Custard-based buttercream

Custard-based buttercream

Leiths How to Cook
enough to fill and top a 22 cm two-layered sponge
Peter Cassidy

This method involves making a custard and beating it into the butter.


Quantity Ingredient
150g caster sugar
225ml milk
3 egg yolks
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g salted butter, at room temperature


  1. Put half the sugar and half the milk into a medium saucepan and bring to scalding point over a medium heat.
  2. Combine the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and milk in a medium bowl. Pour over the scalded milk, a little at a time to begin with, to allow the egg yolks to warm a little, then add all the milk and combine well.
  3. Return the custard to the rinsed out pan and place over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Allow the egg yolks to thicken the custard as for a crème anglaise. To check the consistency, remove from the heat and draw the back of the spoon through the custard; the custard should coat the back of the spoon evenly, and a finger scraped through it should leave a line. Strain immediately into a bowl and leave to cool, with a piece of cling film in contact with the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
  4. Using a hand-held electric whisk or wooden spoon, beat the butters together until soft but not greasy; they should be the same temperature as the custard.
  5. Gradually add the cooled custard to the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to start with, beating well after each addition with a wooden spoon or spatula and increasing the amount you add. Once all the custard has been added, gradually stir in your chosen flavouring, if using, see below.

Flavour variations

  • Chocolate: Melt 75 g dark chocolate with the milk as it heats, then use to make the custard. You may need to whisk the chocolate into the milk to incorporate it fully.

    Lemon, orange or lime: Add the finely grated zest of 1½–2 lemons or oranges, or 2–3 limes, to taste, to the finished buttercream.

    Coffee: Add 3–4 teaspoons warm very strong coffee or espresso, to taste, at the end. (Alternatively, 40–50 ml Camp Coffee can be used.)

    Vanilla: Add a few drops of vanilla extract to the finished buttercream.

A note on curdling...

  • To avoid curdling, ensure the mixtures you are combining are at the same temperature, and that neither is cold. However, if any of these buttercreams do start to split, they can be rectified if not too badly curdled. Start by whisking very quickly, which often helps to re-combine the ingredients. If necessary, place the bowl over a steam bath and warm the icing a little, without allowing it to melt, then whisk very quickly. If this does not work, start again with 2–3 tablespoons softened butter and slowly add the curdled buttercream in teaspoonfuls to begin with, beating well between each addition.
Leiths School of food and wine
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