Edited 09/29/15 – Change in recommendation of carton egg whites
Edited 01/16/15 – Tips on using SMBC under fondant added at end of post.
Edited 12/22/14 – New flavor variations added and cream cheese version modified.
Many clients I’ve worked with swear they hate buttercream because they think it’s so sickly sweet and everyone just scrapes it off their cake… until they try my buttercream. This is nothing like the “buttercream” you most likely associate with, made out of powdered sugar and Crisco. It is a european meringue buttercream (oooh fancy!) that actually uses real butter and egg whites.
It can only be described as light, satiny smooth, velvety, not super sweet, and just plain luxurious. Allow me to introduce to you swiss meringue buttercream.
There is also an italian meringue buttercream which also has the same end result, but for all intents and purposes, is more difficult to prepare at home for someone making it for the first time because it requires boiling sugar to a specific temperature, etc. etc. The italian meringue buttercream is what we used at the bakery I used to work at and it’s more conducive to making in larger batches in my opinion.
Instead I’d like to share with you my recipe for swiss meringue buttercream (also known as SMBC) in this tutorial, which is what I make at home and use exclusively for my clients (even underneath fondant covered cakes! – see end of post for tips!). It’s easier to handle when working in smaller batches and is a bit more forgiving. Plus, I feel more comfortable making sure I heat the egg whites thoroughly to the bacteria killing temperature.
People have asked about fresh eggs vs carton egg whites.
I’ve used both successfully but I prefer to use the fresh eggs simply because they’re cheaper. (Edited 9/29/15: I’ve tried several brands of egg whites from cartons recently but I’ve had issues with the meringue not whipping properly and causing an extra soft, unstable buttercream. The only carton egg whites I can recommend now are from restaurant suppliers like Cash and Carry as these have an additive to allow it to whip up). I never waste the yolks because I freeze them individually in ice cube trays and use them all the time. (yellow cake, custard, creme brûlée, lemon curd/bars, are just some things that come to mind). Even if I did waste the yolks, it’s still comes out much, much cheaper.
Another note: When I make this swiss meringue buttercream, because I double and triple it frequently, I always use a scale and weigh my ingredients out. I know many people don’t have a scale so I’ve added standard volume measurements as well.
So here we go…
6 egg whites (180 g)
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar (300 g)
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (284 g) at room temp (about 72-78 degrees), cut into small chunks
1 stick salted butter (113 g) at room temp (about 72-78 degrees), cut into small chunks
flavoring (see variations at end of post)
1. Make sure the bowl, whisk attachment, and hand whisk are completely clean and grease free. I just make sure to scrub them really well and use really hot water when washing. I’ve heard of other people wiping the bowl and whisks down with lemon juice.
2. Put an inch of water in a small or medium saucepan and place on stove. Heat to a simmer.
2. Separate the egg whites into your mixer bowl being careful to not get any yolks into bowl. (At this point I like to place the egg yolks in an ice tray, one in each cavity, and freeze to use for other recipes)
3. Add sugar to egg whites and place mixer bowl over saucepan with simmering water.
5. Stir egg whites and sugar constantly with whisk to prevent eggs from cooking until it reaches 150-160 degrees fahrenheit on candy thermometer. (If you don’t have a thermometer, rub egg whites between your fingers. If it’s hot to touch and sugar has dissolved, it’s ready.)
6. Transfer bowl to mixer and begin beating using whisk attachment until glossy stiff peaks form and bowl is cool.
7. Set to lowest speed (I usually keep my whisk attachment on but you can switch to the paddle). Add butter slowly, one piece at a time.. **Important – butter must be room temp. Because that’s an arbitrary temperature, I suggest between 72 degrees – 78 degrees fahrenheit. Do NOT microwave butter to soften, instead, cut into small chunks before starting recipe and it will come to room temperature faster.
8. Mix on lowest speed and butter and meringue will slowly but surely emulsify and make the silkiest buttercream you have ever had. Warning: it make look scary as it mixes, but be patient and I promise it will come together!
9. Add your flavorings! (or 2 tablespoons vanilla extract if you’re not planning on flavoring it anything else). I used chocolate hazelnut swiss meringue buttercream on the cake below:
Here’s a printable version of the recipe. (Flavorings/Variations after recipe)
- 6 large egg whites (180g)
- 1½ cup sugar (300g)
- 2½ sticks (1¼ cups) unsalted butter at room temp cut into small chunks (284 grams)
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter at room temp cut into small chunks (113 grams)
- Important! Make sure you thoroughly clean your whisk attachment, handheld whisk, and mixer bowl (anything coming into contact with egg whites) to remove all traces of grease/oil.
- Place medium saucepan with 1 inch of water onto stove and heat to simmering.
- Separate the egg whites into mixer bowl.
- Add sugar to egg whites and place mixer bowl over saucepan with simmering water.
- Using handheld whisk, stir egg whites constantly to prevent cooking and until temperature reaches 160 degrees fahrenheit on candy thermometer. (If you don't have a candy thermometer, rub the egg whites between your fingers. If egg whites are very warm/hot and sugar is dissolved, you're good to go.)
- Attach mixing bowl to mixer and begin beating using whisk attachment. Beat egg whites until glossy, stiff peaks form and bowl is cool to the touch. Better to overwhip than underwhip at this stage!
- Turn mixer to lowest speed and add the butter once piece at a time, slowly. (Wait about 3 seconds between pieces.)
- Continue mixing on lowest speed until meringue and butter have emulsified into a silky smooth buttercream. (Mixture will look soupy and curdled at one point but be patient! It will come together, I promise! This may take 5 minutes or 15 minutes, but it will come together.)
- Add flavorings as desired.
- Can be kept at room temperature up to 2 days, re-mix with paddle attachment until smooth.
- Can be refrigerated up to 1 week. When needed, allow to come to room temperature on counter, then re-mix with paddle attachment on low until smooth.
- Can be frozen up to 2 months. When needed, allow to thaw overnight on counter, then re-mix with paddle attachment on low until smooth.
- If mixture doesn't want to come together and smooth after coming from refrigerator or freezer, microwave about 1 cup of the buttercream 8 seconds, add back to the rest of the buttercream and continue mixing.
- If buttercream is too soft, place in refrigerator 10-15 minutes and remix.
- To use under fondant: Ice cake as smooth as possible. Place in refrigerator until buttercream has hardened before covering in fondant.
See flavor variations, step by step pictures, and additional tips at dessertdesignlife.com
If you find the recipe as written is not sweet enough to your taste, feel free to add up to 1/2 cup (100 grams) more sugar (up to 2 cups – 400 grams total). However, if the buttercream is already made but you feel it needs to be sweeter (in general or to balance some of the flavors below, such as coffee) I’ve added sifted powdered sugar and mixed it in successfully. Do not use granulated sugar as it will not dissolve and your buttercream will become grainy!
Variations: scaled for the 6 cups of swiss meringue buttercream this recipe makes (all require mixing on medium-low speed). These variations are not only great for icing cakes, but cupcakes and cake fillings as well!
Add the following to finished buttercream:
- Vanilla: add 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- Vanilla Bean: add 2 tablespoons pure vanilla bean paste or the scraped seeds from 1 bean.
- Chocolate: add 2/3 cup cooled melted bittersweet chocolate
- White Chocolate: add 3/4 cup cooled melted real white chocolate
- Almond: add 1 teaspoon almond extract or emulsion
- Chocolate Hazelnut (Nutella): add hazelnut spread (I prefer Nutella) to taste (edited to add: I usually add around 1/2 – 3/4 cup nutella)
- Hazelnut: add 1 teaspoon hazelnut extract
- Peanut Butter: add store-bought peanut butter to taste (I like to use half crunchy and half creamy to give it texture)
- Coffee: dissolve 2 teaspoons instant coffee in 2 tablespoons warm water, add to buttercream (edited to add: you can add more coffee – dissolving in water first – if you want a stronger coffee flavor)
- Caramel: add 1 cup caramel to buttercream
- Cream Cheese:
I make my favorite cream cheese icing (here’s a good recipe) and then fold an equal amount of swiss meringue buttercream into it.(edited: lately I’ve been using a different method to streamline the process and avoid making 2 icings – beat softened cream cheese in mixer on med speed. Scrape bowl down, then on low speed, mix in the finished SMBC until combined. 6oz for a half batch and 12oz for the full batch. I also add 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice for a half batch/1 tblsp for a full batch to highlight the tanginess of the cream cheese – if you want it sweeter, you can mix in some sifted powdered sugar to taste)
- Strawberry: add 1/2 cup fresh pureed strawberries with a squirt of lemon juice to prevent browning (alternatively you can use 1/3 cup strawberry preserves.)
- Blackberry: puree 1/2 pint blackberries and push through strainer to remove seeds. Add to buttercream. (alternatively you can use 1/3 cup blackberry preserves.)
- Raspberry: puree 1/2 pint raspberries and push through strainer to remove seeds. Add to buttercream. (alternatively you can use 1/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves.)
- Apricot: add 1/3 cup apricot preserves (edited to add: you can also use pureed apricots, up to 1/2 cup)
- Lemon: add lemon curd to taste (or you can use 1 teaspoon lemon extract).
- Mint: add 1 teaspoon peppermint extract and a tiny bit of green food coloring (mix with mini chocolate chips to make a mint chip buttercream!)
- Irish Cream: add 1/4 cup irish cream
New Flavors added 12/22/14:
- Speculoos/Biscoff (hints of gingerbread): add cookie butter/biscoff spread to taste (I usually add about 3/4 cup to this size recipe)
- Dulce de leche: add 1 cup prepared dulce de leche (I buy the premade can by Nestle in the hispanic section of the grocery store)
New Flavor added 1/16/15
- Brown Sugar: substitute the white sugar for brown sugar in the recipe.
As you can see the flavor possibilities are endless! I love this buttercream and hope you do too!
Edited 1/16/15 to add:
Using SMBC underneath fondant:
I just realized that I have never addressed the issue of using SMBC underneath fondant and the funny part about that is, that was my number one question when I first started using it!
Like I mentioned earlier, I use SMBC exclusively, including underneath fondant, but there are several tricks in order to be successful:
- Ice the cake as smoothly as possible. I like to put about a 1/4″ – 1/3″ thick layer of buttercream over the whole cake. Any thinner, I start to get ugly bulges as the cake settles.
- Use an icing smoother for final smoothing of the sides (I use a bench scraper or a putty knife). Any imperfections usually show up even after covering with fondant.
- Place iced cake in refrigerator for buttercream to harden. This is how you get the smooth sides and top and crisp edges to stay when covering the cake in fondant. It also allows you to have a full thickness of buttercream under the fondant.
- Cover cake in fondant straight from refrigerator. I like to use fondant smoothers to get as crisp a look as possible.
- Condensation may appear on fondant as cakes come to room temperature, but the condensation will evaporate, and as long as you don’t touch it (and leave fingerprints), it will dry just fine.
Have any questions about any part of the process, flavorings, or anything else about this buttercream? Please leave a comment below and I promise I’ll do my best to answer it as soon as possible!