Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Hello! I haven’t posted in so long because I’ve been drowning in cake and cupcake orders. I finally had to put a stop to the madness and set some boundaries for myself. I work a full-time job and decorating cakes is my part-time job and full-time passion, but it was too much in April. I made 5 cakes and 3 orders of cupcakes. In May I only accepted 3 orders and that’s my aim from now on, about 3 cakes a month. It’s nice to have the extra money, but my health and sanity were suffering, especially since I have Lupus, which tends to tire one out in the first place. In May I had to catch up with all the other things in my life, which were ignored during the month of madness, and this blog was a casualty.
Enough about me, this post is about my favourite icing, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, seen above (front) on some bridal shower cupcakes; in the background the cupcakes are iced with cream cheese frosting. For all you people who are scared by blue buttercream, I apologize; I just thought that the photo was a good example of how shiny and smooth SMB looks. As usual, I use a recipe from Martha Stewart, slightly modified, and you can find it here: http://www.marthastewart.com/283895/swiss-meringue-buttercream. Obviously you can leave out the coconut, if it’s not needed.
The modification that I make is simply to use a wee bit more sugar, about half a cup, to increase the sweetness. This is the thing about buttercream, everyone has their own preference. Most kids love icing sugar buttercream, which I do make from time to time, with butter, none of that shortening crap, I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. However, I tend to call it “frosting” because the butter ratio is 1:4 with the icing sugar. I find that this frosting is better for some cupcakes; but generally I do not use it on cakes, especially sculpted and tiered cakes, as it doesn’t have the stability of SMB. At least, this is my belief/perception. Admittedly, some people can’t stand SMB and that is their perogative, but they are wrong. Wink!
Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a wee bit more labour-intensive, but definitely worth the work. It can be combined with so many flavours: coconut, coffee, fruit purée, melted chocolate, citrus peel and on and on. Here is my short, and by no means professional, tutorial on SMB.
Prepare a double boiler by adding a few inches of water in the bottom of a medium to large pot. Basically, your vessel has to fit inside of it without touching the surface of the water.
You will also need an instant read thermometer and a whisk. While SMB can be made with an electric hand mixer, I do not recommend it, and unless you’re a body builder, I don’t see it happening without an electric whipping appliance of some sort. Personally, I would not make cakes without my Kitchen Aid, and I actually have two of them: an older and well-loved hand-me-down Classic series model (from my mother, who didn’t like it, what the heck?) and a newer Professional series model with a 6L capacity, which can take about 20 cups of batter. Bella!
To start: get the water simmering and set up the egg whites and sugar (add a bit extra if you want a sweeter buttercream; but too much will make the buttercream too sloppy) in the appropriate vessel. Since I take the meringue directly from the double boiler and put it on the stand mixer to whip, I use the stand mixer bowl itself. Tip: use pasteurized egg whites, sold in cartons, and a measuring glass with tablespoon graduations to make your life easier.
Attach the instant read thermometer, set the bowl on the simmering water and start whisking until the temperature reads 140°F. Do not stop whisking or you will have one sweet egg white omelette!
You’ll know that you are getting close when the egg whites and sugar turn from a yellowish watery mix to a white sloppy mix. This will happen faster if you are using a gas stove, like I do.
Once the meringue reaches 140°F, take it off of the double boiler and whip it for ten minutes, with the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, or until the bowl is cool to the touch.
Meanwhile, prepare the butter by chopping it into roughly tablespoon-sized pieces. The butter should neither be cold or warm, approximately room temperature is best. Too cold and the buttercream won’t be smooth, and too warm, it will be sloppy. In the winter, it may need to sit out for an hour or more, but in spring and summer I take it out and chop it immediately before making the meringue and it is usually warmed up enough to use by the time that I need it. A metal bench scraper is a very good tool for this, as well as for smoothing the buttercream on the cakes.
The meringue should be stiff and glossy, as seen below, before adding the butter.
Add the butter a few pieces at a time, allowing it to incorporate before adding more. Don’t worry overmuch if the buttercream “breaks,” meaning that it looks curdled. It will come back together once all of the butter is incorporated. Don’t think that you can get away with using less butter because it will take just as much as the recipes says, but it will be enough to ice a 6″ and an 8″ cake or one 14″. You can make a half recipe if you are only making a smaller cake or less than 3 dozen cupcakes. Once the butter has been incorporated, switch to the paddle attachment on the mixer, which will smooth out the buttercream and get rid of any butter lumps.
Add the vanilla or any other flavour desired, and continue to mix until smooth. The buttercream will have a smooth and rich texture, perfect for tiered and sculpted cakes.
Because the buttercream will have to be beaten again before using if it is stored, I tend to make it directly before icing the cake. However, it can be stored up to 3 days in the fridge (4°C) or frozen for 1 month (-20°C) and it’s a good idea to properly label it with the date that you made it and whatever flavours you may have added. Beat the room temperature buttercream on the lowest speed for about 3 minutes before using it.