Are you making a cake for a special occasion but can’t decide if buttercream or ganache is better for cake decorating?
Buttercream and ganache are widely used cake decorations as both have their unique benefits and can be used to add richness, flavoring, and lock in a cake’s moisture. However, one of them is a better option in some cases, and we often get this question. Don’t worry - it’s not just you.
Choosing between the two is not that straightforward. Many factors come into play. Ganache is better for the warm weather as it hardens in the cold. On the other hand, buttercream works well in cold weather. It also depends on your preference. Both have different textures, flavors, and effects.
It’s never easy with cake toppings. While one is more textured, the other is smoother. While one is cheaper, the other will require you to loosen the purse strings. Buttercream is sweeter, which can be good for the cake, but ganache is the obvious choice for a more flavorsome decoration. Since you want your cake to be perfect, it can be tough choosing between the two.
As cake experts, our fondness for buttercream and ganache isn’t a surprise. Having used these frostings innumerable times in the past decade, we aren’t shy to call ourselves experts. We have put together this guide with our knowledge to settle the buttercream vs. ganache debate for you.
Buttercream vs. Ganache: Which is Better?
To determine which of the two is better for your cake, you must develop a deeper understanding of them so you can decide not only this time but also every time you have to choose.
What is Buttercream?
Buttercream is a type of frosting made from usually unsweetened butter mixed with icing sugar and cream or milk until it takes a spongy and light cream shape. This mixture is most commonly used to coat the cake to add a creamy texture to the sponge. But it can also be used as a center filling or as a decoration to complement other elements on the cake, such as fondant flowers, etc.
You can also add essence to it to add flavors, such as chocolate, vanilla, or others, to best suit your needs. Fruit purees also make a great companion for the buttercream to add fruity freshness to the cake. This is the basic buttercream, also known as American buttercream. There are a few other types of buttercream you can try. These include:
- Meringue-Based Buttercream
- French Buttercream
- Custard-Based Buttercream
- Rolled Buttercream
What is Ganache?
Ganache is a mixture of chocolate and cream. The chocolate is chopped, and hot cream is poured over the chocolate and mixed well until the chocolate melts entirely and dissolves. Unlike buttercream, ganache does not consist of sugar because the chocolate is enough for the sweetness. However, you can add butter to make it creamier.
Although ganache is made from chocolate, you can add other flavor extracts such as peppermint, vanilla, raspberry, coconut, almond, etc., for a distinctive taste. Ganache also has its varieties as you can make it from dark, white, or milk chocolate. Milk chocolate is the most common as it is well-balanced between richness and texture.
Ganache is typically made with 50-50 chocolate and cream. However, you must reduce the amount of chocolate when making ganache from dark chocolate. Dark chocolate consists of less milk and more cocoa, making it harder after drying. So increasing the cream will keep that from happening.
These are the key factors you should focus on when choosing between buttercream and ganache.
Ganache Can be Used for Various Effects
Ganache can be used as a glaze to coat the cake, but a light layer is enough to add flavor and texture. You can even use ganache to give a dripping effect on the cake walls. Simply add more chocolate to make the ganache thick, so it drips but dries before turning into a mess. On the other hand, you can only use buttercream to coat the cake or decorate the ornaments.
Ganache is Cream-Based, Frosting Uses Butter
Neither ganache nor buttercream can win this round because it is all up to you. Ganache is your obvious choice if you like the cake decoration to have a heavier and smoother texture. But if you want your cake to have soft but lighter decoration, the buttercream will do the job better.
Ganache has a Stronger Flavor
While you can add flavor extracts to buttercream, ganache has its original flavor since you made it with chocolate. So if chocolate is your first choice in cakes and confessionaries, you don’t need to look any further. But if you want to keep your options open, buttercream is the better choice since it has no flavor limitations.
You should consider these aspects of buttercream to make a knowledgeable decision.
- Buttercream is better to use in cold weather. It becomes runny in warm weather as the butter melts.
- You can numerous add extracts and essences to buttercream for flavoring.
- You can color the buttercream however you want to give your cake the desired look.
- Buttercream applies better to rounded-edged cakes instead of square-edged cakes.
- As fondant can be a bit dry, you can add buttercream between the cake and fondant to add moisture and flavor.
- You can make buttercream in advance and store it in the freezer.
- Buttercream is sweet as it has sugar.
- Making buttercream is inexpensive.
On the other hand, using ganache also requires us to consider the aspects and see how it benefits our project. These include:
- Ganache is better to use in warm weather. It gets hard pretty quickly, posing a challenge to handle as the chocolate hardens in cold weather.
- You can add extracts to add flavors, but the options are not as abundant as buttercream.
- Ganache applies better to square-edged cakes instead of rounded-edged cakes.
- You can make ganache in advance and store it in the freezer.
- Not as sweet as buttercream as it has no added sugar.
- Making ganache is more expensive than buttercream.
Ganache is usually the more popular choice since chocolate is an everyday favorite for cake decorations as it adds a stronger flavor and better texture, and although people love buttercream (tastewise), it usually isn’t the wisest choice for decorations.
Let’s not forget: Everything considered, it all comes down to your preference. As we mentioned earlier, buttercream and ganache both have advantages, but, in the end, it’s all about how you want your cake to come out.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore