. But why not, I love sliced bananas drizzled with limoncello.
    Ron recently posted…A Swedish Meatball’s Journey

    • You know, I wouldn’t’ve thought of it, either. But it was suggested in the original recipe notes. It works incredibly well. In part, because there is lemon zest in the cake, but also in part because the frosting doesn’t scream “lemon.” It’s more of a “citrus” flavor, if you get what I’m saying … and banana and citrus is a nice combination.

    • It is rich. This banana cake isn’t as dense as typical banana bread, so the rich frosting was a nice complement to it.

    • You’re such a creative and accomplished cook, I could never give you advice. But if I had to, it’d be “temperature.” Beat the syrup and egg until it reaches room temperature, and then add room temperature butter.

  2. Laura always calls cake just a vessel for frosting, but I completely disagree. Once again, you have summed up my thoughts perfectly here, Jeff. A cake and its frosting must be partners. They must play well together. They must have long, soulful conversations while walking on the beach. Oh wait, scratch that. What kind of cake goes on a walk with frosting? I just need the darn things to be delicious. Thanks for sharing this frosting…I love a good French buttercream!
    David @ Spiced recently posted…Chocolate Almond Granola

    • Maybe some kind of cinnamon sugar cake would go for a walk on the beach. I’m sure of it. With a caramel frosting of some sort.

  3. What a rich, dreamy buttercream! I bet it would be lovely on an angel food cake, too!

    P.S. One of my favorite cookie tricks is to reshape them when they’re hot out of the oven. I take a spatula and tap any lumps or bumps around the perimeter to make them as circular as I can. I always use a cookie disher to scoop out the dough, but that doesn’t guarantee they come out round!!

  4. You had fun writing this, didn’t you? 😀 Agree totally. I knew there was a reason why cupcakes never float my boat. Although it’s always fun saying you ate an entire cake. Anyway, LOVE lemon, and it’s wonderful in a buttercream frosting. Really good post — thanks.
    John/Kitchen Riffs recently posted…Moroccan Beef Tagine

    • Yes, I did. 😉 Hmm, cupcakes aside, I can’t say that I’ve ever eaten an entire cake. In one sitting.

    • Oh, OK then, let me tell you to skip the first frosting you will probably ever make (American buttercream) and try something like this instead!

  5. There always needs to be maximum frosting and the 2 inch layer on this looks like my kinda cake – and frosting!
    Hey there Jeff, long time no chat!
    It’s been forever since I had some time to look at my friend’s blogs and I’ve missed yours. So happy my afternoon turned out that I had spare time. I try to stay up to date with social postings, but it’s good to stop by the site now and again, right? Cheers!

    • No worries, Kevin. I always loving hearing from you no matter what platform you use.

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