Swiss meringue – it’s not as scary as some recipes might have you think. You don’t need no silly sugar thermometers, you don’t need to ‘age’ your egg whites or do anything daft like that. I much prefer to use swiss meringue buttercream vs American buttercream, for two reasons: 1. I uses wayyy less sugar, I find that icing sugar based buttercreams are cloying and far too sweet for me! Plus, granulated sugar is far cheaper than icing sugar. Pennies make pounds! *smug face* 2. It’s silky smooth, gorgeous and fluffy every time! No grainy bits of sugar or lumpy bits. Yes, it’s a little more labour intensive but worth every minute I think.
Check out the pictures below for a full blow-by-blow tutorial on how to achieve dreamy, smooth Swiss meringue gorgeousness!
Yields enough to fill generously and cover a tall 4 layer 6″ cake as per my Minnie Mouse inspired cake opposite, or fill and coat crumb an 8″ cake that’ll be covered in sugar paste
150g egg whites – approx. 4/5 medium eggs
250g granulated sugar
340g unsalted butter – softened and a bit squishy
A pinch of salt if desired
Flavouring and colour of your choice – I use strong essences and gel colours
You don’t need a stand mixer but you do need a hand held electric whisk, doing this by hand wouldn’t be fun. Using a stand mixer helps to cut down time and labour – you let the machine do the hard work! I have however made this recipe with my hand held electric whisk only when my balloon whisk attachment broke on my old mixer once upon a time so it is doable!
Glass or metal bowl (use your stand mixer bowl if using)
Hand held electric whisk
Stand mixer (see notes above – if you don’t have one, don’t fret!)
- Add your egg whites and sugar to your stand mixer bowl (if you don’t have a stand mixer, use a large, glass or metal bowl to allow room for the egg whites to triple in volume and then some more for when you add butter!).
- Set up a double boiler – a small saucepan with a small amount of water should do it. Put on your stove top and bring to a boil and then simmer. Set your bowl with your egg whites and sugar on top of the saucepan. The water should not be touching the base of the bowl and the bowl should sit nicely on top without dancing around if you move it!
- With a hand held electric whisk, whisk the egg whites and sugar until the egg whites look smooth and glossy, this should take approx. 5 mins. At this point, start testing to see if the sugar has dissolved. The easiest way to do this is by dunking your finger in! (Be sure to have clean hands!) The egg whites should be warm to the touch and when you rub the mixture between your thumb and forefinger you should not be able to feel any grains of sugar, it should be silky smooth and all the sugar dissolved. If it hasn’t keep going until it has.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, move your bowl to your stand mixer. (If you are not using a stand mixer, take your bowl off the saucepan and set on top of a tea towel on your counter top, make a brew and prepare yourself for 8 minutes of fun!) Attach the balloon whisk attachment and whisk your mix for 8 minutes on a medium speed (My mixer is a Kenwood Chef XL and I put on Speed 3/4) until you achieve soft peaks. We’re looking for a meringue that can hold its own shape but if you take the balloon whisk off your mixer and flip it upside down, your meringue will go a bit floppy.
- Once your 8 minutes are up and your meringue base is ready to rock, switch your balloon attachment to your paddle attachment (if you have one that has rubber sides, use that rather than a K beater. For hand held whisk users, carry on with your whisk attachment.). Add your butter to the mix. Make sure it is softened, room temperature on a hot day might suffice but if your kitchen is cool, you might need to nuke it on a low temperature for 30 seconds to ensure it’s soft enough. Add the whole amount of butter to your meringue mixture and on your lowest speed, allow the butter and meringue to incorporate (I do it slowly in case butter is still a little firm in the middle, helps stop butter flying out of the bowl or breaking my mixer!). Once you’re happy the butter is soft enough to be beaten, crank up the speed to around 3/4 again (For hand held electric whisk folks, the slowly bit is very important as a hand held whisk doesn’t have as much power as a stand mixer… Make sure your butter is soft and it won’t be an issue). Beat for 4-5 minutes, it will go through 4 stages… Stage 1 – I look like lumpy meringue and butter mashed together, not pretty. Stage 2 – OOH, butter and meringue look like they are friends now, this is exciting! Stage 3 – Oh my god, it’s curdling! Crap, what do I do! Stage 4 – Oh my god, it’s magic, fluffy, beautiful buttercream! The buttercream once done should be starting to lift away from the sides of the bowl as it’s being beaten and look, well, like buttercream, not a curdled mess. DO NOT PANIC IF YOUR BUTTERCREAM SEEMS TO HAVE CURDLED! KEEP BEATING! It should take a few minutes between Stage 3 or 4 so don’t panic Mr Mainwaring. If it seems to be 5-6 minutes and nothing is changing then see below for a magic trick that should save your bacon 😉
- Once the buttercream is at the right consistency, time to add your choice of flavouring and colour. Because of the natural colour of butter, the buttercream will have a yellowy tinge. I use Wilton’s white white colouring to whiten mine and Pro Gel colours from Rainbow Dust for colours. I’d recommend liquid gels over hard gels like Sugar Flair so you can ensure an even distribution of colour. I use strong essences for flavourings, be sure to taste test as you go as some flavourings will seem stronger than others. Beat again to mix through thoroughly – and TA DAH! Done! Go forth and use to fill, layer, cover and pipe!
CURDLED BUTTERCREAM – If your buttercream just doesn’t seem to be coming together, no matter how long you beat it, take a couple of loaded tablespoons of the mix out of the bowl and put into a microwavable container. Microwave on high for 20-30 seconds until completely melted and add back to the mix and beat like hell. This should do the trick! I think it’s something to do with the temperature change between the meringue and the butter that makes the mix curdle so warming it up a wee bit helps restore some balance and makes it happy again. Yippee!
Happy Swiss Meringue Making! 😀