However you found me, I am not a food blogger, I’m working on recipe development for a bakery I plan to open. And long post alert, I’m writing this post as a reference tool so I plan to be thorough. I am making the information public in case it’s also useful to anybody else. I’m not coming from a place of knowledge, more like a place of wanting my own questions answered. I would not know about substitutions because I made none.
Several of these recipes were followed by me for the very first time for this post, I simply wanted to see:
- how complicated they were to make
- mouthfeel (texture when eaten)
- receptivity to color
I was not interested in flavor comparison because wiggle room with flavorings plus altering butter or sugar amounts was not on the agenda. I simply followed the recipes as-is.
While I admit I’ve only made Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) maybe 10 or so times, I’m experienced with all kinds of sauces, gravies and curds so I do know that these recipes were made correctly and my notes are trustworthy but only for my own purposes. I know what stiff peaks look like, I know a glossy meringue when I see one and using a double boiler with a digital thermometer is positively relaxing.
I do understand that many people would only classify one of these recipes as true Swiss Meringue Buttercream but for the sake of customers who aren’t professional pastry chefs and need a reference they can understand “Swiss Buttercream” is fair to say. It communicates the essence of the recipe, taste and texture, and takes up less space on a menu. I read baking blogs every day and the types of corrections commenters feel compelled to make… Something funny? Almost nobody I talk to about SMBC has any idea what it is here in Cincinnati (they’re here I’m sure, just not in my circle). I have to make reference to marshmallow fluff to aid my description the horror!
I love most versions of American Buttercream (ABC): butter, powdered sugar, cream or milk and flavorings. I do have 2 problems with them, they’re generally too sweet for my preference and they don’t pipe cleanly or hold shape in warm air unless stabilized with shortening and/or meringue powder (Stabilized American Buttercream). There are other tricks but SMBC works beautifully so I’m going that route for cake icing and flower piping.
For simply piping a pretty swirl on a cupcake? ABC is great, delicious and creamy plus shelf-stable longer, something important to consider. ABC will always have its place in my kitchen, I’m not looking to replace it.
A third mentionable issue some have with ABC is “grittiness” from undissolved powdered sugar granules. In my experience adding the powdered sugar slowly, one large spoonful at a time, to well creamed European style butter and making it a day in advance of serving are a couple of tricks to greatly improve texture.
With that, here we go!
If you’re counting there are 7 samples in the photo. The 7th recipe is my main ABC. I merely wanted to compare for curiosity’s sake and am not including that recipe.
I only use Domino brand pure cane confectioner’s sugar. If the label doesn’t specify “pure cane sugar” it is beet sugar and it changed the flavor of my ABC in an unpalatable way when I tried it out, lesson learned. (Further reading taught me that beet sugar does not always behave the same either, but I have no experience with that.)
I also only use European style butters. Higher fat content is definitely creamier. I tasted every single butter sold by Kroger, Meijers, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Thyme Market, Sam’s Club and Costco to compare. Cincinnati market grocers. 😉
For egg whites I used pasteurized egg whites from Costco in all recipes so I’m confident from a food safety standpoint and I don’t have a million leftover egg yolks. They don’t work in all baking situations but they do in SMBC. Pasteurized liquid egg whites are also easily available in most grocery stores, that’s where I found them when I was experimenting with French macarons.
I used a Kitchen-aid stand mixer for mixing and I weighed my sugar measurements in grams on a digital scale for accuracy.
I chose to pipe chrysanthemums because they have standup delicate petals and are a true test of what I’m looking for in texture though I wasn’t trying to carefully pipe works of art.
I measured an exact 1/2 cup for coloring purposes and used 5 drops of Wilton Color Right Base Red in each portion.
The title of each recipe is a clickable link to the authors post. The recipe to my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream recipe included 16 flavor variations and the blog no longer exists. I did have the foresight to save all of the flavor variations to a document on my phone and I will share those in the future. But blogs do come and go, if you find something that works, it’s best to save it.
UPDATE: 2/10/18 I am adding the recipes at the end of this book-like post. I should have them all in a few days.
I will say that comparing even my own ABC to Swiss buttercream…you simply cannot achieve the same silky light texture with an American style buttercream but I will start with a close runner up:
BEST EVER AMERICAN BUTTERCREAM
From Stacy of Wicked Good Kitchen
I’ve read her entire post 6 or 7 times, it’s a fab ABC 101 primer if that interests you.
This American buttercream is made with boiling water and powdered sugar, no egg whites, no double boiler.
VERDICT: I’ve made this one 8 or 10 times and it is what it says, better than ABC in texture but it’s too soft to be practical for my purposes. She advices to chill your hands if piping details and when handling the bag and she’s not kidding. You’d have to chill the whole batch before using for cake icing or flowers but that is too involved for my purposes. I have a large open kitchen, no oven was on, my hands are naturally cold (ask my husband) and it was still too soft to work with for crisp tall flower petals. It lacks the…sophistication in flavor of SMBC so it’s not a substitution. I was able to detect the tiniest grit from undissolved powdered sugar and I was extremely careful to use rapidly boiling water and the powdered sugar brand she recommends. Probably why it took me approximately 4-5 minutes longer to cool the sugar slurry before adding the butter than her instructions suggest. I don’t think anybody else would detect the sugar, I was looking and this is a super luscious icing. I bet on day 2 the sugar would be completely undetectable. The addition of shortening did NOT provide necessary stabilization, and the brand she recommends, that I did use, has a melting point of 96.8°. As mentioned before, I prefer not to use shortening as a rule, more like a tool for use in hot outdoor settings or smaller spaces and lots of people. I’ve used this many times instead of fussier SMBC because of the textural similarities, but this experiment helped me discover a couple of SMBC recipes that are quicker to make and hit the mark better. Win.
PERFECT SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
From Tessa of Handle The Heat
This is a traditional Swiss meringue buttercream using the double boiler method and my instant digital thermometer. You melt the granulated sugar in egg whites taking them off the heat at 140°F then whipping to stiff peaks.
VERDICT: This recipe is super delicious, creamy and luscious, yet a smidge too soft for my purposes. I did read in another sciencey article that the heated egg whites become firmer if you go hotter, up to 160°F.
EASY FOOLPROOF SMBC
From Summer of Cake Paper Party
Note: she has not posted in eons. In the event she’s done blogging I recommend saving any recipe on her site to a file if you like them. She also has MS degrees in biochemistry and biophysics and reading her posts and every single comment/question/answer gives me a thrill. I LOVE to know WHY things work! Some FABULOUS information there!
This version calls for melting granulated sugar in egg whites over a double boiler to 160°F then chilling the mixture before adding to whipped butter. No meringue (whipping egg whites to stiff peaks) to it, and it works!! It is ever-so-slightly denser than traditional meringue-based SMBC but piped the very best. It is my number 2 favorite, I was not *exactly* thrilled with the texture but for piping delicate flowers this would be the bomb. If you read the comments she explains why the difference in density from a scientific standpoint.
I definitely see myself using this recipe in the future, and based on what I’ve learned about heating egg whites I am going to try this one again reducing the heat to 150°F to see if that fixes my texture issues. I do have issues, don’t I?
The huge benefit here is that you can make the melted sugar slurry portion in larger quantities in advance and keep it in the freezer. It doesn’t freeze solid. I don’t know the weight measurement of a single portion size, and you would need to know that to scoop out a single batch quantity, but that means on baking day, you simply whip up the butter, poor in the cold sugar slurry and extracts, and your buttercream is done in about 7 to 10 minutes flat. All the silkiness of a traditional SMBC, none of the hassle of whipping up and cooling a meringue. Be mindful there seems to be a foam on top but that does not affect taste or texture. I used the entire slurry. If I needed to scoop out a portion I would stir the foam into the mix well before portioning out.
My picture doesn’t do it justice, I was able to pipe these petals much taller than any of the other recipes and they held. Beautiful! And exactly what I’m looking for.
THE EASIEST SMBC
From Elizabeth of Sugar Hero
VERDICT: This is my #1 unless my theory about reducing the cooking temperature on the above recipe works. No cooking involved, she whips pasteurized egg whites into stiff peaks then adds powdered sugar. It has the teeniest amount of grit from undissolved powdered sugar, though not comparable to American style buttercreams at all. It is still smooth and silky but the best part is how fast it comes together! This is as quick as ABC yet pipes like SMBC. It actually piped much better than traditional SMBC for me and had a better mouthfeel than the foolproof version above, unless zero grit is the goal. The grit is virtually undetectable, but I was looking for it since I used powdered sugar rather than melted granulated sugar, and again, I bet on day 2 there would be zero grit. Very delicious, and it made a large quantity. Second in taste and mouthfeel to traditional SMBC.
From Kiki of Kiki Cuppycakes
This was a wildcard recipe using meringue powder and no liquid egg whites. I mainly included this one for readers who would choose to forego liquid egg whites in any form. And for curiosity’s sake.
VERDICT: Surprisingly it did work! Though here again, ever so slight grit from undissolved powdered sugar. Unfortunately this was softer than my purposes but would definitely work better than an American style buttercream to ice a cake smooth efficiently. Also, whipping the meringue powder and water to stiff peaks took more time than I am looking to do in a bakery setting. Time is money, saving time = saving the client money.
MARSHMALLOW VANILLA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
From Jo-Anna of A Pretty Life
I tried this recipe out for a friend who loves to cook and loves a whippy style icing. She’s not a baker and has never ventured into the perilous world of buttercreams so I was looking for something simple, a sure thing. I have seen bloggers refer to this as cheater SMBC and I know of a pastry chef who will whip this up and add it to her SMBC if she needs a larger batch but is short on time.
VERDICT: This is not SMBC and it’s too soft for my purposes, but it is tasty! I can taste the marshmallow fluff flavor, but that’s not such a bad thing! This might be a great option for a Smore’s type icing you want to hit with a kitchen torch. I might try that.
Here are two bonus pictures since I wanted to see how my ABC piped as compared to SMBC. No surprise here, it pipes beautifully on a cupcake but without chilling I’m not going to get delicate smooth tall flower petals. That’s just too much fuss for my purposes. What one might be willing to do in one’s own kitchen for fun does not translate to a bakery setting as I described in the beginning. I love real vanilla beans don’t you?
For kicks and giggles I put the three SMBC versions using egg whites in a 145°F oven for 4 minutes to see how they take the heat. The cold sugar slurry version works best, it is pictured first followed by traditional SMBC and uncooked pasteurized egg white SMBC last. But if it’s 145°F outside, I recommend keeping these indoors. 😜
And that, my friends, is a wrap!
I learned a lot, which was my purpose, but I still have so much more to learn.
The Recipes: While I did put the recipes into my own words I did not change the ingredients or processes to my liking, I tried to stick to the author’s original intent.
Once again, each title below is a link to the original author’s post.
BEST EVER AMERICAN BUTTERCREAM
by Stacy from Wicked Good Kitchen
- 4 cups (480 grams) powdered sugar
- ½ cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup organic palm shortening
- Pour the powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. With the mixer on LOW slowly pour the boiling water into the bowl and continue mixing until the sugar seems fully melted, scrape down the sides at least once, then turn the mixer up to MEDIUM and continue blending. You are wanting to cool the mixture to room temperature at which point you add the extracts. Her instructions say about 4 minutes and in my cool kitchen it took me closer to 10 with ice under my mixer bowl.
- Scrape the bowl, turn the mixer down to LOW and add butter and shortening and continue mixing until fully combined then turn the mixer up to MEDIUM and let it go for about 10 minutes scraping down occasionally. This will build some volume.
Enough to ice and fill 24 cupcakes or a 2-layer 8″ or 9″ cake. Not suitable for use under fondant and it will soften in a warm setting such as outside on a warm day OR in an average sized room where there are a lot of people.
Here is a recipe I found requiring no shortening, it’s a clickable link:
PERFECT SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
by Tessa of Handle the Heat
- 5 large (150 grams) egg whites
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a double boiler over simmering water until the mixture reaches 140º. A heat proof bowl over (but not touching) the water works as well. The sugar will be completely dissolved when the right temperature is reached.
Pour the mixture into a stand mixture fitted with the whisk attachment and whip until the it has cooled to room temperature and glossy medium peaks are achieved. The bowl should be cooled as well.
Turn the mixer to low, switch to paddle attachment and add the butter 1 piece at time until smooth and incorporated. If the buttercream looks like cottage cheese, just keep mixing, it will come together. If it’s too thin, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing then add vanilla and salt beating on low until well combined.
Enough to ice and fill a 9″ cake or ice 24 cupcakes.
EASY FOOLPROOF SMBC
by Summer of Cake Paper Party
- 8 ounces egg whites, whole eggs or a carton
- 16 ounces granulated sugar
- 16 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- Heat the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a double boiler over simmering water until the mixture reaches 160º. A heat proof bowl over (but not touching) the water works as well.
- Pour mixture into another bowl and put in the refrigerator or freezer until it has cooled to 60-65 F. This part can easily be done in advance, the mixture doesn’t freeze solid.
- Once the sugar syrup has cooled, beat the butter on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixture for approximately 1 minute until smooth and slightly lightened in color.
- With the mixer on medium low add the cooled sugar syrup and continue mixing for approximately 2 minutes until smooth and creamy. Reduce to low and add the vanilla extract until combined.
- Beat on medium high until smooth and creamy.
The sugar syrup will develop a foam, that’s fine, pour it into the butter as is, it works perfectly. I’ve used it straight from the freezer and simply let it mix longer until the proper texture was achieved. If it breaks or looks curdled, keep mixing, it will come back together.
This filled and iced a 4-layer 8″ cake for me and would easily ice 24 cupcakes generously.
by Elizabeth of Sugar Hero
- 6 fl oz (3/4 cup) pasteurized liquid egg whites
- 24 oz (6 cups) powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 24 oz (3 cups) butter, room temperature
- 2 TBSP vanilla extract
Pour the whites powdered sugar and salt into a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low, scraping down the bowl, until smooth.
Turn the mixer to medium and whip for 5 minutes, it will begin to build volume. Turn the mixer to low, add the butter 1-2 tablespoons at a time until smooth and fully incorporated, then vanilla, scraping the bowl as you go.
Finally turn the mixer up to medium and whip for a full 10 minutes. It might go through a curdled stage but it will come together beautifully.
I piped generous swirls on 36 cupcakes with this and had enough left over for probably another 6 or so cupcakes.
by Kiki of Kiki Cuppycakes
- 2/3 cup water
- 4 tablespoons meringue powder
- 12 cups or 3 pounds powdered sugar
- 1 1/4 cups cups butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
Stir the water and meringue powder together in the bowl of a stand mixer until combined, scrape well if using the whisk attachment on low to do this.
Turn mixer to high and keep whipping until you see stiff peaks, it might take a while but it does work.
Turn the mixer to low add 4 cups of the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time mixing well after each addition until fully incorporated and stiff glossy peaks are achieved. Then add the butter and remaining sugar alternating between additions until it is well combined.
Finish by adding salt and vanilla, beat until smooth and well incorporated.
This makes about 7 cups of buttercream.
by Jo-Anna of A Pretty Life
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1-3 teaspoons heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 198g container of Marshmallow Fluff®
- salt to taste
In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the butter until light in color and increased in volume, about 10 minutes, then add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
Beat in the vanilla and heavy cream until fully incorporated then add the Marshmallow Fluff® beating until smooth.
Enough to ice about 12 cupcakes generously.