How come every cheap knock-off of great world cuisine gets the label “American” slapped on it? Take buttercream (a critical component of ths week’s pastry recipe). There are three basic types of buttercreams. Two are made from egg foams to which sugar syrup and fresh, lovely butter are added: French which is made from a yolk and whole-egg foam, and Italian which is made from an egg white foam. The third, American, is basically a sweetened, whipped-up blend of butter and shortening.
I can’t say it’s bad per se (most versions have butter in them, though the worst are all-shortening…I think you know the ones). Some of my favorite bakeries employ American buttercream, primarily because it’s less expensive, comparatively easy to make and keeps well (over a week at room temperature). But it just ain’t the real thing. It’s heavy compared to real buttercream, it’s gritty compared to real buttercream, it’s overly sweet compared to real buttercream. But worst of all, it leaves that slimy, mouth-coating feeling after it’s gone. It is however the most common form of buttercream out there these days. In fact, I will go so far as to say I know of no retail bakery in the States that makes any type of real Euro-style buttercream on a day-to-day basis. Very expensive wedding cakes are about the only place you find them.
Which of course is all the more reason to make your own at home (for an extended rant on this topic see the post The Home Baking Quality Advantage). How American buttercream got to be American I can only speculate, since I don’t think shortening was actually invented here. So why, I ask you, do we have to take the heat for it?