How to make Italian Meringue Buttercream

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 discoveryโ€” 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 thisย 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.ย 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.