Swiss Meringue Buttercream

POST UPDATE: I’ve made a video of this recipe and you can watch it here!

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Cupcakes

Recently@solvethepuzzle_asked me about a fluffy buttercream recipe on Twitter, and it occurred to me that I have yet to blog about my very favorite buttercream icing. How is this possible? I make icing almost every day of my life, sometimes multiple times a day, so it is a subject near and dear to my heart.

First things first –in my opinion, REAL buttercream icings always involve some kind of cooking because they contain eggs. A mixture of butter, shortening, powdered sugar, and flavoring is indeed icing, and it can be tasty, but it isn’t a true buttercream.

My #1, absolute favorite, jaw-dropping buttercream recipe is a Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Don’t be intimidated by the fancy name! It takes a little bit longer to make than the aforementioned powdered sugar recipe, but it’s not difficult and the end results are “Oh My God” worthy.  Swiss Meringue Buttercream is smooth and silky because granulated sugar is dissolved and cooked into egg whites, so there is no grittiness from undissolved granules. I use all butter, all the time, because the flavor is a million times better than a butter/shortening  combo, and it doesn’t leave a grease slick on the roof of your mouth.

Speaking of butter, it should go without saying, but I use unsalted butter in all of my baking. Most recipes include salt in the ingredients list, and if you use salted butter too, you lose control of the total amount of salt in the finished item. I’m a control-freak. I need to control that salt! Plus, who wants to eat overly salty cake??? I’m not talking about salted caramel here, either…

Swiss Meringue Buttercream can be flavored a million different ways. The recipe below includes basic vanilla extract, which can be subbed with seeds from a vanilla bean or for equal parts of vanilla bean paste, which I love.  I’ve added a few ounces of melted dark chocolate to the mix after all of the butter is incorporated. I’ve done the same with caramel sauce. Both have been divine.  A shot of espresso in addition to the vanilla extract is lovely, as are citrus zests.  For Cupcake Wars, we subbed out packed dark brown sugar for the granulated sugar and added a bit of molasses to make an amazing Brown Sugar buttercream for our Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Groom’s Cupcakes. The judges loved it!

This Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe can be adapted to any flavor profile, but keep in mind that it won’t take a lot of liquid. Plan to add ½ cup or less of any liquid flavorings so that the buttercream stays emulsified. Add more, and you risk breaking that beautiful buttercream!

This formula is so basic that I’ve committed it to memory over the years. Make it a few times, and you’ll have it memorized, too!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
Pinch kosher salt
3-1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into tablespoons
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk together the egg whites, granulated sugar, and salt. Cook over a double boiler, whisking frequently, until mixture reaches 140°F. Remove from the heat and whip on high-speed until the mixture is completely cool using an electric mixer. The egg mixture will be very fluffy and voluminous. Congratulations, you’ve just made meringue!

Once the mixture is cool, reduce the mixer speed add the butter one tablespoon at a time, making sure that the last pat is incorporated before adding the next. When you have added about 2-1/2 sticks of the butter, the mixture may start to look curdled. Don’t stress! Just keep whipping and adding the remaining butter one pat at a time and the buttercream will come together. Add the vanilla extract and whip until well combined.

Makes about 3-1/2 cups, or enough to ice about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Do you have a baking question? Tweet me, or leave a comment below, and I’ll try to help you out!