Of all the buttercreams in the world Italian meringue buttercream might just be my favorite! It’s light, silky, not too sweet and it pipes beautifully!! It needlessly intimidates way too many home bakers so I’m here to help and provide that little bit of encouragement and know how to help you make this amazing frosting!
Italian meringue buttercream is a revelation! Silky, perfectly sweet, super-versatile, and it pipes like a DREAM! I’ve had so many questions about Italian buttercream that I made a step-by-step video to show you all my tips and tricks! Scroll down to check it out. Did you know Italian meringue (same recipe without the butter) is incredible on tarts and baked Alaska! I know it’s a bit finicky BUT this buttercream adds a silky, not too sweet, touch to your cakes; it also pipes beautifully!
Pro Tips for making Italian Buttercream
- It’s important to use room temperature egg whites and butter.
- Clean the bowl of your mixer really well, fat is the enemy of meringue.
- Monitor the temperature of your sugar syrup closely, you don’t want it to get too hot.
- Add your pieces of room temperature butter in slowly.
- You’ll need to give the buttercream a quick whip to bring it back to life if it’s not getting used immediately as it will lose consistency quickly.
- Don’t panic when you add the butter to the meringue and it turns to soup, just keep adding the butter and it will work out.
Want some tips on how to use this buttercream when decorating a cake? Check out my How to Decorate a Cake post, it has lots of helpful tips and a full how to video.
How your meringue should look before adding butter
- After adding in the 240F sugar syrup your meringue will look very silky, white and it will feel marshmallowy, and not warm when you touch it. As soon as you add the butter in the consistency will change and it will deflate a bit. Don’t worry, that’s fine! Just keep adding all of the butter in and whip. If it’s still soupy you can pop it in the fridge or freeze to cool down a bit maybe 10 minutes, then keep whipping and it should be fine!
- I love flavoring my buttercreams with a high-quality vanilla extract, but there are so many more flavors to choose from. Orange blossom water, rose water, fruit reductions (make sure they’re strained and cooled before adding), and of course chocolate (melted and cooled).
My brown butter orchid cake is decorated completely with Italian meringue buttercream. You might not be able to taste how good it is but I hope you can see the smoothness and detail possible with this frosting.
If your buttercream is “soupy,” just pop it into the fridge for a couple of minutes, then beat it. It should thicken up. I find consistency problems arise mostly from the meringue being too warm when the butter is added. Chilling it will help improve the consistency.
If you’re adding flavorings (i.e. chocolate, fruit, etc). to your Italian buttercream, I suggest doing this as the very last step.
Can you make Italian Buttercream without a candy thermometer?
While it’s definitely preferable to use a thermometer when making Italian meringue you can do it without. The sugar needs to reach the softball stage 235-240F before it gets drizzled in. You van use a Glass of cold water and an attentive eye to make to this.
When the sugar is approaching the softball stage you’ll notice the bubbles will start getting bigger and bubbling more slowly. Use a soon to drop some of the how sugar into the glass of cold water.
Soft Ball Test
- If the sugar dissolves it’s not hot enough.
- If the sugar forms a soft ball that feels like sap in your fingers it’s ready!
- If the sugar forms a hard ball in the water it got too hot.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Cream of Tartar for?
Cream of tartar is added to help stiffen the egg whites. It’s an acid so if you can’t get your hands on it sub in an equal amount of white vinegar or lemon juice. I’ve made it without and the recipe turned out fine by the way.
What are the three types of buttercream?
The three most common types of buttercream are Italian meringue buttercream, Swiss meringue buttercream and American buttercream. French buttercream, which uses egg yolks for a custard-like frosting, and German buttercream are also delicious options I would urge you to try out.
What is the difference between American buttercream and Italian buttercream?
Italian buttercream is meringue-based and very light, creamy and less sweet than American buttercream. American buttercream is sweeter but has the advantage of being quick, easy to make, and sturdy.
How do you store Italian Buttercream?
If you’re not using your buttercream IMMEDIATELY — and it will be sitting for a few minutes — then just keep in mind that you will have to give it a short whip to “bring it back to life” as it loses its consistency quickly. If you want to make the buttercream ahead of time, it can be refrigerated for a few days. Once you’re ready to use it, allow it come to room temperature and give it a short “whip.” For those people that are used to regular buttercream: Italian buttercream is LESS SWEET and more BUTTERY! You can always add MORE SUGAR SYRUP to your meringue to sweeten it a bit further.
How do you Color Italian Buttercream?
If you just add food coloring to meringue-based buttercream the color will not really show. A little trick I picked up is taking a tablespoon of the buttercream and microwaving it in a little bowl with a drop or two of food coloring for 8 seconds. The color will REALLY come alive. Now you can mix this colored buttercream into larger batches and you’ll see much more vibrance. I usually use gel food colorings to color my buttercreams; they are more concentrated than the watery ones you get at the supermarket.
Can you make this with an electric hand mixer?
Yes but it will take a LONG time and your arm will get VERY tired. If you’re going this route I recommend packing the bowl of meringue in ice after the hot syrup us added so it cools down faster.
Steps to Make Italian Meringue Buttercream
1. Separate room temperature egg whites into a bowl one at a time, transferring each to the bowl of a stand mixer as you go. This will contain the disaster if an egg yolk breaks. You can use the yolks to make a custard or French buttercream!
2. Add a pinch or cream of tartar and salt to your egg whites and mix on low. then bring to medium speed. Once the whites have frothed up start slowly drizzling in the 1/3 cup of sugar.
3. In a medium saucepan add 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water, mix to dissolve the sugar then place on medium-low heat. You can start heating your sugar at the same time as you begin mixing the egg whites. This way the sugar will be the appropriate temperature when the eggs are ready.
4. once the sugar reaches 235F-240F it’s ready to drizzle into the eggs. Don’t let your sugar get too hot or it will reach the hardball stage and things will get grainy.
5. The egg whites are ready for the sugar syrup when they’ve reached the soft peak stage. They’re somewhat firm and can hold their ridges bur the peak will still flop over when inverted.
6. Slowly pour the sugar into the meringue while the mixer runs on low. Take care with the hot syrup.
7. After adding the hot sugar in you will notice a HUGE difference in the meringue. it has a lot of structure and becomes marshmallowy. This is delicious on it’s own and is a great topping for cakes and pies that you can torch for added flavor and contrast.
8.Run the mixer until meringue is cool/tepid. I often pack the bowl with frozen peas to help cool it down more quickly.
9. Switch to a paddle attachment. Add room temperature butter into running mixer one tablespoon piece at a time.
10. Add vanilla or any other flavors. Beat until butter is combined and mixture has reached a silky consistency.
If you’ve tried this frosting then don’t forget to rate the recipe and let me know how you got on in the comments below, I love hearing from you!
How to make Italian Buttercream
- 4 egg whites large, room temperature
- 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar 267g
- 1/4 tsp salt optional
- 16 ounces unsalted butter 454g, room temperature cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract optional, 4.9mL
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar .84g
- 1/3 cup water 79mL
- Beat the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar, slowly add in 1/3 cup of sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form.
- While the eggs are getting whipped add the remaining sugar and 1/3 cup water into a medium pot and place on medium-low heat.
- Stir until sugar melts and becomes clear.
- Maintain at medium-high heat until temperature reads 235-240F.
- Drizzle the sugar into the mixer immediately. At this point the meringue should be at the soft peak stage.
- Run mixer until meringue is cool/tepid.
- Switch to a paddle attachment. Add room temperature butter into running mixer one tablespoon piece at a time.
- Add the salt and vanilla if using.
- Beat until butter is combined and mixture has reached a silky consistency.