While planning my wedding a few years ago I had this crazy idea to make my own wedding cake. I did a lot of research and tried a lot of recipes. In the end I decided to let someone else worry about the cake, which turned out to be an incredibly smart decision, but along the way I made the most amazing discovery— meringue buttercream.

Meringue buttercream is exactly what is sounds like, light meringue meets sweet buttercream. It’s buttery, but also light. It’s sweet, but not tooth-achingly sweet. To put it simply, it’s amazing. It falls into two categories, Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream, the difference being how the sugar and eggs are cooked. I’ve made both and the end result is the same.

I admit that meringue buttercream is a little more complicated to make than other icings, and that can be intimidating. But my hope is to break it down and show you how very doable it is. Anyone can make it! And you definitely should make this, trust me.

The full recipe is below, but the required ingredients for Italian Meringue Buttercream are: egg whites, butter, sugar, water, and vanilla extract. You’ll also need a small saucepan, whisk, candy thermometer, and a stand mixer. And since this is a recipe where things happen quickly once you get going, it’s best to have everything out and ready to go before you begin.

Ingredients for meringue buttercream

Ready? Let’s begin! First, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan.

Butter and water

Then set the saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally with the whisk.

Heating sugar

Bring the sugar to a boil. Once it starts boiling, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer.

Cooking the sugar

Now is a good time to make sure you have everything else ready to go. Put the egg whites in the stand mixer.

Egg whites ready for beating

And have your butter cubed and ready nearby.

Butter

Once the sugar reaches about 225 degrees F, start whipping the egg whites on medium high speed. The goal is to get the egg whites whipped to soft peaks by the time the sugar reaches 238 degrees, or “soft ball” stage.

Meringue

Once the sugar reaches the soft ball stage, remove it from the heat.

The sugar is ready

With the mixer on low speed, pour the sugar into the whipped egg whites in a small, steady stream. Be careful to pour it directly into the egg whites without hitting the side of the bowl or the beater.

Adding sugar

Once the sugar is all added, increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture cools to room temperature. During this time the hot sugar will cook the egg whites.

Whipping meringue

I test the temperature by placing my hand on the bowl and know it’s ready when it is no longer too hot to touch.

Cooling the meringue

Now it’s time to add the butter.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter a few tablespoons at a time.

Add butter by the tablespoon

When all of the butter has been added, pour in the vanilla extract.

Adding vanilla

Then increase the speed to high and beat the buttercream for a few minutes until it is completely smooth.

Medium high speed

This is what you want, a smooth and light mixture. Go ahead and taste it, and prepare to be blown away.

Whipped buttercream
Now, sometimes the buttercream doesn’t become smooth right away. Sometimes it’s temperamental and separates when you add the butter, which is largely due to the temperature of the butter. You want it to be soft, but not melting. If your buttercream does separate, just keep beating it. Eventually, although it may take several minutes, it should come together.

Like I said, it can be tricky. But it’s worth it!

Use the buttercream right away, or store it for later. In a covered container it will last up to one week in the fridge and several months in the freezer.

Storing meringue buttercream

When you’re ready to use it, bring it completely back to room temperature. Then return it to the stand mixer and beat on high for several minutes. It’s likely that it will separate as you whip it, but should come back together again after five minutes or so.

So, what can you do with your Italian Meringue Buttercream?

You can frost some raspberry cupcakes.

Frosting cupcakes

Flavor it with coconut for this Southern Coconut Cake.

Southern Coconut Cake bite

Or use brown sugar to make a brown sugar meringue buttercream for this Triple Browned Cake.

You simply can’t go wrong with Italian Meringue Buttercream. Next time you’re icing a cake, give this recipe a try. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do, I’m sure you will!

Italian Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Cake Art
Makes 4 cups

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
4 egg whites
2 cups (1 pound) butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, whip the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixture to soft peaks. When the sugar is at 238 degrees, add it to the egg whites in a slow steady stream with the mixer on medium speed.

Increase the speed to high and beat until cooled to room temperature.

Add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, while continuing to mix on medium high speed. Add the vanilla. Increase the speed to high and beat until smooth.

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64 Responses to Project Food Blog Challenge #4: How to make Italian Meringue Buttercream

  1. Alicia says:

    Awesome! Great pictures!

  2. Megan says:

    For some reason I never thought about freezing frosting. I feel like this is a revelation that might change cake-making for me! Thanks for the tutorial and good luck!

  3. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle says:

    Two favorite things all in one place and I've never made it before? Impossible!

    But you make it look anything but impossible, very nice job.

  4. Duchess says:

    Lovely, great job!

  5. Amelia PS says:

    earmarked!

  6. Amy (Sing For Your Supper) says:

    Great post! I think a lot of people are probably really intimidated by meringue buttercream, but you just made it look so easy and effortless! Great job!! You've definitely got my vote! :)

  7. Jacob's Kitchen says:

    Great tutorial. These kinds of frosting are amazing. And you really made it look easy. And those cupcakes with the raspberries are just lovely. nicely done. I voted for you!

    Good luck! hope to see us both in round 5!!! =)

  8. Marie (Food Nouveau) says:

    Gorgeous, I love Italian meringue buttercream! You make me want to go buy me a KitchenAid stand mixer RIGHT NOW! I know – I should already have one right?

    I love to make my frostings in advance and freeze them. I often use Italian meringue buttercream in my macarons and having the frosting ready to use in the freezer is one step less I have to go through when I feel like making these time-consuming little wonders.

    Great post! You easily earned my vote :)

  9. Heather says:

    Now that I have a brand new stand mixer, I won't be scared of stuff like this. :) This looks awesome!

  10. emily (a nutritionist eats) says:

    Beautiful! It looks delicious and I love the pictures! You've got my vote :)

  11. sara @ CaffeIna says:

    I did make my own wedding cake instead and I did use the Italian Meringue Buttercream. You are absolutely right: it's a bit more complex to make (it was my first time and a friend of mine who is a professional baker taught me how to make it and helped me) but it's so much better than the usual icing. You got a real new follower here thanks to this great step by step!

  12. Damaris says:

    this is over the top beautiful! I just voted for you. Good luck.

  13. Jun Belen says:

    Lovely, lovely post. That first photograph of the cupcakes is just simply beautiful!! I'd have to bookmark this post since Ive never made meringue buttercream before. Best of luck in PFB!!

  14. Stay-At-Home-Chef says:

    Great post with helpful step-by-step photos. Well done! Hope to join you in the next round :)

  15. Daydreamer Desserts says:

    Great job on the post, your photos look fantastic! Voting! :)

  16. We Are Not Martha says:

    I always say I want to make my own wedding cake (not that I'm even engaged!) and everyone tells me I'm crazy :) It probably IS best to leave that work to someone else, but it's awesome you discovered this buttercream! It looks beautiful… Good luck!! :)

    Sues

  17. Lindsey @ Gingerbread Bagels says:

    Oh I just love Italian Meringue Buttercream! Yours looks absolutely delicious and the instructions and pictures were very easy to follow. Fantastic job, I'm voting for you! :)

  18. Jen H says:

    Um that brown sugar meringue buttercream looks amazing! I may have to try it!

  19. Food, she thought. says:

    YUM! I always admire someone who can bake successfully. It's rocket science.

  20. CrystalsCozyKitchen says:

    Great tutorial! I sent a little red heart your way – Good luck.

  21. Jeanne says:

    It doesn't get any better than this! Meringue, buttercream, and an easy to follow tutorial! Now I have no excuse to avoid making it. Excellent job, and I'm voting for you right now!

  22. Russell at Chasing Delicious says:

    Mmm, icing! I've never tried this recipe; it looks delicious. Does it have to go on cake or can I just eat it out of the bowl?

    Good luck!

  23. Tiny Urban Kitchen says:

    I used to think I hated frosting until I tried butter cream frosting! I agree, it's a lot of work to make, but so worth it. I love it inside macarons!

  24. Food o' del Mundo says:

    I LOVE Italian Buttercream frosting. Great tutorial!
    ~ Mary

  25. Danielle says:

    Great tutorial. I always hate trying to make this type of frosting because it's so temperamental. But you've made it look easy. Makes me want to give it another try. Good luck in round 4!

  26. edible says:

    You had me a "coconut cake" :D I've never heard of this icing before, now I can't wait to try and make it…to top my Muddy's famous from scratch coconut cake of course……Cheers girl, you got my vote!

  27. Chris Sauter says:

    Your frosting looks amazing! I can't wait to try it! -chris (picklesandcake.com)

  28. riceandwheat says:

    I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of normal buttercream for exactly the reasons you said: too heavy and too sweet. This looks like a great alternative! I love how you used photos to show off the texture/consistency of the cream at various stages – very helpful! Good luck this round!

  29. Isabelle says:

    Great job in taking the scariness out of meringue buttercream… I've always felt a little too intimidated to try making it at home, since there are so many steps and so much room for error. This tutorial makes me want to pull out the stand mixer and make a batch right now! :)
    You've got my vote. Good luck!

  30. Get Natured says:

    This looks really fluffy- I love fluffy! :-)

  31. whatsfordinneracrossstatelines says:

    Really like this one, happy to vote and cheer you on! Wish I had some frosting right now!
    -Gina-

  32. Wheels and Lollipops says:

    I've never thought about Italian meringue buttercream, I make swiss buttercream quite often for the reasons that you stated 'heavy and sweet' but will be giving this one a try. Good Luck !

  33. Anonymous says:

    This recipe is mouth-watering!!!
    You got my vote!

  34. Food Lover says:

    Sounds great, even if it may take more effort or time than other icing as you said but it deserves a try I really liked it, thanks & wish you good luck :)

  35. Fiona at Life on Nanchang LU says:

    Fantastic post, lovely photos, can't wait to make this for my next cake…thanks! Voted!

  36. Lick My Spoon says:

    Sometimes I like frosting to be over the top heavy and sweet. When it isn't one of those times, I think I'm going to try this out. Good luck this week, voting for you!

    Lick My Spoon

  37. Lisa says:

    I've been needing this tutorial. The idea of making this recipe has always intimidated me, but you made it look so easy. I'll follow your steps for sure. You've got my vote.

  38. Daily Spud says:

    Well, first off, this makes me want a KitchenAid mixer (well I already knew that!) but it also makes me seriously want to try italian meringue buttercream – so you have done your job very well!

  39. Lindsay says:

    Fantastic! Just gave you a vote!! Good luck!

  40. The Comfort of Cooking says:

    Wow, this buttercream looks incredible! Such precision (I guess that's why I'm not a baker, ha ha). As always, my vote has been cast. Best of luck!

  41. angela@spinachtiger says:

    You have my vote.

  42. momgateway says:

    Thanks for this very clear tutorial …now I can frost my own cake!

  43. Lauren Fister says:

    Beautiful!! Congrats on making it to round 5!!

  44. mia natsume says:

    we love this frosting too, especially when applying our ticings — so worth the extra effort! nothing but compliments when we serve cupcakes topped with such a delicately textured frosting!

  45. Rosie says:

    This is awesome Annalise, thanks a million for putting a tutorial!! I’m very visual so this is awesome!!! So, I’m going to adventure and try your IMB recipe because it sounds sooooo scrumptiously (is that a word? LOL) delicioussssss!!! and quick question: can you add Peanut Butter to this delicious IMB? if so, at what point do you add it and how much? how long to continue whipping?
    Sorry for all the questions, but I’ve never made IMB
    Ok, thank you again!!!
    Rosie

    • Annalise says:

      Rosie,

      I’m sure you could do peanut butter meringue buttercream by substituting peanut butter for some of the butter. Unfortunately I haven’t tried it myself so I couldn’t tell you an exact amount, though I’m sure there’s a recipe for it out there somewhere on the web. If you try it, be sure to let me know how it goes! :)

  46. [...] got this wonderful recipe from Completely Delicious. She has this fabulous step by step guide with pictures. Follow the link and take a [...]

  47. Autumn says:

    I made the Brown Sugar IMB to frost raspberry cupcakes yesterday and it was delicious! Thank you for a wonderful variation to one of my favorite buttercreams. Here’s a link to the post about it on my blog http://fallinlovewithcooking.blogspot.com/2012/08/raspberry-cupcakes-with-brown-sugar.html

  48. kim says:

    I just made this and I made a few substitutions and it still turned out wonderful! I made it with 1 cup coconut sugar vs. regular sugar, gave it a light brown colour and slight caramel flavour. I did one cup of shortening and one cup virgin coconut oil. This worked out really well, slight coconut flavour but not much after flavouring with almond. Then added 6 drops stevia at end as it needed a bit more sweetness, also at end added 1 1/2 tsp of almond extract. I can’t eat sugar or dairy so finding solutions is hard. Your post with clear instructions and pictures made it easier for me, so thank you very much!

    • Annalise says:

      I’m so happy to know that you had success with all those substitutions! Thanks for sharing, perhaps others will find the info useful.

  49. Cathi says:

    Thank you for the tutorial on the IMB. I have never made anything like this before but just tried it for a cupcake contest at work this week. You said be prepared to be blown away and you were right! It is soooo delicious, I can’t believe I didn’t discover this sooner! I am so glad I came across your blog when I was looking for the perfect recipe and now I will definitely be following! Thanks again:)

  50. [...] frosting for the filling in these cookies.  I couldn’t find the exact recipe, but this one is pretty [...]

  51. Cathi says:

    Hi Annalise,
    Just wondering if I can add a soft gel food color paste to the IMB so I can make the grass green on my son’s birthday cake…it is going to be a baseball diamond to go along with baseball themed party he wants. Also, is it okay to double the recipe or should I make two single batches?

    • Annalise says:

      Yes, a gel-based food coloring should work just fine with this recipe. Add it at the end after the butter is fully incorporated. I have doubled this recipe in my 5 quart KitchenAid mixer in a pinch, but it is extremely full. If you have a larger mixer than you should be able to double it no problem.

  52. that italian meringue buttercream looks delicious.
    i am going to try it.
    it looks hard to make.
    but u make it look so easy.
    many thanks.

  53. Abbie says:

    I’ve been trying to find an easy way to go about this recipe for ages and you just gave me one. thank you! tried it and it was fab. thanks so so much for simplifying it!
    If I want to make the brown sugar version can I just substitute the white sugar with brown??
    thanks again xx

    • Annalise says:

      I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the recipe! It definitely is something that seems very difficult when you first start out, but overcoming the fear is the worst part! And it gets easier every time. You can find a brown sugar italian meringue buttercream in this post: Triple Browned Cake.

  54. Caleigh says:

    I made this yesterday with brown sugar for the top of some cupcakes and it was amazing! so easy too! thanks!

  55. sean says:

    thx for the recipe I just made i,t and it came out perfect! all I I can add is make sure you use a very clean pot for thee sugar. I don’t have a candy thermometer so what I do, is blow on a fork. when it forms a bubble that’s soft ball and its ready.

  56. Sadie says:

    This frosting is beautiful! I am so determined to make it, but so far I haven’t had any luck. The first time I tried the frosting turned yellow, the same color as the butter. It looked like a big whipped bowl of butter and tasted like it too. The second time I halved the butter, but then it was so runny and clumpy that it couldn’t even be called frosting, and it was still the very unappetizing color of butter. Do you have any tips??

  57. Shannice says:

    Hi Annalise,
    is it possible to add a little more sugar for extra sweetness and at which step should i add the sugar if possible?

    • Annalise says:

      Personally, I don’t think it needs any more sugar. And I’m not sure how the results would turn out, though I would bet you could add a little more without disastrous results. Just increase the sugar amount and proceed with the recipe as written.

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