Italian Meringue Buttercream, or let’s call it IMBC for short, is so wonderful it deserves a post all of it’s own. It’s worlds apart from the standard buttercream made up of twice the amount of icing sugar to butter, plus a little flavouring such as vanilla, which can feel overly sweet and even a little lumpy or grainy if you haven’t sifted the icing sugar well enough to start with.
IMBC however, is dreamy. The ratio of butter to sugar is almost reversed and it has the most wonderful texture you could imagine – it is soft and smooth, smooth, smooth. Like edible velvet! It’s a really unusual technique if you have always made the traditional sort of buttercream so I have made a little video to show you how to do it. I promise it’s easy.
See? Nothing to it. The stand mixer really does all of the work – you just feed it syrup, butter and any flavouring or colour you like. You really do need a stand mixer as it would be impossible by hand to whisk for that long and really tricky to add the syrup and butter with electric beaters. The part which makes this “Italian” rather than the other common type of meringue buttercream Swiss, is that you add sugar syrup heated to 121˚C to the whisked egg whites, which cooks them through before you beat in the butter.
The Swiss method sees you whisking egg whites and sugar on a Bain Marie and the advice is to wait until the sugar has dissolved before whisking to stiff peaks. It’s more variable that way and I find it always goes through an anxiety-provoking “soupy” stage where it looks almost split and it can take a lot of whisking on the highest speed and even chilling to get it to a useable consistency. As you can see in the video, IMBC is thick, luscious and stable.
I’ve coloured mine with a little Sugarflair food colouring gel and used a special piping tip to give this pretty frilly effect to my cupcakes. It’s called an Oriental Ruffle Nozzle and all you do is hold the bag vertically and twist slowly left and right a couple of time before pulling it away. If you carry on piping a little more, it ends up looking like the ruffles on a Viennetta, but that’s a little more frosting than I personally like on my cupcakes.
You can freeze IMBC if you don’t use it all but it makes a good big batch so it’s great if you need to make lots of cupcakes – I really love these baking cups from Iced Jems as I can make 24 cupcakes at once standing on a baking tray on the same shelf; you can’t get two muffin pans with paper liners in a conventional domestic oven at once so these make it a much faster job. Plus look how lovely they are – they are thick enough to not go greasy and fade on baking.How to make perfect Italian Meringue Buttercream every time! Click To Tweet
As for adding flavourings – you can add vanilla and other similar extracts with confidence. I love Star Kay White extracts in orange, lemon, peppermint or orange blossom but prefer to make my own vanilla extract. You can even add some melted chocolate after the butter has been added to make the most incredible chocolate frosting you’ve ever had or even carefully beat 200g of full-fat cream cheese to take your IMBC to another level of pleasure! Just add it quickly, do not over beat and keep chilled until serving. It really is heavenly frosting, however you choose to have it. What flavour would you like to try?
I hope that was helpful – let me know if you have any requests for future recipes.
How to make perfect, dreamy and creamy Italian meringue buttercream. Flavoured simply with vanilla you can add food colouring paste to suit your cakes. Makes enough for 24 cupcakes or to fill and frost (generously) an 8 inch diameter layer cake.
- 90 ml egg whites from about 3 large eggs
- 200 g caster sugar
- 75 g water
- 300 g soft butter, cut into small cubes
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp food colouring gel optional
- A stand mixer with a whisk attachment
- A reliable thermometer
Ensure your stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment are free from grease - rub with a little lemon juice on a piece of kitchen roll if necessary. Start by weighing out the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer. Measure the sugar into a medium sized saucepan and add the water. Swirl to combine.
Start the egg whites off whisking on medium speed in the stand mixer and meanwhile, put the sugar over a medium high heat and allow to come to a boil. Do not stir. Using your thermometer, aim for 121˚C. Whilst being very careful, and do pay close attention to the syrup as boiling sugar can burn you severely, peek at the egg whites - turn the mixer up to high to ensure they come to firm peaks as the syrup comes to temp.
In a slow, steady stream, pour the syrup onto the egg whites with the mixer still running. Aim for the spot between the whisk and the side of the bowl so it doesn't splatter everywhere. Keep the mixer running until all the syrup is incorporated and the bowl has cooled to room temperature when you *carefully* feel the outside - this usually takes 5-10 mins after all the syrup has been added.
Turn the machine down to medium speed and one cube at a time, add all of the butter. Wait for each cube to be incorporated before adding the next - this will take barely a moment. Once it's all added, add the vanilla then turn the mixer up to high for a minute to ensure the buttercream is smooth.
If adding food colouring, add a little at a time - I always use Sugarflair food colouring gels as they are super concentrated and won't water down the buttercream or change it's consistency. Whisk until no streaks remain then the IMBC is ready to use.
- Do check out the video in the post to see how easy it is to come together. Note that I keep my stand mixer running the whole time from start to finish.
- The glass bowl is better for video but if you have a metal bowl for your stand mixer, use that as it dissipates the heat more rapidly and gives you a meringue with better volume and therefore a better buttercream.
- IMBC can be frozen successfully. Once thawed (which you should do over night in the refrigerator), it will need a little beating before using to frost with.
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