Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

My FB friend JC Griffiths wrote to me last week requesting a vanilla frosting recipe.  Excellent timing, since I'm working on a cake recipe this week and was in need of some frosting anyway.  :^)

It used to be that when I needed vanilla frosting, I just softened some butter in a bowl and added icing sugar (confectioners sugar) and milk until I got the sweetness and consistency I preferred, then added some vanilla extract for flavouring.  It was quick and easy to make and pretty versatile too.  I still use it if I need something quick.

Some years ago, though, I decided that I wanted to learn some basic cake decorating skills so I bought a book called "Pretty Cakes."  

The book contained a number of different frosting recipes, including one for Swiss Meringue Buttercream which was recommended for filling and frosting cakes, and for piping.  I used it for one of my first cake decorating attempts and liked it so much that I've used it ever since. 

Swiss meringue buttercream has a lot to recommend it: I always have the ingredients on hand. The texture is light and smooth, and the flavour not nearly so sweet as a butter and icing sugar frosting.  It's a neutral base to which a great many different flavours can be added, making it very versatile.  It pipes beautifully.

The recipe I'm sharing here is pretty much the same as in the book.  I've never amended it because it works perfectly just as it is.

To make Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting, you'll need:

  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/4 cups cold (but not hard) butter, cut into small pieces, about 1 Tablespoon each
Although you will be adding butter to your frosting, it begins with a meringue.  In order for the meringue to be at its best you need to work in a very clean bowl, without a trace of oil residue.  It's best to use either a glass or a metal bowl for mixing your frosting, and to give it a good wash and rinse before beginning work.

Combine the egg whites and sugar in your mixing bowl and set the bowl over a pan about 1/3 full of simmering water.  The bowl must not touch the water.  You want to heat the mixture, but not cook it.

Whisk the egg whites and sugar together until the sugar is partially dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.  The egg whites will begin to foam up as you do this.

Once the egg white mixture is warmed through, move the bowl to your mixer and whip the meringue at high speed until it forms stiff peaks.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium and continue beating until the meringue cools to room temperature.

Once the meringue has cooled, continue beating at medium heat, adding in the butter a piece at a time.

Stop the machine from time to time and give the sides and bottom of the bowl a good scrape with a rubber spatula. 

The frosting may break when the butter is mixed in.  The texture can range from granular looking to very curdled.  Don't worry. 

The mixture will come together and smooth out.  Just continue beating the frosting at high speed until the buttercream is smooth and light in texture.

Add your flavourings at this point.  Mix in liquids slowly, with the mixer at medium speed.  Dry flavourings should be added all at once. 

After the flavourings have been added, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl well with a rubber spatula and then beat the frosting briefly at high speed.

Here are some flavouring suggestions:
  • Amaretto - Add 1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur and 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Cassis - Add 1/2 cup currant jelly and 2 tablespoons Creme de Cassis
  • Chocolate - Add 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • Coconut - Add 1/4 cup cream of coconut
  • Coffee - Add 3 Tablespoons instant espresso or other coffee, dissolved in 1 Tablespoon hot water and cooled to room temperature
  • Lemon - Add the finely grated juice and zest of three lemons
  • Liquer-flavoured - Add 3 to 4 Tablespoons of spirits such as cognac, rum, kirsh, framboise, or Grand Marnier, to taste
  • Orange - Add the juice of one orange and the finely grated zest of two oranges
  • Praline - Add 3/4 cup ground praline
  • Vanilla - Add 1 Tablespoon of good quality vanilla extract
  • White chocolate - Add 8 ounces of white chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
Recipe source: "Pretty Cakes; the Art of Cake Decorating" but Mary Goodbody with Jane Stacey, Pub. Harper and Row, New York, 1986