Swiss Meringue Buttercream is silky smooth, versatile, and perfect for people who find American buttercream to be too sweet. This recipe takes a bit of effort and patience, but it’s so worth it! Recipe includes a how-to video.
A Perfectly Sweet Buttercream
If you’ve ever been the kind of person to scrape the frosting off your cake because it’s just too sweet, today’s recipe is for you.
Swiss meringue buttercream is one of the most common frosting recipes used by professional bakers, yet most home bakers haven’t heard of it. Instead, they use American buttercream frosting, which is thicker and typically very sweet. Swiss meringue buttercream, on the other hand, is light, buttery, and perfectly sweetened.
This frosting gets its texture from a meringue base made of granulated (not powdered!) sugar and egg whites. It’s not hard to make, but if you’ve mostly made your frostings away from the stovetop in the past (as I did for decades), this recipe might seem a bit more complicated than what you’re used to. Today we’ll walk together through all the steps in detail so you can make your own flawless batch of buttercream.
What you’ll love about it:
- Velvety smooth & creamy (and stays that way–it doesn’t crust!)
- Has a light, silky & perfectly buttery mouthfeel
- Perfect for piping, decorating, and using under fondant
- Versatile; I love to pair it with chocolate cupcakes or vanilla cake, but it would be great with any flavor!
What You Need
Similar to my German buttercream, this recipe starts on the stovetop and ends with lots of butter (but I personally believe the Swiss version is less fussy and easier to get just right!). Here are the key ingredients you’ll need:
- Egg whites. For best results, use room temperature egg whites; I do not recommend using the kind you can find in a carton, as they don’t consistently whip properly (some of you who try will have success, others won’t!). Make sure you don’t have any yolk in your whites! We will be cooking the egg whites, so you won’t be consuming raw eggs in this frosting.
- Butter. It’s important that your butter is softened, but not so soft that it’s melting out of your butter wrapper or even greasy. I usually set mine out of the fridge about an hour before I begin making my buttercream.
- Vanilla. I use vanilla extract today, but you can switch up the extract for a different flavor. Note that some extracts, like almond or mint, will be more potent, so you may not need as much as I have listed here.
- Granulated sugar. Unlike most frostings, this recipe uses granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar. The sugar will need to fully dissolve before you begin whipping your meringue, or it won’t turn out properly.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream
I strongly recommend using a stand mixer for this recipe. Making this frosting by hand or even with an electric mixer would be a workout. I can’t even imagine how long it would take!
- Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in a clean, dry, and grease-free mixing bowl.
- Place your bowl over a double boiler and whisk constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture reaches 160F (this ensures your eggs are cooked to a safe-to-consume temperature).
- Place the bowl on your mixer and beat on medium-high speed until you reach stiff peaks.
- Let the bowl cool down completely, then switch to a paddle attachment and beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time.
- Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and continue beating on medium-high until the frosting is smooth and thick.
- Stir in any flavorings or coloring, then pipe or spread on your cake as desired!
SAM’S TIP: To test if your sugar has full dissolved, rub a small bit between your fingers before proceeding to the next step. If you can feel any grit or grain at all, your sugar is not fully dissolved and you’ll have a gritty buttercream–so keep whisking until all the sugar is dissolved.
SAM’S TIP: “Stiff peaks” means that if you lift the whisk straight out of your meringue, the peak that forms holds its shape and doesn’t melt back into itself or fold over. This will take at least ten minutes or so. If you’d like a visual of this, check out the photo below or watch the video in the recipe card.
Help: My Buttercream Curdled!
Sometimes during the process of adding the butter, your buttercream might break down and take on a curdled appearance. Don’t panic! So long as you’ve followed all of the previous steps correctly, everything is going to be just fine. Just keep mixing, just keep mixing, and by the time all of your butter is added, the buttercream should come back together. If it doesn’t, transfer your bowl to the refrigerator for 10 minutes and then try mixing again. Serious Eats has a great guide on rescuing Swiss Meringue Buttercream if you are convinced you’ve ruined it.
SAM’S TIP: Once the meringue reaches stiff peaks, I like to give my mixer a break while the bowl cools completely (some people keep mixing until it cools, but I don’t want to wear out my mixer!). At this point I also like to switch over to my paddle attachment for a smoother whip. Don’t start adding your butter any further until your bowl is completely cool and not even a tiny bit warm to the touch!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re storing this frosting, I recommend placing it in the refrigerator in an airtight container. A cake or cupcake frosted with this icing can be left out at room temperature (preferably in an airtight container!) for up to 2-3 days; beyond that, I recommend refrigerating.
Unfortunately, this frosting does not fare well in the heat. While the meringue does help to add some structure to the frosting, all of that butter is going to want to do what butter does in the heat: melt! While you can keep this frosting at room temperature and it will hold its shape wonderfully, it will start to melt or become very soft in hotter temperatures or if served outside on a warm day.
American buttercream is very sweet (almost too sweet for me, even!) and is made primarily of butter and powdered sugar. Swiss meringue buttercream is less sweet and is made primarily of granulated sugar, egg whites, and butter. Unlike American buttercream, Swiss doesn’t crust or harden and (as you’ve seen above) the technique for making Swiss meringue is quite different.
Yes! I recommend gel food coloring for best results, but any kind should work fine. Simply stir it in at the end until you have the desired color.
Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 6 large egg whites¹ make sure there is not even so much as a tiny bit of yolk mixed in with the egg whites or they won’t whip properly. (7.5 oz/210g/210ml)²
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar (350g)
- ¼ scant teaspoon salt just ever so slightly less than ¼ teaspoon
- 2 cups unsalted butter cut into Tablespoon-sized pieces. Butter should be room temperature but not melt-y/oily, still solid enough to cut, but softened (455g)
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- You will need a double boiler or makeshift double boiler for this recipe. I use my KitchenAid stand mixer and a medium-sized saucepan that the bowl fits snugly into without touching the bottom of the pot.
- In clean, dry mixer bowl, combine egg whites, sugar, and salt and whisk until combined.
- Heat about 1 ½ inches of water over medium-low heat in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer.
- Rest the bowl of your mixer in the pot over the simmering water (should not be touching the water).
- Whisk egg white/sugar/salt mixture constantly until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is no longer grainy (if you rub a small bit between your fingers it should feel smooth and not at all gritty) and the mixture reaches 160F (70C). This will take several minutes.
- Remove mixing bowl from heat and dry the bottom of your bowl. Fit bowl into your stand mixer.
- Using a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium/medium-high speed until meringue is thick and glossy and you have achieved stiff peaks (see photo in post or see video for visual). This will take about 10 minutes or so.
- Once you have achieved stiff peaks, stop beating and allow bowl to cool down completely. The bowl must no longer be warm to the touch before proceeding.
- Once bowl is no longer warm to the touch (make sure you are feeling near the bottom of the bowl), switch out whisk attachment for paddle attachment. Turn mixer to medium speed and add butter one Tablespoon at a time. Don’t add the next tablespoon of butter until the previous one is incorporated into the meringue. If you notice that your buttercream starts to break down or look curdled, just keep mixing and it will come together. If it still doesn’t come together (it could take some time), place the mixer bowl in the fridge for about 10 minutes and then try mixing again.
- Once all butter has been beaten into the meringue, scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir again. Beat on medium/high until smooth and thick.
- Stir in vanilla extract or other flavoring and any food coloring, if using.
- Spread or pipe over cupcakes or cake or use under fondant! I used an Ateco 848 for the cupcakes shown in this post.
¹Egg WhitesI do not recommend using pasteurized egg whites (the kind that you buy from the store in a carton) for this recipe.
²Measuring CupIf using a liquid measuring cup, you would fill to directly between the ¾ and 1 cup line
Making in Advance/StoringSwiss Meringue Buttercream may be made several days in advance of using it. Store refrigerated in an airtight container and then allow frosting to come to room temperature and stir well before using. If the buttercream seems to have lost some of its volume/lightness, use an electric mixer to whip it until it returns to its original texture.
Here are a few recipes to use up your leftover egg yolks!
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.