Whipped Cream vs Buttercream: Which Is Better?

Do you really need an excuse to make a cake? Whether you are making a fancy cake for a celebration, cupcakes, birthday cake, or even a cake for a potluck, chances are – the icing is a part of the planning process. So what kind of icing is better? Two very common choices for icing are, a whipped cream or a buttercream. 

Both whipped cream and buttercream make delicious icings, but also serve two very different purposes. If you are wanting a light and fluffy icing, whipped cream is a great choice. Alternately, if you are needing an icing that has more structure, is more stable, and has a rich, butter taste – opting for a buttercream would be your best bet. 

Is Whipping Cream the Same as Buttercream?

Whipped cream and buttercream may sound similar, but are in fact very different. So what’s the difference? Well, in a brief explanation – whipped cream is cream based and buttercream is butter based. Both are sweet, creamy, and used for desserts. 

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Whipped Cream and Buttercream Overview

Whipped cream and buttercream are both delicious and creamy icings used with cakes, and other desserts. While whipped cream is light, fluffy, and slightly sweet, buttercream is a little creamier, has a buttery flavor, and is usually much sweeter. Depending on what application you are using, each of them serve a tasty purpose!

What is Whipped Cream?

Whipped cream is very light in taste and structure, meaning that it may not hold its form too well. It also needs to be kept refrigerated since there is nothing to stabilize the whipped cream. 

Whipped cream is heavy cream that has been whipped until stiff peaks are formed. Powdered sugar and sometimes a flavoring, such as: vanilla, cinnamon, or peppermint can also be added to the whipping cream. 

Whipped cream can be served as a dollop on top of a fruit salad, with strawberry shortcake, or even used to frost a cake. When used to frost a cake, it is important to note that the cake will need to be kept cool or even refrigerated as the whipped cream could melt. 

Whipped cream naturally pairs well with strawberries and other fruit, vanilla, and gives a great contrast in flavor to a deep chocolate cake. When using whipped cream with fresh fruit, it is very important to make sure the fruit is completely dry or else it can cause the whipped cream to melt, and can also bleed through the pretty white cream.

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What is Buttercream?

Buttercream is most commonly used to frost cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and even as decorations. There are four main types of buttercream, being: Swiss, Italian, French, and American. Each type of buttercream varies slightly in both the  ingredients and the method of making it. 

  1. Swiss Buttercream is made similarly to a meringue. By using egg whites and granulated sugar, you beat them together in a double boiler until a certain temperature is reached. Then, you transfer this mixture to a stand mixer and beat on high until stiff peaks are formed, before slowly adding softened butter, salt, and any flavoring. Swiss buttercream is ultra creamy, silky, and light in texture. It also spreads and pipes really well. 
  2. Italian Buttercream is very similar to a Swiss buttercream and is also meringue based. The difference between the two meringue based buttercreams, is that with the Italian version, you heat the sugar prior to adding it to the beaten egg whites. Doing this step helps to stabilize the buttercream and makes it very silky and easy to work with.
  3. French Buttercream is a gorgeous yellow hued icing that is thick, velvety, and very rich tasting. This buttercream is made by whipping whole eggs and egg yolks (giving the yellow color) to hot sugar. The melted sugar is slowly added to the eggs and beaten together, then butter is slowly added. Because egg yolks are used, French buttercream is the least stable of all the buttercreams and shouldn’t be left out for more than a few hours.
  4. American buttercream is the easiest to whip up and most commonly used for the home baker. You beat together softened butter (sometimes a combination of butter and shortening can be used) until light and smooth, before adding powdered sugar, salt, vanilla or other flavoring of choice. The American buttercream has a stiffer and less silky appearance than other buttercreams and is usually sweeter. It also works great to ice and decorate any cake.  

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What are the Differences between Buttercream and Whipped Cream?

While buttercream and whipped cream are both generally used as icing for cakes, they are both very different from each other. 

  1. To start, buttercream has a rich, buttery, and sweet flavor; while whipped cream has a creamy flavor that is less sweet. 
  2. Buttercream is sturdy and makes a great piped icing as well as filling. Whipped cream is not very stable and can collapse easily, it is best used with lighter cakes like angel food cake or a sponge cake. 
  3. Chocolate, coffee, maple, and other ingredients can be easily added to buttercream without altering the overall texture of it. Whipped cream is a little more fickle and cannot take the addition of too many different ingredients.
  4. Another difference is that buttercream can usually be left out, whereas whipped cream will need to be kept refrigerated. 
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General Uses

Buttercream is a rich and creamy icing that has several uses and can be very versatile. Because buttercream is sturdy, you can easily pipe with buttercream and make icing decorations, such as roses. 

Buttercream makes for a great filling and icing for cookies and cakes and can be left out, if covered, for 2-3 days. It can firm up if refrigerated but can easily be rewhipped. 

Whipped cream is a light and airy icing that is more limited in its uses. You can pipe general borders with whipped cream, but it would not work well for detailed designs. 

Whipped cream works great on top of certain cakes, as a dip to fruits and pastries, and you can serve a dollop of it alongside a slice of pie. It does not last very long though and must be kept in the refrigerator. 

Ingredients

Buttercream is a combination of softened butter (some people like to also use shortening with the butter), powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla. These ingredients are creamed together until a smooth and somewhat stiff icing is formed. Cream or milk can be added to achieve a thinner consistency. 

Whipped cream is a simple combination of heavy whipping cream that has been whipped until soft peaks are formed. Then, you add a little powdered sugar and splash of vanilla and whip until stiff peaks are reached. 

Flavor and Texture

Buttercream is a sweet and buttery icing that is smooth and creamy. Different flavorings can be used, but traditionally vanilla is used to enhance the flavor. 

Cocoa powder or melted chocolate can also be added to buttercream, along with a little coffee for a delicious chocolate buttercream. Other flavorings can be used depending on the flavor profile you are looking for.

Buttercream has a smooth and creamy texture that does harden slightly. Because of this, buttercream can stand up to the weight of a layered cake and is great used as a filling or overall icing. 

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Whipped cream has a creamy and slightly sweet taste. It can be velvety in texture and is typically flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, or peppermint extract. The addition of other ingredients is not recommended, as the whipped cream could collapse. 

Because the base of whipped cream is heavy cream, it is not very sturdy. There is not enough structure in the whipped cream to hold up to anything too heavy and so  it will not stand up as a filling of cakes. 

Which is Better Between Whipped Cream and Buttercream?

Both whipped cream and buttercream serve as a delicious icing to various cakes, pastries, and other desserts. Depending on the type of dessert you are making will ultimately depend on which icing is best suited for it.

If you are making an icebox cake that you serve right out of the pan or a light and fluffy angel food cake, consider using whipped cream as the icing. Alternatively, if you are making cupcakes, or a two layered birthday cake you would want to try out a silky buttercream. 

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Related Questions

There are so many cakes, cookies, and other desserts just begging for a delicious icing to go with it. Let’s explore some more factors to help you make the choice on which one is better. 

Which cream is best for cake decorating?

If you are planning on doing some piping or other decorating with your icing, a buttercream will be your best bet. Its smooth and sturdy texture allows for ease when piping. It also forms a slight crust when dried which helps hold the shape. 

How long will whipped cream last on a cake?

Once you put whipped cream on a cake, if you don’t eat all of it right away, you will need to store the leftovers in the fridge for up to 2-3 days. Any longer and the cream will start to melt and separate into the cake. 

What cake goes best with buttercream frosting? 

Buttercream is such a versatile icing and is delicious with most cakes. For a delicious contrast, try a chocolate cake iced with a buttercream for a truly decadent cake!

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Final Thoughts

No matter what kind of cake you are making, you will want a great icing to pair with it. Icing helps to enhance not only the flavor of your cake, but also the appearance. A whipped cream makes a great addition to an icebox cake or single layer cake, while a buttercream is best used for layered cakes, cookies, and piping. Both are delicious!