Great for icing cakes, cupcakes and more, this light and delicious Italian buttercream recipe is made by combining a hot sugar syrup with egg whites for a beautiful, smooth finish. Read on to learn how to make Italian meringue buttercream, and take note of our helpful tips and tricks before you start for great results every time!

cake frosted with italian buttercream

If you’re like me and you don’t like super sweet frosting, you’re going to love this Italian meringue recipe!

Like the name suggests, this recipe is meringue-based, meaning it has egg whites in it. A hot sugar syrup is slowly added to the egg whites to “cook” them, then butter is whipped in, giving it that super fluffy texture. This frosting is so light and airy and truly melts in your mouth!

Though this frosting is less sweet than American buttercream, it can be used in the same way. Italian meringue is sturdy and holds its shape well, making it great for using between cake layers or piping simple decorations.

While Italian meringue does require a little elbow grease, it’s well worth it in the end!

What Does Italian Buttercream Taste Like?

Because of its high butter content, Italian meringue frosting is rich and creamy in flavor. It’s not nearly as sweet as traditional buttercream frosting, but has a smooth, buttery flavor – perfect for pairing with a rich chocolate cake!

If you’re looking for something that looks and acts like American buttercream but isn’t as sweet, this is the frosting for you!

American, Swiss and Italian Buttercream Frosting

American, Italian and Swiss, oh my! These three popular icings share similar ingredients but are each prepared differently.

cake frosted with american buttercream

American buttercream is not cooked and does not use eggs. It’s made by combining butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

cake frosted with swiss buttercream

Italian and Swiss buttercream are both meringue-based; however, they are cooked differently. Italian buttercream uses a hot syrup to cook the egg whites, while Swiss buttercream involves cooking the eggs whites with sugar in a double boiler. Swiss is lighter and softer than Italian meringue, so it’s great for icing cakes or using as filling between cake layers.

Must-Have Tools and Supplies

Candy Thermometer: Since your sugar syrup needs to be hot enough to essentially “cook” the egg whites, a candy thermometer is key. Most also have a clip on the back that hooks onto the side of your pot and keeps it in place.

2-Quart Saucepan: This small saucepan will help ensure your liquid will come up far enough on the thermometer to get an accurate reading.

Stand Mixer with a Whisk Attachment: This frosting requires a lot of mix time, sometimes as much as 30 minutes, and a stand mixer is essential for handling that amount of work. The whisk attachment is also necessary for whipping air into your egg whites and getting that nice, fluffy texture.

Can I Make Italian Meringue Without a Candy Thermometer?

Since the temperature of your syrup is so important to this recipe, we don’t suggest doing this without a candy thermometer. Without a thermometer, you run the risk of over or undercooking your syrup, both of which means disaster for your Italian meringue!

Since your frosting will need to be mixed for quite some time, I highly suggest using a stand mixer, which is much more powerful than a hand mixer. It may also be difficult to hold a hand mixer and pour hot syrup at the same time, so save that hand mixer for something else and go with the stand mixer for this one.

Tips and Tricks Before Getting Started

  • Timing is super important with this recipe, so make sure your ingredients are measured out and ready to go before you start.
  • If you have everything measured and ready to go, you can start whipping your egg whites when the sugar syrup reaches 225 degrees F. By the time your syrup is at the right temperature, your egg whites should be at the stiff peak stage.
  • Make sure your bowl and whisk attachment are clean before whipping the egg whites. Even a little grease or residue can ruin your meringue.
  • If you’re concerned about uncooked egg whites, you can use pasteurized eggs instead; however, keep in mind that they will not whip up as much as regular egg whites so you may end up with a little less buttercream in the end.
  • It’s important that your butter is at room temperature. Too cold and it won’t whip into the meringue smoothly, too warm and it will melt. I also like to have mine precut into slices so it’s ready to add to the frosting.

Italian Meringue Buttercream Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 5 egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions:

In a small 2-quart saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook it over medium-high heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup cook until it reaches 240 degrees F when measured with a candy thermometer (or “soft ball stage”). Do not stir the sugar as it cooks. This will cause crystals to form in the syrup, resulting in a gritty buttercream.

Prepare your stand mixer with the whisk attachment. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the egg whites and salt on high speed until stiff peaks form. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle the sugar syrup down the side of your mixing bowl. Once all the syrup has been added, continue to beat the mixture until the bowl has cooled to room temperature, about 10 to 12 minutes.

HINT: Make sure your mixture is completely cooled to room temperature before adding the butter. If your mixture is still hot or even warm, your butter will melt. Patience is key! Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this could take as long as 15 minutes, so give your buttercream time to cool completely.

Gradually add the butter, 1 piece at a time, beating on medium-high speed. Let each piece of butter incorporate fully before adding another. You should also stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed. This will help make sure everything is being mixed evenly.

Keep in mind that the texture of your icing will change as the butter is incorporated. First, it may appear runny, then it may appear curdled…just keep going! It will all work out in the end!

Once all the butter has been added, add the vanilla (or flavoring of your choice) and continue whipping for 1 to 2 minutes until your frosting is nice and smooth.

Makes about 5 cups of buttercream.

How to Fix Runny Frosting

Your buttercream will change in consistency as it incorporates. If your frosting is still runny, keep whipping it until it begins to come together.

If your meringue was too warm and melted the butter, you’re better off scratching it and starting over.

How to Store Italian Meringue Buttercream

Italian meringue is best used the day it’s made, but if you’re not ready to use it right away, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back up to room temperature and rewhip before using.

Adding Color and Flavor

Italian meringue can be colored, however it does not take color as well as other buttercream recipes. If you need vibrant colors, you are probably better off using an American buttercream.

Adding flavor is much easier! We suggest using vanilla extract, but you can also add almond extract or your favorite flavors for easy customization.

You can also make a chocolate Italian meringue by adding 8 oz. of melted and cooled semi-sweet or dark chocolate into your frosting after all the butter has been incorporated.

Have you tried making Italian meringue buttercream? Tell us a few of your tips and tricks below! Or, share a photo of your Italian meringue dessert on social media and tag us @wiltoncakes!

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