I'm calling this recipe Easy Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but there is actually no meringue that goes into this silky, rich buttercream. All of the elements are there -- egg whites, sugar, and butter -- but the method is totally different than what you're probably used to. And it's so much easier!
The Swiss Meringue Buttercream Myth
I first heard of this method of making buttercream when I came across the article "The Meringue Buttercream Myth" on thecakeblog.com, written by Summer Stone. What I was reading totally blew my mind. I didn't have to make a full-on meringue to make a beautiful, stable meringue-style buttercream?
It's true: the structure of the buttercream doesn't come from the meringue at all, but from the butter. When you start by whipping the butter, you can then add the egg whites and dissolved sugar as a syrup, which will emulsify as you gradually beat it into the butter.
This method actually opens up a ton of possibilities for buttercream, but in this intro post I'm just going to walk you through the method. And yes, this stuff is so delicious you can eat it with a spoon (and I have!)
The Most Important Thing: Temperature
If there is one thing I want you to know about any meringue-style buttercream, it's that when you are mixing everything together at the end, everything needs to be the correct temperature. The temperature is so important because the butter needs to be soft enough to whip, but not so soft that it will just become a soup.
The correct working temperature for buttercream is around a normal room temperature, approximately 72°F or 20°C. It doesn't have to be quite that exact, and it also depends on the percentage of butter fat in the butter you are using, but this is a great starting point.
How to get the ingredients to the correct temperature
To get the butter to room temperature, simply leave it on the counter for a few hours. It will get softer the longer it sits out. If you can easily push your finger into the butter and leave a big dent, it is ready.
To get the egg white/sugar syrup to room temperature, there are a couple of ways to do it. If you are making the buttercream the same day as heating the syrup, you can cover it and let it sit on the counter to cool. You could also put it in a bigger bowl filled with ice and water, and stir it until it gets to the correct temperature.
If you are storing the syrup in the fridge, then just pull it out and let it sit on the counter until it warms up. You could also microwave it in short bursts on low power, stirring each time, until it gets to the correct temperature.
If your syrup was frozen, then just defrost it overnight in the fridge and follow the instructions for the refrigerated syrup.
Breaking Down the Buttercream Method
The main idea behind this method is that you will make a syrup using egg whites and sugar, and then slowly beat that syrup into the whipped butter.
The egg white syrup can be made days or weeks in advance. As long as you store it in an airtight container, it will last about a week in the fridge, or a month or two in the freezer. Just bring it completely to room temperature before you add it to the butter.
Making the syrup
You can make the syrup either on a stovetop in a double boiler, or in the microwave. I prefer the stovetop so I have a little more control, but the microwave is totally fine to use in short bursts, stirring in between.
Start by adding the corn syrup, egg whites and sugar to a bowl. Since I measure by weight, I just add them all in while the bowl is on the scale, and hit the tare button in between each ingredient. The corn syrup is optional, but helps the syrup to not crystallize.
Heating it up
If you are using pasteurized egg whites, either from a carton (my preference) or reconstituted dried egg whites, you technically don't have to heat them up at all! You just have to dissolve the sugar into the whites. But, the heat does help the sugar to dissolve. You don't have to take it all the way to 160°F (71°C), though -- just heat until the sugar is fully dissolved.
If you are using any fresh egg whites, you need to heat up the mixture to 160°F (71°C) for food safety.
Heat the mixture in a double boiler over medium heat, stirring constantly so the egg whites don't cook. Alternatively, you can heat it in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring well in between each time until it gets to temperature.
Cooling it down
Once the syrup is done, you'll want to get it back down to room temperature so you can either use it or store it. The fastest way to do this is in a metal bowl or a shallow metal pan. Just pour it in, cover, and you can either leave it on the counter or put it in the refrigerator to cool.
Whipping the butter
When your butter is nice and soft and at room temperature, you can begin to whip it. I highly recommend a stand mixer for whipping the butter, because it really needs a lot of whipping to get to that light and fluffy stage you want to see. Whip it on medium high speed for at least 3 minutes, or more if it is not puffy and light in color like the photo below.
Add in the syrup
When the butter is whipped, just add the room temperature syrup in three sections. Add a little bit, whip it together, then add more, and so on. This part should only take a few minutes. Even if it starts looking a little strange, just keep on whipping and it will come back together to a creamy consistency.
Flavoring The Buttercream
Adding flavor to this buttercream is easy, as long as you are not adding too much liquid. You can add about 4 oz (118 ml) of liquid, or half a cup, before it might start to break down. Extracts are great, and so is reduced fruit juice, jam, cocoa powder... there are tons of possibilities!
If you want to stick to vanilla, just add about 2 Tablespoons for this amount of buttercream, and rewhip.
Storing the Buttercream
My favorite way to store this buttercream is in the refrigerator or freezer in a quart-size zip top bag. I usually measure out about a 9-10 oz (~275 g) portion for each bag and use four bags. Then I flatten the buttercream out into a square, filling the bag.
Why do I do this? For a couple of reasons, the first being that this is the perfect amount of buttercream to fill one batch of my macarons! The second reason is that flattening the buttercream out makes it so much easier to defrost and to bring it to room temperature when you want to use it.
This buttercream will keep in the freezer for about two months, or the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
Other Recipes You Might Like
- I used this buttercream, flavored with lemon, to frost this Lemon Layer Cake
- Try these classic Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk cookies
- You can top these Chewy Butterscotch Cookies with buttercream instead of melted butterscotch bits
Did You Try This Recipe?
I would love to hear from you! How did you like this recipe? I hope it has made your meringue-buttercream-making life easier!! Please leave a comment or star rating below and let me know your thoughts!
Easy Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Stand mixer (recommended) or electric mixer
- Double boiler or a microwave safe bowl
- Shallow metal pan or bowl to cool down the syrup
- Kitchen scale
- 16 oz butter (4 sticks/2 cups)
- 1 oz light corn syrup or glucose syrup optional, helps syrup to not crystallize
- 8 oz egg whites preferably pasteurized from a carton
- 15 oz sugar
Soften the butter
- Take the butter out of the refrigerator and allow to soften to room temperature. This could take an hour or so, but you can also microwave it on a low power in 10-second bursts to speed it along.
Make the syrup
- Using a kitchen scale, weigh out the corn syrup, egg whites and sugar and combine them in a heatproof bowl.
- Either over a double boiler stirring constantly or in a microwave in 30-second bursts, heat the mixture. If using the microwave, stir well in between bursts.
- Stop heating the mixture when it reaches 160°F (71°C), or, if you are using pasteurized egg whites, whenever the sugar is fully dissolved and there is no grittiness at all.
- Cool the syrup by pouring it into a shallow metal pan or bowl. Cover, and either place it in the refrigerator or let it cool on the countertop. Continue checking the temperature about every 15 minutes until it reaches room temperature.
Create the buttercream
- Place the room temperature butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater paddle attachment. Whip for at least 3 and up to 5 minutes, until very light in color and fluffy.
- Add the egg white syrup in three portions, beating well after each addition.
- At this point, your buttercream is done, but you can add food coloring and any flavors at this point. For vanilla flavor, add 2 Tablespoons of extract and beat well.
- You can pre-make the syrup and store it in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or the freezer for a month.
- You can store the finished buttercream in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, or the freezer for about 2 months.