Swiss & Italian Meringue Buttercream

I used to be that client—you know, the one who says they don’t like buttercream. Prior to learning how to make Swiss and Italian meringue buttercream, I would eat the cake and leave the overly sweet American icing behind. Now I can be found licking the light frosting right off the whisk with my little boys. Swiss and Italian meringue buttercream is versatile and can be flavored, colored, piped, or used to create crisp edges and corners on cakes.

Swiss Meringue is made with a simple ratio of one part egg whites, two parts sugar, and up to two parts butter. First, the egg whites and sugar are gently whisked over a bain-marie until it reaches at least 135°. For a smoother end product, I prefer to cook it between 155° and 165° F. Then the mixture is transferred to a mixing bowl with a whip attachment and it is whipped to full volume.

Italian Meringue is made by first whipping the egg whites in a clean bowl to medium peaks, then cooking a sugar syrup of water and sugar to softball stage (235° and 245° F). After the syrup reaches temperature, it is slowly poured down the side of the mixing bowl, avoiding the whisk attachment, while whipping the egg whites. The meringue is whipped to full volume.

Once your preferred meringue base is whipped to full volume, decrease the speed and continue whipping until it is cool to the touch. Then slowly add the cubed room-temperature unsalted butter into the meringue. The glossy meringue will break down with the addition of butter and become dull before the butter fully emulsifies into a light and fluffy buttercream. At this point, you may add any desired flavoring. Both Swiss and Italian are stable at room temperature covered for 1 to 2 days, or for longer storage, they can be refrigerated or frozen.

Tips and Fixes for Common Errors

Full-volume meringue?
Turn mixer to low and quickly increase the speed to high. If the meringue flies up the side of the bowl, keep mixing—it has more room to grow.

If meringue is too hot, when you add the butter, it will all melt and result in soup. You can try adding extra-cold butter, or cool in the refrigerator and re-whip.

Not coming together? (Photo on Left)
Just keep mixing. If the mixer is getting too hot, rest and then re-whip. If you have some leftover buttercream from another batch, try adding it in.

Lumpy or broken? (Photo on Right)
If the butter is too cold, it will result in a lumpy or broken product. You can fix it by gently heating the buttercream, while mixing with a blow torch on outside of the mixing bowl. This trick also works great when reheating previously stored buttercream.

Too buttery?
You do not need to add the full amount of butter. Stop adding butter when your meringue starts breaking around the edges of the bowl and allow adequate time for it to whip up.

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7 Responses to “Swiss & Italian Meringue Buttercream”

  1. Rosetta

    I am sorry but what is a bain-marie

  2. Bethany

    Are these buttercreams stable in warm weather temps?

  3. Deborah Egizii

    How about a recipe for SWISS buttercream?

  4. Irina

    Thank you very much for the tips and information

  5. Julie Swain

    Would love to make it but I need to know how much of each product is needed, read the article, may have missed it.

  6. Patricia

    Haven’t tried it yet

  7. Karen