Meringue buttercream is an absolute delight. Light as air yet rich, buttery and sweet with a texture of smooth satin. It is a far cry from the regular buttercream I grew up making, consisting of simply butter and icing sugar, which I must admit I do still love. But it can sometimes be cloying and too sweet, and it certainly lacks the sophistication of meringue buttercream.
Meringue buttercream has an airy, smooth taste resembling vanilla ice cream but without the coldness (if you can imagine it). It pipes and spreads like a dream, so it’s ideal for celebration cakes and is often used by professional bakers for wedding cakes and fancy cupcakes.
I had read a lot about how to make meringue buttercream before I embarked on it, as I was keen to avoid the horror stories other bloggers had reported (curdled soupy mixture that eventually only ever saw the inside of the kitchen bin!) You’ll find this frosting is often called Swiss or Italian meringue buttercream as it uses the traditional method of heating the egg whites and sugar on a bain-marie (a saucepan of simmering water with a bowl on top).
So what is meringue buttercream? Well it’s actually pretty simple, it’s just a meringue base with a lot of butter whipped in (and I mean A LOT!) From there you can make it any flavour you like – vanilla, dark chocolate, white chocolate, salted caramel, lemon… It is certainly a bit more effort than regular buttercream and if, like me, you don’t have a free-standing mixer then it can seem a bit arduous. I had read lots of advice saying don’t bother to make this if you only have a hand mixer but I did it and thought it was absolutely fine, so don’t be put off.
Once you’ve tried this, it will open up a whole new world of frosting and it freezes beautifully which is handy as this recipe makes a large batch of icing. Enough for a large cake or several batches of cupcakes. I used Sweetapolita’s recipe (which also contains lots of useful info and tips) but I’ve simplified the method as I don’t see the need for a sugar thermometer.
300g egg whites (I used carton egg whites or you can separate 10 large eggs)
500g granulated sugar
680g butter, from the fridge
Pinch of salt
Flavouring of your choice
Take your butter out of the fridge and cut up into slices or cubes of about 40-50g each, and set aside to soften slightly. Put the egg whites, sugar and a pinch of salt in a large bowl (ensure the bowl is completely grease free so the egg whites whip up properly).
Put a sauce pan on the hob with an inch of water and bring to a simmer, then carefully place your mixing bowl on top (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water). Whisk the egg whites and sugar constantly but gently for about 3-5 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is thickened and glossy. If you’re not sure how to tell, dip a clean finger in the mix and rub it between your fingers – when it’s ready you shouldn’t be able to feel any sugar crystals, it will feel completely smooth.
Carefully removed from the heat and continue whisking at a high speed until the meringue is stiff and the bottom of the bowl has cooled to a neutral temperature. This will take about 10 minutes. This step is extremely important – if you add the butter when the bowl is still warm to the touch, the mix will curdle.
When the meringue has sufficiently cooled down and reached its desired consistency, lower the mixing speed and add the butter one cube at a time, making sure it’s completely incorporated before adding the next piece. Continue until all the butter has been added and continue mixing until the mixture is silky smooth. If it looks lumpy or curdled or soupy, simply continue mixing. It will magically come together eventually.
Once it’s ready, you can add your flavourings.
- Vanilla: scrape the seeds from 1 large vanilla pod or use 1 tablespoon of vanilla paste, whisk into the finished buttercream.
- White chocolate: gently melt 500g white chocolate and let it cool slightly before whisking it slowly into the finished buttercream.
- Dark chocolate: gently melt 300g – 500g dark chocolate (depending on how dark you want it) and and let it cool slightly before whisking it slowly into the finished buttercream.
- Salted caramel: make up a batch of my quick and easy salted caramel sauce and whisk this in gently to the finished buttercream.
- Lemon: add the zest of four lemons into the finished buttercream.
- Strawberry: gently whisk 200g of strawberry purée into the finished buttercream.