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Swiss Meringue Buttercream Recipe + Tips, Tricks & Common Mistakes to Avoid

Swiss Meringue vs. American Buttercream

You have most likely heard of American buttercream frosting, but what about Swiss meringue buttercream? They sound similar but are actually very different! Swiss meringue buttercream is egg-based buttercream and can be hard to master but follow these tips and tricks and you’ll be a pro!

Swiss meringue buttercream typically consists of eggs, granulated sugar, butter, and vanilla extract (or other flavoring). It is most prevalent abroad but is becoming increasingly popular in America.

While American buttercream contains more sugar than butter, Swiss meringue buttercream contains more butter than sugar and develops its volume from whipped egg whites. I strongly prefer Swiss meringue to American buttercream since it has a smooth, silky, buttery taste that is not overly sweet. It is delicious on its own but given its subtle flavor profile, it lends itself incredibly well to added flavorings. For example, my recipe for Pistachio Cake includes this buttercream flavored with ground pistachios,


What’s the difference in taste?

The main difference in taste comes down to 3 ingredients: butter, sugar, and eggs.

  • Sugar – Rather than being overly sweet, Swiss meringue buttercream offers just the right amount of sugar to stabilize the eggs. American buttercream on the other hand is made with a larger quantity of confectioner’s sugar and is much sweeter. Confectioner’s sugar not only contributes to the super-sweet flavor of American Buttercream but is also responsible for providing volume and stability. Cream cheese frostings also rely on high amounts of confectioner’s sugar for stability, since cream cheese is soft even when refrigerated. Since confectioner’s sugar is finely ground granulated sugar, one cup of confectioner’s sugar carries more sweetness than one cup of granulated sugar.
  • Butter – For Swiss meringue buttercream, a generous amount of butter is gradually added after the whipped egg whites have fully cooled. The result is a perfectly balanced buttercream that is thick and creamy but tastes incredibly light and fluffy. For American buttercream, butter is creamed until smooth, and confectioner’s sugar is added with milk or cream. While you can certainly taste the butter, sugar is a much more predominant flavor in American buttercream.
  • Eggs – Eggs play a significant role in Swiss meringue buttercream achieving its volume. Granulated sugar is dissolved with eggs at a high temperature, allowing the egg proteins to unfold and create a silky but sturdy structure. After whipping for several minutes, the cooked egg whites will multiply in size to create the base of the buttercream. The sugared egg whites allow this buttercream to have a blank canvas in terms of the flavor profile for this buttercream. Thanks to the strong support of the egg whites, the possibilities for buttercream flavorings are endless!

How to make Swiss meringue buttercream

  • Whisk granulated sugar with egg whites over a bain-marie of simmering water. You’ll find varying opinions in regard to the temperature to cook the egg whites, from as low as 110°F up to 175°F. I find the best temperature to be around 140°F.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer using a whisk attachment, whip the warmed egg whites on medium-high speed until thick and glossy, about 5 minutes. Before proceeding, ensure the mixing bowl has completely cooled and is no longer warm to the touch. If the bowl is still warm, refrigerate the meringue for 10-15 minutes until cool.
  • Once cooled, gradually whisk in room temperature butter 2 tablespoons at a time.

Flavoring your Swiss meringue buttercream

Jazzing up your buttercream is easy! To maintain optimal thickness and consistency, be careful not to add too much liquid flavoring. Examples of how you can customize the flavor your buttercream include:

  • Ground nuts – Be sure to ground them as finely as possible in a food processor before adding
  • Freeze-dried fruit – You will also want to ground this into a fine powder before adding to your buttercream!
  • Extracts or pastes – Vanilla extract is always good to add, even if you plan to flavor it with something else. If you choose to add another type of extract, be aware of its potency before adding. Ex: lemon and almond extract are extremely potent and must be used sparingly to maximize (but not overdo) the flavoring.
  • Zests – Adding the zest is a great way to flavor your buttercream! You’ll benefit from concentrated flavor without compromising the texture and consistency of the buttercream.

Troubleshooting your buttercream + tips to avoid curdling

There are several ways that Swiss meringue buttercream can curdle:

  • Incorrect ingredient temperature – I can’t stress the importance of ingredient temperature enough! To make a successful buttercream, the meringue must be completely cool before adding the butter. Additionally, the butter must be at room temperature (67°-70°F) before being added to the meringue. A great way to tell if your meringue is cool enough is by feeling the sides of the bowl. If the base of the bowl is still warm to the touch, refrigerate it for 10-15 minutes before adding the butter. Be careful not to chill it too much or the butter will not incorporate as easily.
  • Adding the butter too quickly – The room temperature butter should be added gradually in increments of 2 tablespoons at a time. Waiting until each butter addition is blended is crucial to avoid the buttercream from becoming lumpy and curdled. If you notice this happening, don’t panic! Whip the meringue for 30 seconds before adding more butter and allow more time in between additions.
  • Overwhipping – Ironically, if you’ve already added in all of the butter but took extra time in between additions to avoid curdling, overwhipping the buttercream can cause it to curdle anyway. Even with a lot of practice, this is very common but thankfully it is fixable! The key to making the buttercream silky smooth again is a small adjustment in temperature. The key is to heat the buttercream slightly to smooth it out. Place the buttercream into a bain-marie over simmering water and heat until the edges start to slightly melt. This should take 1 or 2 minutes. Remove it from the heat and whisk on low, gradually increasing the speed to high just until the buttercream is smooth again.

Equipment needed

  • Bain-Marie – or a heat-proof bowl that can be set over a saucepan of simmering water.
  • Candy thermometer

Prepare in advance

Set out the following ingredients to bring to room temperature:

  • 6 sticks (678 g) unsalted butter

Storing Swiss meringue buttercream

Swiss meringue buttercream hardens when refrigerated (just as a stick of butter would). If you make this buttercream in advance and refrigerate it pre-assembly, bring it to room temperature and whip for 1-2 minutes. It will re-constitute the creamy consistency!

If you plan to serve your cake same day, it is stable enough to be left out at room temperature. Otherwise, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Set your cake out for 30-60 minutes prior to serving, depending on how chilled you like the cake to be.

This buttercream can also be frozen (assembled into a cake or on its own) and thawed in the refrigerator 1-2 days prior to serving.

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream


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  • Author: Amy @ The Pastry Blog

Description

This recipe will fill and cover a cake made with (3) 8-inch round cake pans. To fill (and not cover) a cake of the same size, reduce the quantities in half.


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 500 g granulated sugar
  • 378 g egg whites (from 12 large eggs)
  • 678 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Place the sugar and egg whites into a bain-marie over simmering water, whisking constantly until all of the sugar has dissolved and the temperature of a candy thermometer reaches 140°F.
  2. Transfer the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk the meringue for 5 minutes on medium-high speed. Before proceeding to the next step, it is crucial be sure the meringue is fully cooled, or the meringue will flatten with the addition of butter. After whisking for 5 minutes, the sides of the bowl should be cool, but the base of the bowl may still be warm to the touch. If it is, place the bowl in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Avoid refrigerating it for longer or the meringue will be too chilled to properly blend with the butter in the next step. Even if you’ve never made a Swiss meringue before, this is a time when you’ll need to trust your best instincts. If you’ve refrigerated the meringue and still find the base of the bowl to be too warm, let the meringue sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so before proceeding.
  3. Once the meringue has been cooled, gradually whisk in the room temperature butter on medium high speed, 2 tablespoons at a time, waiting until it is incorporated before adding more. 
  4. Add in the vanilla extract and mix until just blended.

Notes

This buttercream in its full quantity is enough to fill and cover a cake made with (3) 8-inch round cake pans. To fill (and not cover) a cake of the same size, use half of the quantity.

If you make this buttercream in advance and plan refrigerate it pre-cake-assembly, bring it to room temperature and whip it for 1 to 2 minutes to re-constitute the creamy consistency.

If you plan to serve your cake same day, it is stable enough to be left out at room temperature. Otherwise, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Set your cake out for 30-60 minutes prior to serving, depending on how chilled you like the cake to be. 

This buttercream can also be frozen (assembled into a cake or on its own) if desired and thawed in the refrigerator 1-2 days prior to serving.

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