Italian meringue buttercream is the secret weapon for professional bakeries. This is the most indulgently creamy and ultra-decadent buttercream. It adds a luxurious touch to any cake, cupcake, or cookie sandwich and it is easy to spread or pipe decorations.
This is my go-to buttercream and it is about time I share it with you. I am not a professional cake decorator but I occasionally dabble with fun cake designs. Most of the time, I choose to make this buttercream because it is so reliably stable, creamy, and easy to work with. It also holds up well under fondant or tall, heavy tier cakes.
Best of all, it tastes fantastic and goes with any flavor of cake. Put it on anything from chocolate cake to vanilla cake or even unusual flavors like lavender cake. It is not nearly as sweet as American buttercream and you can practically eat it by the spoonful.
If you have tried our Ermine frosting, you know that buttercream doesn’t have to be packed with pounds of sugar to have a great texture and flavor. This Italian meringue buttercream is similar in sweetness to Ermine frosting but it is richer and more decadent. It is also a little bit more finicky.
The good news is that you don’t have to have a lot of skill to get this recipe right. Just follow the tips and get the temperature right and you will have a dreamy buttercream.
This might look like a strange list of ingredients for buttercream but trust me, it works.
- Butter. Use real butter. The kind that comes in sticks, not the kind of soft, spreadable butter that you find in tubs.
- Sugar. Use regular granulated sugar. Unlike American buttercream or cream cheese frosting that uses confectioners sugar, it is important to use granulated sugar in this recipe.
- Water. You will combine the water with the sugar to make a thick, hot syrup.
- Egg whites. Either separate the yolks from the whites or use carton egg whites.
- Cream of tartar. This is optional but it will help stabilize the meringue and give the egg whites more volume. I have omitted the cream of tartar many times without any problem since the hot sugar syrup also stabilizes the meringue.
- Salt. A little salt enhances the flavors and balances the sweetness. I even use salt if I am using salted butter.
- Vanilla extract. Vanilla gives the buttercream that extra something.
How to Make Italian Meringue Buttercream:
Here is the brief overview of the process. Make sure you read the tips below and scroll down to the printable recipe card for all the details. .
- Make the sugar syrup. It will need to heat up to about 238°F.
- Make the meringue: Whip the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks.
- Drizzle the hot syrup into the meringue.
- Whip the meringue until it cools.
- Slowly beat the butter into the cooled meringue.
- Add the salt and vanilla extract.
- Make sure the egg whites do not have any of the yolk mixed into them. Even a tiny amount of egg yolk will prevent the whites from whipping.
- The mixing bowl and whisk need to be squeaky clean. If they have any grease on them, the egg whites will not whip.
- You can use a stand mixer or a handheld mixer but a stand mixer makes the process much easier.
- The temperature of the butter is very important. When I first started making this buttercream, I would check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. After I made it a couple of times, I didn’t need the thermometer since I had a good idea of how firm the butter needed to be.
- When you first begin adding the butter to the meringue, it will start to look a bit sloppy. As long as your meringue was cooled down, it will firm up by the time you finish whipping all the butter into the mixing bowl.
- Add the butter slowly (about two tablespoons at a time). If you add it too fast, the butter will not have a chance to emulsify with the meringue.
The process starts with making a regular meringue like the kind you put on a lemon meringue pie. When the hot syrup gets added, it creates a very stable Italian meringue. It is so light, fluffy, and stable that it can be used as a frosting. We used it to cover our lemon curd cake.
Good for Warm Weather:
When it comes to hot weather, Italian meringue buttercream holds up better than German buttercream, Swiss buttercream, Russian buttercream, Ermine frosting, or even American buttercream. Since the meringue gets cooked to such a high temperature, it makes the buttercream more stable.
Now, keep in mind, this is buttercream. Heavy emphasis on the word butter. Butter gets pretty soft at 80°F and starts to melt at 90°F. If you plan to use this buttercream in extremely hot weather, do not leave it outside for more than 1 hour, and do not leave it in direct sunlight.
The most stable buttercream you can make for hot weather will have shortening in the recipe. The sad fact about using shortening in your buttercream is that it affects the flavor (and not in a good way). If the weather is extremely hot, I have some tips to help your buttercream hold up (without using shortening).
- Add white chocolate to the buttercream (see the notes in the printable recipe below).
- Keep the cake in an air-conditioned building.
- If you are outside, find a shady area to place the cake.
- Do not let the cake sit out in hot weather for more than 1 or 2 hours (depending on the temperature).
- If you are hot, so is the cake!
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- Electric stand mixer or hand mixer. You can’t make this buttercream without an electric mixer.
- Silicone spatula. The silicone withstands high heat so you can scrape the sugar syrup out of the saucepan.
- Candy thermometer (this one will give you a reading in only 1 second)
- A small saucepan (do not use a large pan or the sugar syrup will be too shallow)
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- 1/3 cup water
- 1-1/2 cups sugar (divided)
- 5 egg whites (room temperature)
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 pound (2 cups) butter, softened but slightly cool
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Make the syrup:
- Place 1-1/4 cups of sugar and the water in a saucepan. Stir to combine then stop stirring.
- Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot. You will let the syrup boil until it reaches between 238°F to 245°F.
Whip the egg whites:
- While the syrup boils, place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl. Stir to incorporate the cream of tartar and keep the mixer on low speed.
- Keep an eye on the candy thermometer. When the syrup reaches 230°F to 235°F, switch the mixer to medium-high speed to whip the egg whites.
- When the egg whites reach soft peaks, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until they reach stiff peaks.
Pour the syrup into the egg whites:
- As soon as the syrup reaches between 240°F to 245°F, remove it from the stove and slowly drizzle the syrup into the meringue. Keep the mixer on medium to medium-high speed while you drizzle in the syrup.
- Once all the hot syrup is added, beat the mixture on high speed for 2 minutes.
- After 2 minutes, beat on low speed until the mixture comes to room temperature. It can take about 15 to 20 minutes for the mixture to cool down. You can stop the mixer and place the meringue in the fridge but the texture of the buttercream always seems to be slightly fluffier if you keep the beaters going while the meringue cools down.
Add the butter:
- Place the mixer on medium speed and add the butter 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. Beat for about 3 to 5 seconds after each addition. After a few tablespoons of butter, the mixture will start to look thin and sloppy but just keep beating and slowly adding the butter.
- When all the butter is added, beat in the salt and vanilla. Continue to beat the buttercream until it is light and fluffy.
- At this point, you can use the buttercream as it is or you can add flavorings. See below for variations.
White Chocolate buttercream:
- Melt 8 ounces of white chocolate slowly over a double boiler. Let the chocolate come to room temperature then beat it into the buttercream. Since white chocolate has a higher melting point than butter, adding white chocolate to the buttercream will make it more stable in extremely hot weather. Perfect for a summer wedding cake!
- Melt 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, let it cool, then beat it into the buttercream. Adding bittersweet chocolate to the buttercream will make it more stable in hot weather.
Tipsy buttercream (with alcohol):
- Add up to 3 ounces of liqueur such as Grand Mariner, Amaretto, Chambord, or Cointreau.
Fruit flavored buttercream:
- Add 3/4 cup of fruit puree or lemon curd. You can also add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of jam or jelly but the buttercream will be slightly sweeter if you use jam.
- This recipe works best if you have a stand mixer but you can do it with a handheld mixer as well, it just takes a bit more coordination.
- Make sure the butter is room temperature or about 68°F to 70°F. If your house is warm then don’t let the butter sit out too long or it will get too soft. You will know it is at the right temperature if it is still firm but soft enough to leave an indent if you push your finger into the cube of butter. If the butter is too soft or if the egg whites are too warm when you add the butter, it will not emulsify into the egg whites and it will be a wet, sloppy mess. The correct temperature of your ingredients is essential to success.
- Make sure the syrup reaches at least 238°F on the candy thermometer. 240°F to 243° seems to be the sweet spot for the meringue. It can get as hot as 250°F but if it gets any hotter than that then the buttercream will have a grainy texture.
- When you drizzle the hot syrup into the meringue, try to keep it from falling on the beaters or it will fling syrup all over the sides of the bowl. If you can’t manage to pour the hot syrup into the meringue without getting it on the beaters or the side of the bowl then stop the mixer, pour a small amount of syrup in, then immediately start the mixer back up for 5 seconds. Continue to stop/pour/beat until you add all the syrup.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 17 Serving Size: 1/4 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 97Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 48mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 0gSugar: 24gProtein: 1g
Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third-party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.