There is much debate on buttercream. Italian, Swiss,French or American? Let me start by explaining the differences between them. Italian meringue buttercream is made with a cooked sugar syrup that is poured into meringue then beaten with butter. Swiss meringue is made with egg whites and sugar cooked over a double boiler then whipped into a meringue, then beaten with butter. French is made with egg yolks, and American is the confectioners sugar, milk and butter mixture that everyone seems to be the most familiar with. As far as I’m concerned, the American version is only good for a cupcake (if even that), as it is sooo sweet. This is usually the one that little kids love. There is also decorators buttercream, which is swiss meringue based but has equal amounts shortening to butter – so if you like to eat Crisco out the can this ones for you. The cakes in the bakery dept. at the supermarket use this version- I hate it, my husband loves it. I am giving instructions for both Italian and Swiss meringue buttercream. The Swiss is easier to make than the Italian, but I feel the Italian is more stable in warmer weather. Neither one is good in the hot, hazy days of summer – though I did a wedding cake filled and crumbcoated with IMB and covered in with fondant and it was just fine after 4 hours in 90 F degree heat. If you make it in really a really hot climate just keep your cake in the air conditioning until shortly before serving.
Both of these recipes can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for up to 2 months. Because of the high butter content, it becomes really firm when chilled. To reconstitute your cold buttercream take in out of the fridge (or the freezer) and leave it out on the counter overnight to bring it back to room temperature. Using the balloon whisk on your mixer, beat at medium speed until it is smooth and creamy again. This may take as long as 5 minutes.
Italian Meringue Buttercream
Read the entire recipe before making it. It will seem overwhelming the first time you make this but after that it is a breeze and I rarely even use a candy thermometer anymore for it. This is from The Wedding Cake Book, one of my favorites!
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 C plus 1/3 c sugar
8 large egg whites, at room temp
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 lbs (6 sticks)UNSALTED butter, at room temperature
Place the water and 1 1/4 C sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to moisten all of the sugar but do not stir again during the boiling since this causes sugar crystals to form. Bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, place the egg whites in a clean, grease-free mixing bowl, and with the balloon whisk attachment beat the whites on low until frothy. Add the cream of Tartar and increase the speed to medium-high. When soft peaks form, gradually add the remaining 1/3 c of sugar. Continue beating until shiny, stiff, but not dry, peaks form.
Raise the heat under the sugar syrup and bring it to a rapid boil. It must cook for at least 5 minutes to reach the desired temperature, between 248 and 250 F. Try to have the syrup ready at the same time as the meringue. If the meringue is done first, turn the mixer down to low so that the whites move continuously, but slowly. If the syrup is done first, add a small quantity of hot water (not cold) to lower the temperature and continue cooking until the meringue catches up.
When the syrup is ready, turn off the mixer briefly and quickly pour about 1/2 c syrup into the meringue. immediately turn the mixer on to high-speed and continue to pour the syrup in a steady stream. Be careful not to let the syrup get onto the beaters or it will spray off and not only make a mess but make crystalized sugar strands mix into your meringue. Alternatively, you can turn off the mixer and add more syrup. Do no let the meringue sie motionless for more than a few seconds.
Whip the meringue until it cool, about 15 minutes. Feel the bottom of the bowl to check the temperature. When the bowl is no longer warm, stop the mixer and check the temp. with your fingertip to make sure it is cool. If you start adding the butter when it is too warm you will just melt the butter and ruin it. With the mixer on medium-low add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time. The butter will immediately become incorporated. Continue whipping the mixture while slowly adding the butter. Do not panic if it looks like cottage cheese- just keep on mixing and it will magically smooth out. Add flavoring at this point, making sure to beat well to fully incorporate,such as:
Vanilla – 1 tsp for every 2 cups of buttercream
Coffee/espresso – dissolve 1 tbsp instant coffee in 2 teaspoons hot water or kalua. Add to 2 cups buttercream
Coconut – 2 tbsp cream of coconut to every 2 cups buttercream
Chocolate – add 4 ounces melted, cooled chocolate to 2 cups buttercream
Raspberry or Lemon – add 1/3 cup raspberry puree or lemon curd to 2 cups buttercream
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
5 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ lbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp Vanilla
Place egg whites and sugar in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water.Whisk gently by hand until egg whites are very warm to touch, or 140 F degrees on a thermometer.Pour hot egg whites into a large mixing bowl and with the balloon whisk attachment on, whip on medium high until stiff peaks form and the meringue cools to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Use the same techniques as above to test the temperature.Meanwhile, cut upthe butter into small pieces while the meringue is beating.Remove the whip from the mixer and change to a paddle.Add half of the butter to the meringue mixture and mix on low to medium until combined.Add the other half of the butter and mix on low to medium until combined. Once again, do not panic if it looks like curdled cottage cheese-continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Stop mixer and scrape down the sides, add vanilla or other flavorings and beat until combined.