Baking Basics: How to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

There are many ways and minor variations to making Swiss meringue frosting. At its core Swiss meringue buttercream frosting is made by heating egg whites and sugar to create a syrup that is then whipped into a meringue state. From there the meringue takes on the addition of having butter creamed into it. It is my favorite out of all the buttercream frosting types. I love the light and fluffy texture along with the shiny satin-like appearance when it is finished. As for how it compares against other buttercreams like Italian, French and American buttercream, I’ll cover each one separately in some upcoming Baking Basics posts. Today it’s all Swiss meringue buttercream.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

By minor variation, I mean the ratio of egg whites to sugar and the amount of butter. Along with that, there is also some variation on the temperature of when the egg white and sugar syrup is ready for whipping. That said, I’ve outlined the ingredients and tools used to make Swiss meringue buttercream and what works for me and provided some links to support it.

Temperature: I bring my egg whites to 160 degrees. I have never gone as low as 140 degrees F as Epicurious suggests. I did at one time use 150 degrees F as Martha Stewart does, but nowadays, I heat my egg whites to 160 degrees F.
At one time I thought I discovered something by accidentally taking my eggs whites all the way to 160 degrees F without compromise to the end result. By accident I mean, I was making meringue and Tweeting – don’t be like me. Multi-tasking and heating eggs usually results in scrambled eggs. In any case, a few weeks ago I was reading The Baker’s Dozen and there was a recipe from my favorite baker, Alice Medrich, instructing meringue to be taken to that exact temperature. My accident was only a new discovery to me.

The 160 degrees F is Alice’s Safe Meringue featured in her book “Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts” of course this is the one of two books I do not own hers. (If it isn’t already obvious, the word low-fat in the title nixed it for me.) Her Safe Meringue recipe is also featured in another one of my favorites, Shirley Corriher’s, “BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking“. If you haven’t read this-you need to! Go checkout it out at the library or better yet – buy it, read it, dog ear it and mark it up with notes. I think you can feel good about the safety of egg whites at that temperature if a biochemist like Shirley features Alice’s recipe in her book.

*Thermometer: Is it necessary? That depends on where you fall on the safeness of eating egg whites. To be on the safe side, if you don’t have a thermometer use pasteurized egg whites and use the finger method to test for readiness.
The finger method is simply rubbing the egg and sugar mixture between your fingers to feel for sugar grit. If it’s smooth, then the egg white mixture is ready for beating. If it feels sandy or gritty, keep whisking the mixture until it is smooth.

Egg whites and what type: I have used pasteurized egg whites, but I couldn’t achieve the same fluffy light texture as when freshly separated egg whites are used. Full disclosure: I tried it twice and didn’t like the results, so I never went back to it. But that means nothing. It’s better if you test the two for yourself to see what your preference is. You should check out what Rosie of Sweetapolita has to say about her experience with it. She also has an excellent post on the same subject, titled “Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified“.

Sugar: Don’t bother using expensive baking sugar. Regular granulated sugar will work fine since it will quickly be heated to a liquid state.

Beating the egg white and sugar syrup to a meringue state: The time it takes to beat the egg white and sugar syrup into meringue may vary slightly from what is in the recipe based on different types of mixers used. For a more tactile indication of readiness the meringue should be warm to the touch. If not, the butter will melt. The visual indication will be stiff peaks that form when the whisk is pulled up out of the meringue.

Butter: The butter needs to be at room temperature, softened. The best visual description I’ve read is from Alice of Savory Sweet Life’s excellent post on “Classic Buttercream Frosting” – “The texture should be similar to ice cream, soft enough to scoop but firm enough to hold it’s shape.” When cutting the butter into pieces, I just roughly cut it to the tablespoon marking on the wrapper.

Ratio: In terms of ratio, I prefer mine at 1 egg white for 2.1 oz of sugar and 3.2 oz of butter. If you don’t have a scale it works out to about a 1/3 cup of sugar to every egg white. If do measure by cups your ratio will be slightly over by 1/2  an ounce, but it won’t matter for this recipe. For the butter it will be about 61/2 tablespoonfor every egg white.

Flavoring: This buttercream is highly adaptable to flavoring by extract or by sauces, eg. melted chocolate, melted white chocolate, caramel, dulce de leche, fruit curds and more. I generally add a 1/3 cup or more of sauce for every batch and extracts vary from 1/2 teaspoon to more. Taste as you go, just remember it’s always easier to add more flavoring than to reduce the flavoring.

Coloring: Start slow—it’s always easier to add more color than to correct the color. How much to add depends on the brand and the color. I generally start with one to two drops (one drop if I’m unfamiliar with the color), then mix it well and add from there as needed. Make sure as you add the color you are squeezing the drops out onto a spoon not over the bowl to have better control.

Trouble shooting: This portion addresses some of the questions and issues I have received regarding the Swiss meringue buttercream.

My Swiss meringue buttercream is soupy.

  • Most of the time you just need to keep mixing. On the occasion when that does not work, to correct the “soupy” texture just add a few tablespoons of chilled butter and it will help to stiffen up the buttercream.

My Swiss meringue buttercream is curdled.

  • This is normal. Continue to beat for about another 3 minutes and a smooth creamy texture will result.

Can I use this frosting for a wedding taking place outdoor in the summer?

  • I don’t recommend it for hot summer days or any place in which the Swiss meringue buttercream will be exposed to direct sunlight for longer than an 1-2 hours. My experience has been that the Swiss meringue buttercream starts to lose its fluffy light texture and begins to feel more like softened butter when consumed. Along with that, the nice satin-like finish moves towards an oily appearance that resembles very softened butter.

Basic Swiss Meringue Buttercream Elements:

  • Basic tools: Whisk, bowl, thermometer* (see note above), bain marie – you can create your own by placing a your mixer bowl containing the egg whites and sugar over a saucepan with simmering water. Do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl or it will overheat the eggs into a scrambled state.
  • How to store Swiss meringue buttercream: Place it in a tightly sealed containter and refrigerate it up to one week or place it in the freezer for up to a month.
  • How to re-heat Swiss meringue buttercream: Place Swiss meringue buttercream on the counter and let it come to room temperature-do not microwave it. Once it comes to room temperature place it in a mixing bowl and whip it for a few minutes or until it becomes light and fluffy once more.

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Yield: Approximately 3 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 11/2 cup sugar
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, sliced and softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Combine egg whites and sugar in a stand mixer bowl and place it over (not on) simmering water. Heat mixture to 160 degrees F while whisking constantly.
  2. Transfer mixer bowl to stand mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on medium high speed (speed 8 on a KitchenAid stand mixer) until mixture cools, doubles in volume and forms stiff peaks; about 10-12 minutes.
  3. Add butter in one piece at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. The mixture may appear clumpy and almost curdled looking at first—this is normal. Keep mixing and it will become even and smooth again.
  4. Add salt and flavoring, mix to combine.

Refer to the original post for tons of notes & tips!

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91 Responses to “Baking Basics: How to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting”

  1. #
    74
    Tracy — March 17, 2014 @ 1:33 am

    Hi, I have tried the swiss buttercream several times. Each time, my buttercream was not thick enough to do those nice frostings that I was see on websites like yours. My buttercream tasted wonderful; its smooth but just not thick like yours. May I know whats wrong with my buttercream? I stay in a hot humid country and room temp is normally around 29 degrees. Does this make a difference? Thanks

    Reply

    • jennee replied: — April 26th, 2014 @ 3:57 am

      Tracy:

      It takes a really long time to reach 160. I could never get it there. I finally quit around 152, because it was getting so thick. I beat it for the 10 min when I put it into the mixer. After incorporating all the butter, it was not stiff, and I thought I had done something wrong, but I continued to beat it on high setting for a while more, and it finally started to pull together and become the creaming fluffy stiff you want. I think you have to wait for the meringue to really cool down before you incorporate the soft butter. If I had to do it over again, I would wait much longer before I beat in the butter. I hope that helps.

      Reply

      • Paul replied: — May 15th, 2014 @ 7:27 am

        Hi, I set a glass bowl of the meringue mixture on a twice-folded dishcloth in a large shallow frying pan of boiling water. This keeps the direct heat off the bottom of the bowl and allows quicker heating. Reached 70 degrees C in less than 10 minutes without a problem. Cheers, thanks for the recipe!

  2. #
    75
    Iris — April 26, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

    Hello! Can this recipe be used for macarons?

    Reply

  3. #
    76
    bino — May 21, 2014 @ 12:25 am

    Hi
    I will try this, my question:
    Is swiss meringue buttercream is stable to make reses buttercream ,especially in hot place because my place the temerature become 40 degrees
    Thank u:)

    Reply

  4. #
    77
    JulieAnn — July 17, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

    Wow. I just made this for the first time and it turned out BEAUTIFULLY, even though I made it in a regular stand mixer, not a Kitchenaid, and with regular beaters not whisk beaters. I did bring the egg/sugar mixture up to 160 degrees as suggested (it didn’t take as long as apparently did for other people), and the mixing time was about 13 minutes until the stiff peaks formed but it really didn’t start to thicken until about 3/4 of the butter was incorporated. Having a couple french buttercream disasters under my belt, I do know that be it egg yolks or pieces of butter, when a recipe says to add it in slowly, it means one piece at a time with a good amount of time (like a minute)in between additions. Also, my butter was soft but not super soft.
    Can’t wait to pipe it on a cake! :-)

    Reply

  5. #
    78
    Damon C — July 19, 2014 @ 6:51 pm

    This was the first time I ever tried this and my family loved it. My fiance and I are foster parents to my young cousins and, needless to say, they are very picky eaters. I made a homemade black and white cake and used this recipe for the icing and they loved it. Thank you so much for such and easy to follow recipe!!!

    Reply

  6. #
    79
    julie — August 19, 2014 @ 10:45 pm

    Can this be used under fondant?

    Reply

  7. #
    80
    The Rustic Baker — September 5, 2014 @ 11:33 pm

    Just made a batch of the Swiss meringue buttercream! The step-by- step guide and photos made the process of making this buttercream an ease! Added strawberry purée to the buttercream and it tastes heavenly…can’t wait to frost some vanilla cupcakes with the buttercream! Thanks so much;)

    Reply

  8. #
    81
    Dina — December 12, 2014 @ 9:33 am

    Hi. I love SMBC for many reasons… It is now my go-to frosting type. Could you please tell me if you’ve tried it with meringue powder? If so, what were your results like?

    Reply

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