This Swiss meringue buttercream is a light, airy frosting made with egg whites, sugar, butter, and vanilla. Perfect for frosting a simple vanilla sheet cake, or for eating directly from the bowl.
A great vanilla cake deserves a very special buttercream, so I have turned to a super smooth and silky Swiss meringue version. As vanilla is the dominant flavor, this is a recipe for which I would splurge and use a vanilla pod for the buttercream.–Edd Kimber
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM AND REGULAR BUTTERCREAM?
Regular buttercream is another way of saying what Americans typically refer to as frosting. It’s typically made from butter or shortening, confectioners’ sugar, and milk or cream, whereas Swiss meringue buttercream calls for the sugar to be cooked, which makes the resulting buttercream more stable and exceptionally satiny smooth. Swiss meringue buttercreams tend to be slightly less sweet than most frostings and more buttery in flavor, which is not at all a bad thing in our experience. Not at all.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3/4 cup superfine sugar (or blitz granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground)
- 2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon (8 1/2 oz) unsalted butter diced and at room temperature
- Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod (*See Note below)
- Pinch of salt
- Sprinkles (optional)
- In a large heatproof bowl, stir together the egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (making certain the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water underneath), stirring regularly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot to the touch, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and, using an electric mixer, whisk until the mixture has stiff peaks, 7 to 10 minutes.
- Slowly add the butter, a piece or two at a time. Beat until the mixture forms a buttercream-like texture and is silky smooth, 4 to 6 minutes.
- Gently beat in the vanilla and salt.
- Use the buttercream to frost a cooled cake and top with sprinkles, if using. Cut into portions and serve. Store, covered, for up to 3 days.
*What can I do with that used vanilla pod?Don’t discard the used pod. There’s a ton of flavor left inside. You can use it to roast fruits, to make vanilla sugar, to make your own vanilla syrup, or to make your own vanilla extract with vodka or bourbon or rum…oh my!
Recipe Testers' Reviews
I would need to swallow a thesaurus to have enough adjectives to describe this singular frosting. It is so good that it almost makes you want to abandon chocolate frosting.
The frosting is a snap to make. It’s light and seductive and doesn’t reveal the sinful amount of butter used in the recipe. I was anxious about the frosting because I have a love-hate relationship with egg whites. I fear them almost as much as meat cleavers and mandolines. No matter how many photos I look at, I am always trying to figure out when I have reached soft peaks versus stiff peaks. I cannot count the number of overbeaten disasters I’ve produced. That being said, I was not to be deterred and the egg whites had the good sense to surrender and give me a lovely shiny set of stiff peaks.
With the biggest hurdle conquered, I added the butter, salt, and vanilla as directed. The frosting was velvety smooth and the taste was more vanilla than butter. It makes the vanilla cake whole as the two flavors join together. It’s also a frosting which could be eaten directly from the bowl when no one is watching.
I had a moment of panic when I discovered that my vanilla beans were really dry and crumbly, well beyond the bounds of rehydration. After a quick bit of research, I determined that I could substitute a teaspoon of either vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste for the vanilla bean. I used a teaspoon of Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste in place of the vanilla bean. The frosting did not suffer as a result of the substitution.
For anyone who is apprehensive about a Swiss buttercream, just take a leap of faith. Seriously. It's so quick to make and even better to eat—straight out of the bowl or on your cake! I would gladly make this recipe again, perhaps in a sheet pan with double the frosting. That's one place you don't want to skimp. Using my stand mixer, after achieving stiff peaks, I whipped the butter in and had a perfect silkiness in about 7 minutes.
Originally published January 20, 2021