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Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting

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If you want a frosting that’s light, pipes like a dream, and isn’t too sweet, Italian meringue buttercream is for you! It’s rich, buttery, and airy – and a favorite among many bakers around the world.

tight shot of a cupcake frosted with Italian meringue buttercream frosting with several others behind it

We’re used to super sweet American buttercream here in the U.S. that’s made with gobs of sugar. In this Italian frosting, the sweetness comes from a small amount of hot sugar syrup – it’s the butter flavor that really shines through.

Ingredients and Equipment

top-down view of ingredients needed to make Italian meringue buttercream frosting: sugar, water, egg whites, butter, vanilla extract, and cream of tartar

Some of the key ingredients and tools you’ll need for this recipe are:

Sugar: Unlike American buttercream, this recipe uses regular table sugar. There is no need to use powdered sugar. The sugar dissolves into a syrup and doesn’t taste at all grainy.

Egg whites: Make sure your eggs are cleanly separated. I suggest separating eggs individually before adding each white to your mixer bowl. Then, if you accidentally get yolk in one of your egg whites, you can save that egg for breakfast and crack a different one for your frosting.

Cream of tartar: Adding a little bit of cream of tartar to the recipe helps to stiffen the meringue.

Butter: All butter does not taste the same. Because butter is the prominent flavor in this frosting, use a high-quality unsalted butter that you love.

Candy thermometer: To ensure that the sugar syrup is the correct temperature, you will need a candy thermometer. If it isn’t hot enough, the syrup won’t kill off potential bacteria in the raw eggs. If it is too hot, it will harden and the texture of the frosting won’t be correct.

How It’s Made

Start by making a sugar syrup. Heat sugar and water on the stove on medium-low heat until it reaches the softball stage (240 degrees on a candy thermometer). Be careful – this syrup is really hot!

water and sugar boiling in a medium pot on a stovetop

While the sugar is heating whisk egg whites until foamy in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Add cream of tartar and keep whisking until you have stiff peaks – they shouldn’t flop over when you lift up the whisk.

looking at a mixer bowl with egg whites whipped with cream of tartar to form stiff peaks

Turn the mixer back on and, while it is running at high speed, slowly and carefully add the sugar syrup. Be sure to pour it into the center of the mixer. If it touches the side of the mixer bowl, it will immediately harden on the surface.

pouring hot sugar syrup into the bowl of a stand mixer

Now is when you’ll need to be patient. Keep mixing at high speed until the bowl of the mixer cools to room temperature. It should not feel at all warm when you touch it. This will take at least ten minutes. If you don’t wait, you will melt the butter when you it in the next step.

tight shot of Stef holding a mixer bowl to test the temperature of Italian meringue buttercream frosting

Once it’s cool, switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter a tablespoon at a time while mixing at high speed. Mix each tablespoon of butter until you can’t see it before adding the next one. Once they are all added, mix for an additional five minutes.

tight shot of Stef adding butter to a mixer full of Italian meringue buttercream frosting

Finally, mix in vanilla extract or any other flavors you like.

The frosting should be silky smooth and nicely hold its shape when piped.

Italian meringue buttercream frosting being piped onto a cupcake

Expert Tips and FAQs

This frosting goes well on so many cakes and cupcakes! Try it on my vanilla cupcakes or vanilla cake, pumpkin cupcakes, or on fairy cakes. Since it holds its shape so well, it’s also great for decorating a cupcake bouquet!

My buttercream got soupy – what happened?

The ingredients were probably too hot. Don’t worry; your frosting isn’t ruined. Refrigerate the mixing bowl for a few minutes and then mix some more – a lot more. Don’t give up. Keep mixing and eventually it will come together.

How do I store leftover frosting?

Any leftover frosting can be stored in the fridge for up to one week or frozen for several months. Bring it to room temperature and beat it for a few minutes before using. (If you don’t want to save it, you can also bake it into cookies.)

Do I need to refrigerate cakes and cupcakes frosted with Italian buttercream?

No. They can be at room temperature for several days.

How is this different from Swiss meringue buttercream or French buttercream?

It all comes down to how the eggs are used. Swiss meringue also uses the egg whites, but the eggs themselves get heated instead of using the sugar syrup. The French version uses egg yolks.

For more details, see my post all about different buttercream types.

a cupcake frosted with Italian meringue buttercream frosting with a bowl of frosting behind it
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tight shot of a cupcake frosted with Italian meringue buttercream frosting
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3.53 from 61 votes

Italian Meringue Buttercream

If you want a frosting that's light, pipes like a dream, and isn't too sweet, Italian meringue buttercream is for you! It's rich, buttery, and airy and a favorite among many bakers around the world.
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 24
Calories 180kcal
Author Stefani

Equipment

  • Candy thermometer

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup water room temperature
  • 5 large egg whites
  • pinch cream of tartar
  • 2 cups unsalted butter room temperature, cut into tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Instructions

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and water to a boil. Continue to boil until sugar syrup reaches 240-244 degrees F, soft ball stage on a candy thermometer. As it cooks, start step 2, the meringue.
  • While sugar syrup is cooking, separate eggs, placing whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low to medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whip on medium to high speed until stiff peaks form (they should hold their shape when the whisk is lifted).
  • With the mixer running, add hot cooked syrup to the whites in a slow but steady stream, beating on high speed. Pour into the center of the mixer so that it doesn't touch the mixer bowl; it will harden immediately if it does. Always be careful when working with hot sugar.
  • Beat on high speed until the bowl is cool to the touch – at least ten minutes.
  • Switch to the paddle attachment and add butter a tablespoon at a time, beating between additions until you can't see the last tablespoon of butter you added. When you're done adding butter, beat for another 5 minutes.
  • Beat in vanilla until fully incorporated. The frosting should be smooth, shiny, and hold its shape.

Notes

If your frosting turns soupy, the ingredients were probably too hot. Don’t worry! Your frosting isn’t ruined; refrigerate the mixing bowl for a few minutes and then mix some more – a lot more. Don’t give up. Keep mixing and eventually it will come together.
Desserts frosted with this frosting can sit at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Any leftover frosting can be stored in the fridge for up to one week or frozen for several months. Bring it to room temperature and beat it for a few minutes before using. (If you don’t want to save it, you can also bake it into cookies.)

Nutrition

Calories: 180kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 41mg | Sodium: 13mg | Potassium: 15mg | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 473IU | Calcium: 5mg
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