Italian Meringue Buttercream

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Learn how to make Italian buttercream frosting with this step by step photo tutorial! Italian meringue buttercream is a silky smooth buttercream that holds up well in warmer conditions so it’s a perfect meringue buttercream for outdoor special events. Whether it’s to ice a cake with, frost a cupcake with or go under a fondant it’s the perfect buttercream. This is Italian buttercream that even beginners can master!

how to make italian meringue buttercream


 

I feel like Italian meringue buttercream is the Mount Everest of buttercreams. And if you’re thinking well then count me out! Don’t go running in the other direction quite yet.

Yes it might be the most complicated of all the buttercreams. But since it’s the Mount Everest of buttercreams then means when you make it to the top and make it you better believe it’s brag worthy.

Italian meringue buttercream frosting is worth all the trouble friends.

What Are The Different Types Of Buttercream?

There are two main types – cubed butter meringue style vs. the beaten butter method.

Italian buttercream belongs to the cubed butter style of buttercreams- like swiss meringue buttercream or french buttercream.

These buttercreams are a bit more difficult than the beaten butter types of buttercream- like American vanilla buttercream, Flour buttercream (ermine frosting), or German buttercream.

So what’s the big difference between these two types? Well as the name suggests for the beaten butter. Your butter is beaten then a sweetened base is added in.

For the cubed butter is added to a meringue to create a silky smooth buttercream.

What’s The Difference Between Italian Buttercream And American Buttercream?

With American buttercream, this is powdered sugar and butter. Now with cubed butter method, an egg foam is created with either egg whites, or egg yolks (sometimes the whole egg is used in some recipes), and the cubed butter is added a little at a time until a silky smooth buttercream results.

So with Italian meringue buttercream, you begin by heating sugar and water to create a simple syrup. By doing this, you dissolve the sugar so your buttercream in the end is silky smooth on your tongue. Italian meringue buttercream I think has the best taste and texture out of all the buttercreams. And it holds up the best in warmer conditions. So do you have an outdoor wedding you are making cupcakes for? Italian is the way to go.

Is Italian Buttercream Safe To Eat?

Yes the buttercream contains egg whites. But because you are adding a hot sugar syrup it will kill any bacteria off. And it’s actually safer than the other meringue buttercreams.

The Breakdown of Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Taste: My favorite out of all the frostings. The perfect balance of sweet and butter taste.

Texture: Silky and smooth.

Difficulty: One of the more difficult, if not arguably the most difficult. This one can be tricky because of adding the sugar mixture to the egg whites.

Pros: Very stable in warm temperature. A great base under fondant. Best flavor!

Cons: Can be tricky to make. Involves the use of a candy thermometer.

Ingredients Needed

  • softened butter (here are 3 easy ways to soften your butter quickly!) Be sure to cut your unsalted butter into tablespoons so you can easily incorporate a little at a time. You also want to make sure to use quality unsalted butter. Cheap generic butter uses more water and air, which means less flavor for you! My favorite go to butter is Cabot.
  • 5 room temperature egg whites. If you need to bring your egg whites to room temperature quickly before you crack the eggs open let them sit in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes. If you already cracked them open them submerge the bowl they are in into a second bowl of warm water. Just be sure to not use hot water or you might end up with a healthy egg white breakfast instead on your hands!
  • pure vanilla extract. Remember buttercream is not cooked, so you want to use pure vanilla extract because those flavors will shine through. My favorite is Nielssen-Massey, but if you can’t find that McCormick pure vanilla extract is great too and can be found in your local grocery store.
  • granulated white sugar. IMBC is made with granulated sugar, not powdered sugar like you might be used to making.
  • a pinch of cream of tartar. This helps to stabilize the egg whites when you are whipping them into a meringue.
  • water- (not pictured below) you will need 2/3 cup to make your simple syrup!
butter, sugar, vanilla, cream of tartar, and egg whites

How To Make Italian Meringue Buttercream

Here is a step by step photo tutorial so you can master making Italian Meringue Buttercream! 

Combine sugar and water

You will bring the mixture to a boil until it reaches 238ยบF.  I recommend you use a candy thermometer for this step. No, I insist you do! You can use a regular candy thermometer like this one from Wilton or a digital thermometer. But either way, use one! You can use a pastry brush, dipped in water, to brush the sides of the saucepan to remove any stray sugar crystals.

water poured into a saucepan with sugar

Whip Egg Whites

Begin first by whipping your egg whites until foamy and soft peaks forms on a medium speed then add your pinch of cream of tartar. Then increase speed and continue to mix on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. If you aren’t sure if your peaks are stiff yet, just pull the beater out of the bowl and see if the peaks stand up on their own. If they flop over, continue to mix.

This is similar to making a meringue for lemon meringue like these lemon meringue cupcakes

bowl of whipped egg whites

Add Sugar Syrup

For this step, you want to slowly drizzle the hot syrup mixture into the egg whites along the sides of the bowl so that they drizzle down slowly. Do not add them all at once or you risk deflating the egg whites! And you also need to keep the mixture running while doing this.

If you are using a stand mixer, this step is easy. If you are using a hand mixer, it can get a bit tricky.

Heather’s Baking Tip

When adding the syrup, a stand mixer is easiest so you have two free hands. But if you are using a hand mixer, then try placing a towel under your bowl to keep it steady while you multi-task. You also could recruit a friend here to help you out and take over the mixing. Or you can also just try drizzling a little bit, then pausing to mix.

bowl of whipped egg whites and sugar syrup in a saucepan

Add Butter

You want to add your butter once your egg white mixture has cooled down. Make sure it’s cut into tablespoons and softened to room temperature.

Heather’s Baking Tip

Before adding the butter, feel the bottom of the bowl to make sure it is cool enough. If the bowl is still warm, wait a few more minutes. If you add the butter when the bowl is warm the butter may melt.

bowl of whipped egg whites and cubes of butter being mixed

Add vanilla

At this point, you want to flavor your buttercream! I added vanilla extract, but you could flavor it anyway you like. If you want some different ways to flavor your buttercream here are 13 ways to get inspired.

vanilla extract added to bowl of buttercream

Recipe Tips

  • You want to use room temperature egg whites so they whip up to full volume. I place my whole uncracked eggs into a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes to get this done fast.
  • You want a clean grease free bowl to whip your egg whites. Any grease will inhibit the egg whites from whipping up properly.
  • When cracking your egg whites, crack each one separately in a small bowl then add to your large bowl. This is in case any egg yolk gets in the egg white, the whole batch is not ruined. Any egg yolk in your egg whites will prevent the egg whites from whipping up properly. For more help on how to separate the egg whites, read how to separate eggs.
  • Do not use a plastic bowl because over time it can hold on to grease and fat. Metal is best. Glass will work as well but can be slippery.
  • Use a candy thermometer to ensure you have brought the sugar syrup up to the correct temperature.
vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting

Recipe FAQ’s

Can I make Italian buttercream without a candy thermometer?

You can, yes. In order to see if the sugar syrup has reached the soft ball stage, you want to look for the bubbles forming and getting bigger, and forming more slowly. You can do this quick test to see if it’s ready:
1. Drop a small amount into a glass of water.ย 
2. The sugar should not dissolve, and you should be able to pick it up and squish it into a soft ball.ย 

Why is my Italian buttercream frosting runny?

This may have happened if you added the butter too soon before the meringue had a chance to cool down. I have had this happen! You can try popping the mixing bowl in the fridge for about 10 minutes and the try rewhipping.

How should I store this frosting?

Yes you can. This buttercream will be safe to keep out at room temperature for up to 2 days. You can keep your Italian buttercream in the fridge for up to 2 weeks! Just keep it tightly covered. You can also freeze this meringue frosting for up to 2 months. I just let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator overnight. Then take it out and let it soften at room temperature. You may need to rewhip this to the desired consistency again.

Can I color Italian meringue buttercream?

Yes you can but it can be a bit tricky to get it to color well. I like using gel-based coloring instead of liquid. Liquid food coloring can change the consistency.ย  If you are having trouble getting the desired color, you can take a small amount and color it with a couple drops of food coloring. Then microwave it for 5-10 seconds. And then stir that into the rest of the buttercream.

Recipes To Use This Frosting On

I used my go to vanilla cupcakes for this. But you could frost chocolate cupcakes, red velvet cupcakes, maybe try a pumpkin and flavor this with a bit of cinnamon. Sky’s the limit for these! If you need a few tips on making cupcakes, here are 15 tips for perfect cupcakes.

And if your frosting skills need a little help, you can learn how to frost the perfect cupcake here (there is even a video!)

Want more buttercream? Then be sure to check out my Buttercream Basics Guide To Mastering Buttercream!


Get The Guide Now!

More Recipes To Try

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how to make italian meringue buttercream

Italian Meringue Buttercream

Silky and smooth – this is the #1 of all buttercreams! Use a candy thermometer for perfect buttercream every time!
5 from 14 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 412 -5 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 5 large egg whites
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 pound 4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  • 1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and 2/3 cup water to a boil. Continue boiling until syrup reaches 238 degrees on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage).
  • 2. Meanwhile, place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat on medium-high speed until stiff but not dry; do not overbeat.
  • 3. With mixer running, add syrup to whites in a stream, beating on high speed until no longer steaming, about 3 minutes.
  • 4. Add butter tablespoon by tablespoon, beating until spreadable, 3 to 5 minutes; beat in vanilla. If icing curdles, keep beating until smooth.

Video

Notes

  • Make sure your butter is softened to room temperature so it is incorporated into the meringue. Here are 3 ways to do that quickly.
  • You want to use room temperature egg whites so they whip up to full volume. I place my whole uncracked eggs into a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes to get this done fast.ย 
  • You want a clean grease free bowl to whip your egg whites. Any grease will inhibit the egg whites from whipping up properly.
  • When cracking your egg whites, crack each one seperately in a small bowl then add to your large bowl. This is in case any egg yolk gets in the egg white, the whole batch is not ruined. Any egg yolk in your egg whites will prevent the egg whites from whipping up properly.ย 
  • Do not use a plastic bowl because over time it can hold on to grease and fat. Metal is best. Glass will work as well but can be slippery.ย 
  • Use a candy thermometer to ensure you have brought the sugar syrup up to the correct temperature.
  • Stream the syrup in slowly so it can be incorporated and not deflate the egg whites.
  • Before adding the butter, feel the bottom of the bowl to make sure it is cool enough. If the bowl is still warm, wait a few more minutes. If you add the butter when the bowl is warm the butter may melt.ย 
  • When adding the syrup, a stand mixer is easiest so you have two free hands. But if you are using a hand mixer, then try placing a towel under your bowl to keep it steady while you multi-task. You also could recruit a friend here to help you out and take over the mixing. Or you can also just try drizzling a little bit, then pausing to mix.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days in a sealed container. Re-whip again until smooth and creamy. You can also store this in the freezer for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 2 hours or so, and re-whip until desired consistency again.
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @BostonGirlBakes or tag #BostonGirlBakes!


 

43 Comments

  1. Vivian Steward says:

    I was wondering could I use strawberry extract instead of vanilla?

    1. Heather Perine says:

      Hi Vivian! I donโ€™t see why you couldnโ€™t swap out the vanilla for strawberry!

  2. 5 stars
    Awesome recipe! One of the best IMB recipes I’ve tried! I made it with Country Crock avocado oil butter sticks and it worked out perfectly!

    1. Heather Perine says:

      I’m so glad you loved the recipe!! And that is worked out for you with the butter substitution!

  3. rana soliman says:

    how long in time dose it take to form the soft ball stage???

  4. Once you frost a cake with IMB how long can it sit out at room temperature and still be safe to eat. When I am frosting and decorating the buttercream is sitting on my counter for almost two hours for completion and always worry about safety. Thanks for any advice.

    1. Hi Pam! IMBC will be safe to leave out at room temperature for 2 to 3 days and be safe.

  5. Tina Thompson says:

    I am hoping you can help me. I have made IBC 100’s of times and never have an issue but I recently tried 2 different kinds of generic butter and it never came together. It was almost as if it was wet cottage cheese. I kept whipping and after 20 minutes I got nothing. I normally use Kerrygold but I am wondering if all butters are not created equal. Can you help?

    1. Hi Tina! It could be the butter? However, I have used generic butter many times and never had that issue. It might also be an issue of temperature, or water in the bowl – I’ve had that happen and had that curdled effect happened. I always suggest throwing the bowl in the fridge to cool it all down then try re-whipping. Hope that helps!

  6. Linda A Rajaniemi says:

    I made this for a friends birthday cake. Dark chocolate two layer cake with frosting and a layer of sea salt caramel between layers then decorated and drizzled caramel all over. It was FANTASTIC! Followed your recipe with no difficulty at all. I will never use anything but this frosting from now on. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Linda! That means so much. I’m so glad you loved it ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. beth powers kopniske says:

    Hi,
    Ok that the eggs are raw? Do they reach a temperature when the sugar mix is added, to be pasturized? Thanks.

    1. Yes it’s perfectly safe because of the hot sugar syrup it is combined with!

  8. Christine Price says:

    5 stars
    I love the muted sweetness of this type of buttercream. Just enough to complement the cake without tasting like I’m eating pure sugar (my biggest gripe with American buttercream!) The instructions were simple to follow and well explained. I think my go to will still be Swiss meringue, but only because I personally found it faster and easier to accomplish.

  9. What a great post! I wish I had had something like this all those years ago when I was just starting out baking. Italian meringue is definitely my go-to frosting these days.

  10. 5 stars
    This is a really fantastic overview of the perfect way to make Italian buttercream. I really appreciate all of the additional information about how to properly bring it to temperature, because with sweet items like this a fluctuating temperature can really make or break the dish.

  11. 5 stars
    one of my favorites ! You did a very good job of explaining the directions. This can be tedious, and frustrating when you mess up, but with this recipe that should never happen. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. 5 stars
    This frosting sounds absolutely delicious, and I love all of your tips and detailed advice!

  13. Marisa F. Stewart says:

    5 stars
    My favorite frosting. You really give super good directions. Easy to follow and right on the mark. Now anxious to hurry and bake a cake so I can my the frosting. My mouth is watering thinking about it.

    1. My favorite too!! And thank you..glad you found the directions helpful! Have fun baking ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. 5 stars
    You know, I don’t think that I have ever tried Italian buttercream, but I have heard good things. I love how you break it down so that people like me aren’t scared off by it!

    1. That’s awesome Cathleen yes I hope the tips and step by step photos help you master this recipe! Enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Love your fantastic tips for this creamy Italian buttercream recipe. Can’t wait to recreate it in my kitchen!

    1. Hi Neha! Thank you and glad you found the tips useful ๐Ÿ™‚ Have fun making it!

  16. I keep hearing from people that I’ve got to try Italian buttercream. I didn’t know that it holds up better in warmer weather – that’s a great tip!

    1. Oh yes Katherine and for good reason it’s the BEST!!! Perfect buttercream for the upcoming summer months ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. 5 stars
    I wasn’t aware of all the different types of buttercreams out there!! OMG but Italian buttercream is heavenly <3 Definitely need to make it next time and nothing beats homemade ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. There are definitely more than you think! And yes I agree Italian is heavenly ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. 5 stars
    Italian meringue buttercream has always seemed much too daunting for me to try… until now! Your instructions are super clear and easy to follow, thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Aleta! It’s my favorite buttercream by far. You will absolutely love it ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. 5 stars
    You have buttercream down to a science! Great instructions and so many great tips. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Colleen! Yes hopefully you will have great success if you try! You’re welcome ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. 5 stars
    Thanks for your lovely Butter Cream recipe. Surely delicious and creamier. Kids to relish it. This looks cute and colorful too.

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