Every one knows buttercream. Chances are most people have tried it as some point. A simple frosting made with icing sugar, butter and milk used to decorate cakes. I have a confession to make, actually two confessions. Firstly I can’t make buttercream. Well to be more precise I can’t make good buttercream, I can never get the consistency right. I’m not 100% sure why this relatively simply mix defeats me every time but I think it may have something to do with my second confession. Secondly, I don’t like buttercream. Seriously, I really don’t like it. I find it too sweet and incredibly sickly, the flavour of the buttercream makes no difference. I have found meringue buttercream is very different.
What is Meringue Buttercream?
As I am not a fan of buttercream I often made things that don’t require it; brownies, cookies, tray bakes etc. Then a little game changer came along, the Meringue Buttercream. But what is it?
Well basically it is meringue mixed with butter. Simple hey!? This is also why there are different types. Much like different methods to make macarons there are different methods for meringue buttercream. I have never tried to make French Meringue Buttercream but I don’t see why you couldn’t. French Meringue is by far the easiest to make and requires the least amount of equipment as there is no heating involved.
Italian Meringue Buttercream is made by heating up the sugar and water in a pan to 120 degreesC then slowly adding it to the whisking egg whites. Nice and slowly so it doesn’t splash (no one wants sugar burns). Once the meringue is formed you add the butter a little at a time.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream is, you guessed it, made by making a Swiss Meringue. Now this one scares people the most but this is the one I am going to go on to talk about in more depth. Swiss Meringue requires the egg whites to be whisked and heated to 72 degreesC and then further whisked into a meringue. Once it has cooled add the butter. Recipe will follow at the end of the post.
Why Meringue Buttercream?
This will depend on personal taste as so many things do. The strange thing about me finding normal buttercream too sweet and sickly is that I don’t find many sugary things too sweet. I can still eat sherbet like I did as a child. I still like to suck on a sugar cube (don’t judge me) and I still buy fizzy laces as a treat. But for some reason buttercream makes my teeth itch! Meringue Buttercream is different because I find it has quite a buttery flavour, it has a softer texture and the meringue aspect keeps it really smooth.
Any pregnant or breast feeding mamas out there need not worry, you can eat this too. On the condition it is Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This is because to make Swiss Meringue the egg white are heated to 72 degreesC which means they are safe to eat. Eggs in the UK are considered extremely safe these days. However, if you wanted an added precaution you can use pasteurised egg white that can be found in the milk aisle (usually) of the supermarket.
You can add food colour to this along with the butter if you need a coloured buttercream. I would recommend a gel food colour so you aren’t adding to much liquid to it.
As with anything there is always room for error, or for things not to go completely to plan. I have been known to scramble the eggs whilst heating. I didn’t add the sugar quick enough (I wasn’t concentrating and forgot about it) and I had the heat up too high. Lesson learned, please learn from my mistakes peeps.
The buttercream splits when you add the butter. This can happen for a couple of reasons. Perhaps the meringue was too hot when you added to butter? This is will melt the butter and cause it to split. Perhaps you added the butter too quickly? This can have a similar effect if you don’t add it gradually and allow it to fully incorporate.
Never fear though, the beauty of meringue buttercream is it is actually quite hard to completely balls up! Mostly it is very rescuable. Just keep whisking and it will come back together. If it was too hot leave it to cool and it will come back together when mixed. Trust me I speak from experience. I haven’t just woken up one day and been able to make this stuff. I have made quite a few errors along the way.
I find this so nice to decorate with. It is easy to pipe, it is easy to spread and it sets so well at both room temperature and in the fridge. Once it is set it can be quite a dense texture so you don’t need loads in the middle of sponges. The other nice thing about this is it has a slight meringue type glisten to it. Unlike regular buttercream that is very matte in colour.
I have never found it to form a crust or film but I suspect it possible could if the cakes lasted long enough.
All in all I can’t recommend using meringue butter cream enough. It is a classy addition to any cake or cupcake.