Simply luscious: Buttercreams made with egg yolks take the richness factor up a few notches, turning it into a silky and sexy but not-too-sweet frosting. (Stock imageTMS)

There are buttercreams made with butter and powdered sugar, and there are buttercreams made with butter and egg whites. But for the most silky, decadent buttercream of all, you must try this French buttercream made with egg yolks.

Back when I was a pastry chef, I used to make buttercream by the gallon in a huge industrial mixer that stood in the corner and made the floor shake with its vigorous beating. We used this buttercream on all our layer cakes, from simple devil's food to the most elaborate wedding cake. It's based on a recipe from the first volume of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" with a few minor adjustments.

Buttercreams made with egg yolks take the richness factor up a few notches, turning it into a silky and sexy but not-too-sweet way to frost your cakes. You can pipe decorations with this buttercream, but it is a little looser than egg white or powdered sugar variations so expect softer, more billowy results.

I recommend using very high quality eggs, which often have deep orange yolks and will make a beautiful, soft yellow buttercream. The hot sugar syrup (238 F) added during mixing cooks the egg yolks a bit, but not enough to pasteurize them. If you're being super cautious about raw eggs, then you may not want to use this recipe.

A stand mixer really comes in handy here, especially when pouring the hot sugar syrup into the egg yolks, but a hand mixer will do in a pinch. I do not recommend making this by hand unless you have very well-developed arm muscles!

Temperature is the key factor with this recipe. The egg-sugar mixture should be absolutely cool before you begin adding the butter, and the butter should be just slightly softened, just a little cooler than room temperature. You can test this by pressing on a piece with your finger. It should give enough for you to press into it, but it should take some effort. Under no circumstances should you melt the butter or expose it to anything warmer than room temperature. Melting the butter irrevocably changes the texture of the butter, separating the solids from the fat.

The finished buttercream can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator, but you will need to allow for time for it to come to room temperature before you can use it to frost cakes or cupcakes. Do not heat it up as this causes the butter to melt and the buttercream to break.

One last thing -- don't toss out the whites! If you don't have an immediate use for them, cover and store in your refrigerator for a few days or freeze them for later use.

Silky French Buttercream

Makes about 2 cups, enough to frost a two-layer 8-inch cake.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

2/3 cup white sugar

3 tablespoons water

5 large egg yolks

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla


Small sauce pan