Frosting, schmosting. Swiss meringue buttercream is the real deal.
This Swiss meringue buttercream recipe uses whipped egg whites, sugar, butter and vanilla to make a fluffy, smooth buttercream that tastes softly sweet — not cloying like frosting. That’s why it’s the pro’s choice, and now yours, too. Great on its own, and adaptable to other flavors like raspberry, chocolate, or lemon.
Let me say right off the bat: I love frosting. I am not knocking frosting. But Swiss meringue buttercream is better, and this recipe will take your layer cakes and cupcakes to pro-level heights.
Granted, icing or frosting (the sticky-sweet bomb of powdered sugar, soft butter, and vanilla) is the best, and arguably only, way to top a cupcake. Frosting whips up in about a minute and involves little more than a mixing bowl and spatula. Frosting is easy, super sweet, and has that whole childhood-nostalgia thing going for it. That said, here is why Swiss meringue buttercream is better.
Why Swiss Meringue Buttercream Is Better Than Frosting
Swiss meringue buttercream — i.e., real buttercream — is better. It is the buttercream of wedding cakes and fancy bakeries. And it should be the buttercream of home bakers, too.
- A Swiss meringue buttercream recipe makes fluffy, smooth, and versatile buttercream that tastes just sweet enough.
- Swiss meringue buttercream does not develop a dry “skin” like frosting.
- The soft vanilla flavor stands on its own, but it is also an adaptable base for other flavors: variations like raspberry, chocolate, or lemon.
- Swiss meringue buttercream can be frozen, refrigerated, thawed, and rewhipped.
How to Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Recipe Steps
Swiss meringue buttercream is made by heating egg whites and sugar over a double boiler (stay with me here; it’s easy) and then whipping the whites and sugar into a meringue, to which lots of vanilla and butter is added.
Here are the steps:
- Whisk the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and set aside.
- Place the mixing bowl with the sugar-egg white mixture over a double boiler and, whisking frequently as to not cook the egg in spots, heat until very warm. The mixture should be hot to the touch but not burning, and you should no longer feel any grains of sugar.
- Transfer the mixing bowl to the mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip the meringue on medium-high until they form medium-stiff peaks and cool to about room temperature, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
- Switch the mixer to a paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium-low, add the softened butter in large pieces (I usually do about 1/3 or 1/2 stick at a time). When all the butter has been added, raise the mixer to medium speed and beat until fluffy and smooth, about two minutes.
How to Fix Your Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Are there a couple of potential pitfalls? Sure. Does this recipe cover them, and how to fix them if things go sideways? Of course. The main pro tips that home bakers should know are:
- Keep the fat off. Meringue’s worst enemy is fat. Whipping the egg whites requires a clean bowl without even a drop of errant egg yolk. Conversely, acid, like a little squirt of lemon juice or pinch of cream of tartar, helps stabilize the whites. (PRO TIP: Get errant yolk out of whites by fishing it from the bowl with a piece of egg shell.)
- Do not use pasteurized egg whites from the carton. Separating the eggs takes a little extra time. However, the pasteurization process denatures the egg proteins. This means that the whites will not whip up to a stable, fluffy meringue.
- Temperature matters. The butter should be nice and soft. Otherwise the result can be clumpy. This is fixable, but save yourself the frustration. Likewise, it is important to heat the egg whites and sugar until they are hot and all of the sugar dissolves. Then, whip the meringue until it has cooled to room temperature or so before adding the butter. If the meringue is too warm, it will melt the butter and be soupy. (This can be fixed as well; see the recipe, below.)
This recipe makes enough to fill and frost a two-layer, 9″ round layer cake, or about 24 cupcakes. Any extra buttercream can be frozen, thawed, and rewhipped. Once you switch to real buttercream, you will have a hard time going back. Prepare for compliments.
Need a cake recipe for that buttercream? You’ll love:
- Buttermilk Birthday Confetti Cake
- No Dye Red Velvet Cake
- Old-Fashioned Hummingbird Cake
- Mixed Berry Pound Cake
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 2 cups sugar
- 7 large eggs, separated (yolks reserved for another use)
- 1 ¾ cups unsalted butter (3 1/2 sticks), softened
- 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon Kosher salt
- Place the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk to combine, and set aside.
- Prepare a double boiler: Set a medium-sized saucepan filled with a cup or two of water over high heat. When the water comes to a strong simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low. The water should stay at a steamy simmer, not a boil.
- Place the mixing bowl with the sugar-egg white mixture over the pot and, whisking frequently as to not cook the egg in spots, heat until very warm. The mixture should be hot to the touch but not burning, and you should no longer feel any grains of sugar.
- Turn the heat off and transfer the mixing bowl to the mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip the meringue on medium-high until they form medium-stiff peaks and cool to about room temperature, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
- Switch the mixer to a paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium-low, add the softened butter in large pieces (I usually do about 1/3 or 1/2 stick at a time). When all the butter has been added, raise the mixer to medium speed and beat until fluffy and smooth, about two minutes.PRO TIP: If the buttercream is too runny, that means it is too warm. Hold a couple of bags of frozen vegetables to the side of the bowl to cool it, while continuing to beat the buttercream. You can also put the whole bowl in the fridge for several minutes, then whip.PRO TIP #2: If the buttercream is clumpy, it means that the butter was too cold when added. Briefly place the entire bowl over the double boiler to raise the temperature and melt the butter a little bit. Try to rewhip. Alternatively, take out a scoop of buttercream, microwave it until just melted. Then add that into the buttercream, and whip. The hot buttercream should raise the overall temperature.
- With the mixer on low, add the vanilla and salt. Combine well. The buttercream is ready to use.
- To make this raspberry buttercream: Add 1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam and a squirt of lemon juice after the vanilla and salt. A drop or two of red food coloring (preferably natural) may also be added to give it a brighter pink hue.
- To make this chocolate buttercream: Add 1/3 cup melted and cooled (not hot) pure, semisweet chocolate (between 58% to 72% cacao), after the vanilla and salt. PRO TIP: Do not use chocolate chips because they contain too many emulsifiers and other additives.
- To make this lemon buttercream: Add the zest of two lemons and the juice of 1/2 a lemon after the vanilla and salt.
Mine was runny because I think my meringue was still too warm but I did the frozen vegetable trick against the bowl and it came out fine. everyone loved the flavor and said it was good and not too sweet. a little more effort to make, but worth it.
Isn’t that a cool trick? It’s all about getting the right consistency of temperatures. Glad you liked it. It’s my favorite recipe.
Hi there! I would have loved to make this buttercream but my son has a mild egg allergy (he doesn’t seem to react to baked eggs if done properly but frosting can get him). What frosting/topping recipe would you suggest is my next best option if I’m looking to go egg free and make him your vanilla buttermilk birthday cake? And should I adjust the recipe quantities if I’m making a four layer cake? Thank you!
Hi, Safa! I would suggest making a regular vanilla buttercream frosting, made with butter and powdered sugar. It’s also easier to make! Here’s my recipe for frosting: https://unpeeledjournal.com/vanilla-buttercream-frosting-recipe/ . I suggest making a 1.5x recipe for a 4-layer cake. Happy baking!
Thank you so much! You are so prompt and helpful! Excited to start baking tonight!
Great! Hope to hear how it turns out!!
Andrea G says
This is great. Not as easy as frosting, but I love that it isn’t too sweet and how fluffy and smooth it is. I felt like a professional pastry chef!
I’m excited to try this! I did want to point out that step one is a bit confusing as it talks about whisking the eggs and yolks together, though I believe only the whites are used in this recipe. You make a fancy icing sound so achievable, here’s to hoping I have success! 🙂
Hi, Ashley and thanks for the comment! I looked through the recipe and didn’t see where it says to whisk the eggs and yolks together. In the ingredients, it says to reserve the yolks for a separate use. If you can tell me exactly which part is inaccurate or confusing, that would be great and I’ll revise! In the meantime, good luck and enjoy!
The second sentence of the first instruction says mix eggs and whites together. I think it should be sugar and egg whites.
Great catch! Thank you and you are absolutely right. I corrected it. Thank goodness for my expert readers/editors 🙂 Much appreciated.