Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting is made from sugar, egg whites, and butter. Unlike American buttercream, it’s light, fluffy, and never cloying. This step-by-step tutorial includes options for vanilla, chocolate or strawberry buttercream, as well as suggestions for additional flavors. It may appear a bit daunting at first if you’ve only prepared American buttercreams, which are made from butter and confectioners’ sugar. However, if you can push yourself through those nerves and give this a try, you will never go back. Once you know this basic buttercream frosting recipe, the possible flavor combinations are endless!
I’ve shared many recipes over the years that highlight meringue buttercream frosting, such as my chocolate espresso layer cake and peach bourbon cupcakes. However, since the process can be a bit involved, I figured it was time to create a step-by-step tutorial demonstrating exactly how you make it.
American buttercreams consist solely of butter and sugar, so they’re often rich, heavy, and overly sweet. Since meringue buttercreams also contain egg whites, the result is much lighter and less cloying.
How to Make Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Step 1: Cook sugar syrup to the soft-ball stage
When cooking sugar syrups, the soft-ball stage occurs between a temperature range of 235 and 245 degrees F. This temperature will make sure the egg whites are safe to consume, and also help create the right meringue consistency.
How do you prevent sugar from crystallizing?
When crystallization occurs, the smooth syrup with turn grainy and can no longer be used in buttercream. It cannot be fixed, but luckily, it’s easy to start over if this happens. Take the following steps to avoid crystalized sugar:
- Start with a very clean saucepan.
- Add 1 teaspoon of corn syrup to the sugar and water. This step is optional, but it does help.
- Don’t stir the ingredients after adding them to the pot. The syrup will form on it’s own once the sugar dissolves.
- Cover the saucepan until steam develops. Once steam develops, remove the cover and add the thermometer to the pot.
Step 2: Add syrup to egg whites
While the syrup is reaching the soft-ball stage (which takes around 5 minutes), place the egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and turn the speed to high. Whip to a soft peak.
Once the syrup is ready, turn the mixer to medium-low. Slowly and carefully pour the syrup down the side of the mixer into the egg whites. You might want to wear oven mitts the first time you do this to protect your hands (I’m a fan of the Ove Glove mitts since they give me a lot of control).
Don’t add the syrup too quickly or you could wind up with scrambled eggs. This is also why the syrup is poured down the side of the bowl instead of straight into the eggs.
Once the syrup is completely incorporated, turn the speed up to high and let the meringue form a stiff peak while cooling to room temperature. This can take 15-20 minutes, so it’s a good time to do the dishes. Placing ice packs around the bowl can help speed up the process.
Step 3: Add butter and any additional ingredients
Once the meringue is at room temperature, it’s time to add butter, followed by any additional flavors. The meringue will start to thin out slightly when you begin adding butter, but it will thicken up again by the end.
This step is where the buttercream has the potential to break, which will happen if the butter and meringue are different temperatures. Buttercream breaks when the ingredients separate.
Don’t worry, because it’s very easy to fix broken buttercream. But first, there are some steps you can take to prevent this from happening.
How to prevent broken buttercream
To avoid broken buttercream (which looks curdled like cottage cheese), leave the butter out overnight so it can truly come to room temperature. Also, wait until the meringue has cooled completely to room temperature before you begin adding the butter.
We don’t always have the foresight to leave butter out overnight. If you only have a few hours, cut the butter into very small pieces so it can reach room temperature more quickly. If the buttercream happens to break, don’t panic! Simply fit it.
How to fix broken buttercream
The easiest way to fix broken buttercream is to scoop 2-3 tablespoons into a small ramekin and microwave it on HIGH power for 5-10 seconds, until it’s just melted. Next, turn the mixer on high speed and pour the melted buttercream back into the bowl to incorporate. If that doesn’t fix it, repeat the process as needed.
Here’s a video I created for eHow last year demoing how to make Italian Meringue Buttercream:
For more buttercream frosting tips, make sure to read my Buttercream Basics article!
Looking for more dessert recipes?
Check out my yellow sheet cake with chocolate sour cream frosting and my Nutella cheesecake bars!
Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting
For Basic Buttercream:
- 13 ounces granulated sugar (approximately 1 1/2 cups)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons water
- Optional: 1 teaspoon corn syrup (see notes)
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 pound unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature (left out overnight for best results)
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For Chocolate Buttercream:
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature (see notes)
- Optional: a few drops of brown food coloring (I recommend gel food coloring)
For Strawberry Buttercream:
- 1/4 - 1/3 cup strawberry puree, room temperature (made from strawberries pureed in a blender)
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice, room temperature
- Optional: 1-2 drops red food coloring (I recommend gel food coloring)
- Place the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium-sized saucepan (do not stir). Cover and turn the heat to high. Once the liquid begins to simmer and steam develops, remove the cover (this helps prevent crystallization). Using a digital or candy thermometer, cook the sugar to the soft boil stage, 235-245 degrees F.
- While the sugar is cooking, whisk the eggs on high in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, until a soft peak has formed.
- Turn the mixer speed down to medium-low and very slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites (this will “cook” the egg whites, making them safe to consume. Don’t pour the hot syrup directly into the meringue or you’ll have scrambled egg whites.
- Once the syrup is completely incorporated, turn the speed to high. The meringue will continue to form a stiff peak as it cools down. Mix on high until the meringue comes to room temperature, approximately 15-20 minutes.
- Once at room temperature, slowly begin incorporating the soft butter on medium speed. Once all of the butter has been added, turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and slowly add the vanilla and any additional flavors (see variations).
- If not using immediately, store the buttercream in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before using. Briefly whisk or place back in the stand mixer with the whisk attachment to make sure it’s nice and fluffy before frosting. Buttercream can also be frozen for up to 3 months (I like using gallon sized freezer bags).
I typically melt small quantities of chocolate in the microwave. Coarsely chop the chocolate and place in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 20 second increments, stirring each time, until the chocolate is smooth and shiny. Cool to room temperature, stirring periodically.
I recommend using gel food coloring, which has a much more vibrant color with only 1-2 drops. It's available online and in specialty shops.
Meringue buttercream can take a decent amount of additional liquid for flavoring, up to 1/4 cup. The key is to add slowly and make sure the ingredients are at room temperature to avoid breaking the buttercream.
Additional flavor ideas:
- Other fruit purees or nectars! Don't use anything sweetened.
- Liqueurs (Grand Marnier, Irish Cream, Coffee Liqueur, etc)
- Rum or brandy
- Espresso or coffee
- Malted milk
- Spices or extracts (cinnamon, cardamom)
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