Struggling to prevent melting American buttercream in hot weather?
Melting buttercream… every cake decorator’s nightmare! You spend hours working on a cake. But, with the hot and humid summer weather, you’ve been struggling to keep the buttercream from melting. And this just in your kitchen!
Your anxiety is increasing as you imagine the entire cake melting at the event you are making it for. Sound hauntingly familiar? Keep reading for tips on how to Prevent Melting Buttercream in Hot and Humid Weather.
THE MELTING BUTTERCREAM NIGHTMARE
I experienced this nightmare in real life before. I made about 100 Sesame Street cupcakes for a birthday at the park. About half of them had my creamy chocolate buttercream recipe. I couldn’t understand why the buttercream was softer than usual. I wasn’t thinking about the heat and humidity outside because I was in air conditioning. That was my first mistake.
I should’ve known, this was an indication of what was to come.
Even though I lived in Florida, prior to this, I hadn’t had an order for cupcakes with chocolate buttercream on an extremely hot and humid summer day at the park. I specify chocolate buttercream because that is my only buttercream recipe with only butter and no stiffening ingredients other than confectioner’s sugar.
Butter is the reason things went wrong.
I delivered the cupcakes, but I ended up receiving a call from the client letting me know that the ones with chocolate buttercream melted. Needless to say, I felt horrible and unprofessional and refunded her for the inconvenience.
The crazy thing is that I could’ve fixed the buttercream issue very easily by adding one or two ingredients I had readily available.
BUTTER: THE CULPRIT
Butter is delicious. This may sound disgusting to some, but when I was little, I would sneak the butter wrappers to lick them when my mom made cakes.
So, clearly, I’m biased, but I really like making buttercream with actual butter. As a lifelong butter enthusiast, I can usually tell the difference between butter flavoring and real butter in buttercream.
But here’s the deal, when the temperature is hot and humid, butter will melt very quickly. Butter’s melting point is 98.6°. A hot and humid summer day could easily reach or exceed that temperature.
You don’t even need it to get to the melting point for your buttercream to lose stiffness and shape. It takes much less than 98.6° for buttercream decorations to start drooping or for colors to begin bleeding.
The great thing is that there are solutions to this problem. Yes, plural. There’s no point in writing about how to prevent melting buttercream if you don’t have options to work with.
RELATED POST: Creamy Chocolate Buttercream Icing Recipe
HOW TO PREVENT MELTING BUTTERCREAM
I’m going to start with the easiest solutions to prevent melting buttercream and move on from there. You might even have some of these ingredients available at home already.
SOLUTION #1: HIGH RATIO VEGETABLE SHORTENING
When I first started making buttercream, I used the basic Wilton buttercream recipe. I still use it sometimes as it’s the base for my mojito icing.
This recipe uses half butter and half high ratio vegetable shortening. This is the reason why I didn’t run into an issue with buttercream in Florida hot weather until the fateful creamy chocolate icing cupcakes.
The melting point for high ratio vegetable shortening is approximately 115°. That’s a big difference compared to butter! When you mix the two, you still have some butter flavor, but at a higher melting point.
Continue to adjust the ratio of butter to shortening based on the temperature they will be exposed to. But, I suggest you add butter flavoring if you have a higher percentage of shortening over butter.
Notice that I mentioned high ratio shortening. This is a better quality shortening than Crisco, which is the one most commonly found in supermarkets. High ratio shortening does not leave a greasy film aftertaste. Whenever possible, use high ratio shortening rather than Crisco.
SOLUTION #2: MORE CONFECTIONER’S SUGAR
If you are searching for a solution at a moment when your buttercream is already melting, this is the most likely ingredient you have on hand.
Increase the amount of confectioner’s sugar in the recipe, 3 to 6 times more than the butter in volume. That’ll make the buttercream stiffer. Don’t worry about it feeling too stiff because the butter will smooth it out a bit.
Be aware that the more confectioner’s sugar you add, the more likely the buttercream is to crust. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just remember it as you handle the cake.
SOLUTION #3: ROYAL ICING SUGAR
Another simple solution is to add royal icing sugar, to the mix with confectioner’s sugar. It’ll stabilize your buttercream even more.
SOLUTION #4: CORNSTARCH
Add 2 Tbsp cornstarch to every 3 cups of icing to help absorb moisture. This stiffens your buttercream a little more.
I got this tip from Craftsy, I haven’t tried it yet myself, but have seen it suggested in cake decorating groups several times. Craftsy is a great resource for baking and cake decorating. They have free and paid baking and cake decorating tutorials. You can also order materials from them.
MONEY SAVING TIP: After you’re done reading and sharing this post 😉, head over to the Crafty site. They always have clearance items on cake and baking supplies! Don’t miss out, baking and cake decorating can get expensive.
NOT NECESSARILY OBVIOUS SOLUTIONS
“Okay, Captain Obvious, this wouldn’t be a problem if I had these solutions!” You’re probably thinking that when you see the following two solutions. But, hear me out.
Often, clients (whether paid or non-paid family/friends) have an idea of how they want their event to look. We all do this when we’re planning a special occasion.
As the cake decorator, you know the reality of how a cake will hold up in hot and humid weather. Talk to the client and explain the potential issues that may occur with buttercream in the heat. Don’t forget to mention that you have ways to prevent melting buttercream (see solutions 1-3 above). But let them know that extra precautions are always good to have. I explain these below.
SOLUTION #5: REFRIGERATION
If your kitchen is the problem. If you don’t have the ability to work in cool temperature while you’re making the cake. Refrigerate your buttercream between uses and when you notice it’s getting soft.
You don’t have to refrigerate for too long, often 5 or 10 minutes will do if you refrigerate before it gets too soft. I know a lot of bakers love their glass bowls, but this is the perfect moment to use a metal bowl. It chills faster.
In the past, I’ve also used frozen towels, or towel-covered ice packs around the buttercream bowl to keep it cool without having to refrigerate it.
If the event location is the problem and your kitchen is good, then refrigerate your buttercream cake after it’s done. This will help it stay nice and sturdy while it’s being transported.
For transportation, turn on the air conditioner in your car and cool it before you put the cake in it. Car temps easily exceed 100° on a sunny day. Then, cover the cake or the windows (if the cake is not possible) to prevent melting buttercream from direct sunlight.
If you deliver the cake a long time before the event, then ask them to refrigerate it until it has to be displayed. There are some events that will take place outdoors. This is one of those moments when you can talk to the client about refrigerating until about an hour before they cut the cake as a precaution. If it’s not an option, remember that you have the first three solutions to work with. I would apply one of those solutions regardless.
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SOLUTION #6: AIR CONDITIONING
Ideally, you’ll work in an air-conditioned environment and the cake will be displayed in an air-conditioned room. But, it happens to the best of us. Your air conditioner stops working, or you never had one to begin with. Or, the cake is for an outdoor event or a location with no air conditioning.
Follow the refrigeration tips above to prevent melted buttercream when you’re working in a hot kitchen or when displaying the cake in a hot environment.
This is another situation in which talking to the client ahead of time is recommended. Help them understand how heat may affect the cake. Some events have indoor and outdoor areas. Ask if the cake can be displayed in the air-conditioned area until a few minutes (or an hour) before they cut it.
Timing can be everything when it comes to heat and humidity. The shorter the cake is exposed to heat, the better it is.
ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS TO TRYING TO PREVENT MELTING BUTTERCREAM
If you want to follow the steps to prevent melting buttercream, but the stress of a disaster still haunts you. Don’t use American buttercream. There are many alternatives, but I’ll mention just a couple.
Do keep in mind, though, that you are working with sugar. Eventually, heat and humidity will affect sugar if the temperature or humidity is too high.
SOLUTION #7: SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
Swiss Meringue Buttercream is more stable than American buttercream due to its ingredients. It’s more difficult to make than American buttercream, but it’ll hold better in hot and humid weather. Many cake decorators prefer to use Swiss meringue buttercream in general, and they don’t worry as often about having to prevent melting buttercream when it’s a little warm. Like everything else though, too much heat is no bueno.
Again, Craftsy is a great resource for Swiss meringue recipes. They have the original version and an easier no-cook version of the recipe. They also have an amazing Mastering Meringue class, where you learn how to make Swiss, Italian, and French meringues, plus treats made with them.
SOLUTION #8: FONDANT
Fondant has a thicker, more solid consistency than any buttercream recipe. It doesn’t have as much fat and contains gelatin as a stabilizing agent. Therefore, it’ll take a bit longer for it to droop and melt.
This does not mean that it can’t melt, though! I talk a little bit about how to handle this when exposed to humidity in the Blue Bow Tea Party Cupcake Topper post. The solution mentioned works on fondant and gumpaste alike.
It’s not good to refrigerate fondant if the temperature change is very drastic when you take it out. Condensation can form when you take the cake out of the fridge and place it on a hot surface. This can ruin the look of the cake or airbrushed colors.
Another tip is to make the buttercream that adheres the cake and fondant as stiff a possible, but still delicious and manageable. You definitely want to prevent melting buttercream under the fondant. If it melts, it can create bubbles under the fondant, or seep through. Not a pretty look.
Overall though, fondant is a good option for hot weather.
Buttercream with only butter to me will always taste better than buttercream with high ratio shortening, even when you add butter flavoring. But, sometimes you have to change it up to prevent a cake disaster. It’s all about balancing flavor with the environment and the wishes of the client.
I hope these solutions to prevent melting buttercream work well for you the next time you have a buttercream cake in the summer heat.
NEED INGREDIENTS TO PREVENT MELTING BUTTERCREAM?
NOW YOUR TURN
Comment below and let me know:
- Ever had an issue with melting buttercream?
- How do you prevent melting buttercream?
- If melting BC doesn’t keep you up at night, what does?
Share this with your fellow cake decorators. There’s no need for them to continue losing sleep over buttercream. 😉