Here are all the tips you need to make smooth, creamy Italian Meringue Buttercream, perfect for flawless cake frosting.
By Lindsey Farr
In culinary school we made 5 different types of buttercream, but Italian Meringue Buttercream is my favorite! It has a lighter texture and taste than Swiss Meringue and German; it doesn’t taste like pure butter like French Buttercream; and it isn’t saccharine, tooth-achingly sweet like an American Buttercream.
Over the past 2 months, I’ve made this buttercream a lot.
Italian meringue buttercream (IMB) seems complicated at first; it’s definitely the most sophisticated of its peers. Simply put, it is made by whipping egg whites to stiff peaks while simultaneously cooking sugar to the soft ball stage; you then slowly pour the sugar into the whipping egg whites; and, finally, add butter.
A whole lotta butter.
They don’t call it buttercream for nothin’.
I love this frosting because it is light and airy but simultaneously rich and creamy. It is also magically stable and will keep for months in the freezer! So stable, in fact, if you think you totally messed it up, take heart, it’s probably totally fixable!
I actually think IMB is easier than Swiss Meringue Buttercream. (Get the Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe here)
Tips for Italian Meringue Buttercream Success
- There is no rule that you have to whip the egg whites on high while you cook your sugar, so if they have reached stiff peaks and your sugar syrup is stubbornly stuck at 220F (been there), just turn down the mixer to low. Don’t stop that mixer! I didn’t say that! I said LOW.
- Pour your sugar syrup in with the mixer on HIGH. Do you want scrambled eggs on your cupcakes? I didn’t think so. Turn that mixer up!
- Pour the sugar down the side of the bowl. Don’t hit the whisk because I don’t need to tell you that 235F syrup in the face is unpleasant. Don’t be that person. You will know if you did it right because there will be one little lava trail of cooled sugar down one side of the bowl.
- This sounds obvious and it’s in the instructions, but I’m going to say it anyways: cook your sugar to 235F. Soft ball syrup is a range but if you shoot for 235F, then by the time you get from the stove to the mixer and the syrup has inched up a few degrees, no love has been lost. You will know if you overcook your sugar because there will be a pool of cooked sugar in the bottom of your mixer. No bueno.
- When you start adding your butter, you want it to be soft but still a little cool. If it’s not totally soft enough, add it a little bit at a time and squeeze each piece before tossing it in. That’s right, squeeze your butter! It’s kinda fun. And kinda gross at the same time.
- If your buttercream gets soupy, switch from the paddle back to the whisk and beat it on high. All is not lost. Trust me. Whip it; whip it good.
- If your buttercream breaks (looks curdled) when you start adding the butter, take heart, it will come together. Add the butter in little pieces and squeeze each one to soften it. If you have a kitchen torch you can torch the outside of the bowl with the mixer on high, but keep the torch moving! You want to warm the bowl not melt the buttercream.
- To refresh refrigerated buttercream: Throw it in the mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until smooth; then switch to the whisk to whip it up until light and fluffy.
- To refresh frozen buttercream: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight, let warm slightly at room temperature and then proceed with the refreshing refrigerated buttercream instructions above.
- You can speed up the refreshing process by warming the bowl over a gas stovetop flame or with the kitchen torch. Just be careful to constantly move the bowl or torch because you don’t want to melt your buttercream.
First, you want to make sure that you have everything measured out and ready to go. This recipe is simple but it does require seamless execution. You also want to make sure that your mixing bowl is clean and free of any residual fat, or your meringue will not whip up and there will be sadness abound.
Continue whipping your egg whites until they form stiff peaks (photo 1 above). Ideally your meringue should reach stiff peaks at the same time that your sugar syrup reaches 235?F. If your egg whites are whipping too fast, reduce the mixer speed to medium. You can also adjust the heat on the sugar syrup to make it cook faster or slower.
To test your syrup you can either use a candy thermometer or you can do it the old-fashioned way, which is what I did here. Take a tiny bit of the syrup on a spoon and dip it into ice water, reach in and grab the sugar. If it dissolves, it isn’t close to ready; if it forms a little malleable ball, it’s ready!! I don’t have a photo of this stage because if I had taken the time to snap a photo, my sugar would have over cooked.
Turn your mixer up to high and SLOWLY pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl as in photo 2 above. Be very careful not to hit the whisk. Ideally you pour it in one solid stream down the edge because it will solidify where it hits the bowl, so if you pour it in three different places, you will be losing sugar. Sadness.
Keep whipping the Italian meringue on high until it forms stiff peaks like in the first photo below, but what is more important than the stiffness of the meringue is the temperature of the meringue. Before you begin adding the butter, the bottom of the bowl should feel barely warm (picture 2). There is so much sugar in this meringue that it will not over whip before it cools appropriately. Even though my meringue had reached stiff peaks in photo 1, I still needed to whip it another few minutes for it too cool.
When the bowl feels just slightly warm, switch to the paddle attachment and begin adding your butter a piece at a time like in picture 3. I take my butter out of the fridge when I begin measuring my ingredients. Before adding each piece squeeze the butter. When I am making this (and not taking photos) I use disposable gloves.
Continue to beat the butter in on medium-high until the buttercream is smooth and there are no remaining pieces of butter. The buttercream in photo 1 above is still a bit lumpy. Not there yet!!! Photo 2 is smooth and creamy. At this stage I switch back to the whisk, add any desired flavorings and beat it until it is light and fluffy. You are now ready to frost!Print
I'm a financial analyst turned blogger at American Heritage Cooking and, most recently, a culinary student at the International Culinary Center in New York City! I love posting healthier meals, old-fashioned comfort foods, and all things sweet! I also have a serious weakness for cupcakes!