Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC)

Looks a lot like Italian meringue buttercream doesn’t it? In fact it is very similar, though a bit denser. Like Italian buttercream, it’s excellent both for spreading and piping, since (as you can see) it stands up quite well on its own. The advantage SMBC has over IMBC is that it’s somewhat easier to make, nearly as sturdy and 100% food safe. The formula goes like this:

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pound soft unsalted butter

Begin by combining the whites, sugar and cream of tartar the top of a double boiler set over simmering water.

Give them a good whippin’ with a whisk to combine them, and keep it up intermittently while the mixture warms.

In about 5-7 minutes’ time, your mixture should have reached 160 degrees Farhenheit (don’t worry, your whites won’t cook, the sugar will keep all those little proteins from clenching up). What’s so important about this temperature? It’s the degree at which Salmonella bacteria are killed.

So then, having created your egg white “syrup”, pour the contents of the double boiler into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip.

Turn the mixer on high. In a few minutes the mixture will turn white and start to build up into a foam.

In about 6-8 minutes, the meringue will come to stiff peaks, about like so:

Now then, all you need to do is add the butter. Switch to the paddle (beater) attachment and turn the mixer to medium high. Beat in the butter a piece at a time.

Ah yes! Here it is, the grainy “curdled” texture I was telling you about in my Italian meringue buttercream post. My butter pieces were a little cool in the center, and now I’m paying the price with this chunky, almost cottage cheese-looking buttercream.

No matter, just turn the machine up to high and beat those curdles right on out.

Much better. Again, this is the point where you incorporate your flavors and/or colors. A teaspoon or more of vanilla should again be your starting point. After that the sky is pretty much the limit.

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63 Responses to Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC)

  1. Clair says:

    Hi Joe (or is it Mr. Pastry?),
    I was just wondering if this recipe could be adpated to make a cream cheese frosting, just replacing some of the butter with cream cheese, proportional to your cream cheese frosting recipe? I can’t why not, though I thought I’d ask before possibly making a big mess of something…

    Thanks a bunch, Clair
    (longtime fan, first time commenter)

    • joepastry says:

      Welcome, Clair! I honestly have no idea if that would work or not. My feeling is that the water in the cream cheese (cream cheese is 50% water) would cause the meringue to collapse, but I can’t say for sure. If you’re game for trying, I’d be very interested in hearing about the results!

  2. Clair says:

    Hmm, well I’m always game for a little experimentation in baking. Might be a little while before I get to try this out, but I’ll be sure to let you know what happens!

  3. Clair says:

    Got a chance to make this with the cream cheese this evening (to top some red velvet cupcakes) and it actually turned out really well! Erring on the side of caution, I decided to go half and half butter and cream cheese, and fully incorporated the butter first before adding the cream cheese a piece at a time. The texture of the frosting was lighter and more whipped (for lack of a better word?) than with just butter, but it still held its shape really well, the meringue did not seem to deflate or collapse at all. I might add a bit more cream cheese next time I make it, just to get the flavor a bit more, but overall I found it a really nice, light, and subtle frosting. My family sure seemed to like it too, judging by how few cupcakes there are left…

    Cheers!
    Clair

    • joepastry says:

      Very interesting. Though I’m not a cream cheese frosting fan (as you know), I’ll have to try it one of these days! Thanks for the email.

  4. Vanessa says:

    Hi there, I was just wondering if you would consider IMBC and SMBC to be safe for pregnant women? I know that you say the egg whites are heated to the temp that salmonella are killed at in SMBC, but what about with IMBC? Is the syrup heat enough to kill Salmonella?
    Thanks
    Vanessa

    • joepastry says:

      That’s a very good question, Vanessa. My feeling is that while heat and sugar are great at destroying microbes, they aren’t enough to guarantee 100% safety in IMBC. For pregnant women SMBC is probably the best best choice.

  5. Amanda says:

    Thank you for the tutorial. I have been making SMBC for a little while and I am hooked. I was glad to see the posts from Claire and Vanessa. You had just the info I was looking for. Thank you!

  6. zakki says:

    Hi Joe (pastry gentleman)

    Firstly I would like to thank-you a lot for this fantastic website. I have just made my first swiss meringue butter cream and i must say it is jolly good. I am an absolute novice and found it easy enough to do after school run, with all the little ones running around. Two of them were fighting over who could add some of the butter! They are now parked in front of the television watching cartoons and licking their teaspoons clean. I don’t think I’ll be going back to the gritty textured but easier all butter cream; time and kids permitting of course.
    Zakki

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Zakki! Thanks for the terrific note — and welcome to the wonderful world of the real-deal-buttercreams!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  7. Tia ^_^ says:

    Hi Joe first off i wanna say i tried this recipe and it was everything you said it would be and more. My friends loved it. So here’s the thing tho. I’m doing a birthday cake for a friend of mines daughters birthday. She likes chocolate. So i was wondering is there a way to alter this recipe where it would be a like milk chocolatey type with the same texture. If so would you recommend using powder or some melted down chocolate? Or something else. Or not try it altogether with that?

    Thank you much,
    Tia ^__^

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Tia!

      Glad it worked so well for you. I think I mentioned this in a post on flavoring, but two ounces (or more) of a good-quality chocolate (melted of course) can be whipped right in! Let me know how it goes over!

      - Joe

      • Tia ^_^ says:

        Hiyee it’s me wasn’t sure if my last post made it or not but just to let you know it worked out wonderfully. You is the stuff Joe “Pastry” Man. I have to say SMBC is now my new favorite flavor er taste when it comes to frostings. Regular doesn’t do it for me anymore. Thanx again. I’m still familiarizing myself with the site. But i hope to make new discoveries on here. PEACE and Blessings
        Sincerely,
        Tia

        • joepastry says:

          Wonderful news, Tia! Thanks so much for getting back to me and yes, please do explore the site…and don’t hesitate to ask if I can be of any help with anything you find here.

          I’m pretty much always around!

          - Joe

  8. Michelle says:

    Hi Joe,

    just wanted to say that I think this recipe is great. I came across it while looking for a recipe for caramel buttercream. What I did was to make 1.5 batches of your SMBC (so 6 egg whites, etc) and I added just over a cup of caramel sauce for the flavouring. I was a bit worried that the extra volume and sugar from the caramel would break the meringue, but I held up and tasted great. thanks, and I look forward to trying other recipes from your site.

    Michelle

    • joepastry says:

      Very glad it worked out so well, Michelle! That sounds like a tremendous buttercream. I’ll need to try it one of these days. thanks very much for the note. Happy New Year!

      - Joe

  9. April says:

    Hi Joe!

    I made SMBC a while back using your recipe and it was deliiiiicious – thanks for the recipe! I have 2 questions though:

    1) How many cups of SMBC does this recipe yield? I kept on forgetting to measure it out each time I make it….doi!

    2) Some of my friend have commented that it was just a bit too buttery for their taste. To lighten the buttery taste, would I be able to decrease the amount of butter that goes in? Or increase the eggwhite/sugar content? (so say, 1 lb butter + 6 egg whites + 1.5 cups sugar) Or would that mess up the consistency of the SMBC?

    Thanks so much! :)

    -April

    • joepastry says:

      Hey April!

      Honestly I don’t know for sure about the volume in cups. It’s at least eight, but could be more. I just think of it as “enough for one cake.” ;)

      As for cutting back the butter, yes you can, with no I’ll effects.

      - Joe

      • April says:

        Ahaha, yeah, that’s what I jotted down in my notes for your recipe as well, “just enough for two layers of an 8″ cake” :)

        Thanks for your speedy reply!

        April

  10. Denise says:

    Can you use this under fondant

  11. Isabelle says:

    Hi… I am a new baker and was wondering if SMBC would hold up in humid weather. I have a 2 layer cake coming up. I find the American Buttercream too sweet and would like to try this or IMBC. The cake will be in the shade but I am from a place that is practically humid all year round…. hmmm. Thanks so much and more power.

    I am just so glad my friend referred me to your site. I sure am learning a lot of things….

    • joepastry says:

      Hello, Isabelle! Very glad to have you aboard! ;)

      Humidity isn’t a big problem for buttercream per se, but heat will definitely be an issue. Of all the buttercreams, Italian is the most stable, the most capable of standing up to adverse weather conditions. However when heat gets up to butter-melting temperature problems begin to occur.

      Moisture, even though there’s meringue in the buttercream, isn’t a big deal. So if that’s the only issue I’d say full steam ahead! Thanks so much for stopping by — and get in touch any time!

      - Joe

  12. Illona says:

    Hi Joe,

    Once a cake/cupcake has been frosted with SMBC, how long will it keep at room temp? What if it’s under rolled fondant. Does that make a difference to the keeping time? I sometimes need to assemble a cake the day before.

    Thanks for all the helpful information here. I’ve learnt a lot!!

    • joepastry says:

      A day ahead of time should be no problem. There’s so much sugar in buttercream that any critters have a very hard time growing in it. But no, being under rolled fondant won’t really make any difference.

      Best of luck with the project, sounds delicious!

      - Joe

  13. Jamielynn says:

    I made this not long ago for my pregnant friend’s baby shower cake and it was amazing. I had always made Italian buttercream but wanted to ensure it would be safe for pregnant women. I also beat about a cup of caramel sauce and it turned out absolutely perfect and held up wonderfully. Thanks Joe!!

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks for the note, Jamielynn! Ah, caramel buttercream. Next time invite me, K?

      - Joe

  14. Erica says:

    Hey Joe,

    I stumbled upon this website while looking for some recipes for a cake that I want to make for my birthday. I am envisioning a lemon cake with lemon curd filling and blueberry frosting. However, I want to make the rose cake pictured here http://iambaker.net/rose-cake-tutorial/. Will either the IMBC or the SMBC “crust” the way they say buttercream should with shortening? I am just never a fan of shortening for anything.

    Thanks!

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Erica!

      Unfortunately no, French buttercream doesn’t form that crystallized sugar crust, I’m sorry to say. It stays soft and shiny, for good or for ill!

      Thanks for the great question!

      - Joe

      • diane says:

        I’m having the same quandry as Erika. The issue with American Buttercream with the rosette cake is that the frosting is styled so thick for such a sweet choice. Joe, do you think any non-shortening BC could hold up to such a design?

        • joepastry says:

          Hi Diane!

          Methinks that particular cake needs an American buttercream. There are just so many flowers, it’s hard to imagine a traditional buttercream holding up for very long. Wish I had better news, Diane!

          - Joe

  15. Bobbie Riddles says:

    How long can SMBC stay out for on the counter and stay safe to eat? Thanks!

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Bobbie!

      A full day for sure. After that it probably should be refrigerated, just in case.

      - Joe

  16. Mindy says:

    I’m making a rainbow cake for St. Patrick’s day and have been searching for a good frosting recipe. I’ve made the buttercream with butter and powdered sugar (though most I’ve seen call for some shortening) for sugar cookies, but don’t make many cakes. I’ve been looking into the IMBC and SMBC (I’m currently pregnant so would need to do SMBC) recipes and they all call for a stand mixer. I’ve seen people ask if using a handheld mixer is possible, but never seen any answer posted! What is your opinion about that? I’ve been hounding the hubby for a stand mixer for a while now, so I’m hopeful about this Mother’s Day! lol

  17. Kaitlin says:

    I’m making a lemon cake with earl grey tea buttercream, and thought I’d give a real buttercream a try for the first time. Is it possible to incorporate liquid like tea?

  18. Salina says:

    I’m going to start off by saying that this site is the best, and I spend too much time on it. Joe you’re the reason I’m not prepping for my oral presentation in literacy. Now that that’s out of the way, my problem with SMBC is that I can’t get the meringue to come to stiff peaks. I use fresh egg whites, a stainless steel bowl, and I wipe everything down. Could it be the fact that I’m using a hand mixer?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Salina!

      Thanks for the kind words! I got a big kick out of your comment.

      On the SMBC, the hand mixer may have something to do with it if it’s under-powered. What sort of mixer is it?

      - Joe

  19. Salina says:

    I have a 10-speed food network hand-mixer which has a 250-watt motor. I’m thinking about making a batch of SMBC this weekend and was wondering if making a really small batch, like one or two egg whites, would make it harder to get to the right consistency.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Salina!

      As long as the whip can reach the bottom of the bowl you should be good!

      - Joe

  20. Salina says:

    So I tried with one egg white on Saturday and ended up with about 1/2 cup of frosting. I tried again today with four egg whites and ended up with a little over 3 cups. Today I used the beaters on my hand mixer vs. the whisk attachment on Saturday. The beaters seemed to work a lot better. I still didn’t get to stiff peaks but I guess I’ll just have to settle until I get a stand mixer. I plan on selling my soul to the devil for one, I’ll let you know if it works out and thank you for all your help.

    • joepastry says:

      Ha! OK, Salina! Let me know how it all goes…best of luck finding the funds…but then remember it’ll be Christmas before you know it. A few well-placed words to friends and family may do the trick! ;)

      Cheers,

      - Joe

    • Valerie says:

      I bought mu first kitchen aid stand mixer for $100 refurbished. It was great and I passed it to my daughter when I purchased a larger model.

      • joepastry says:

        That’s the great thing about those mixers — they can be passed down. My cousin owns my grandmother’s mixer, which actually carries the “Hobart” name, which is what they were called before they were rebranded “KitchenAid”. I understand it’s still running like a top!

        Thanks for the email, Valerie!

        - Joe

  21. Megan says:

    Hi Joe-

    Back with more questions: I’ll be making 2 single layer sheet cakes (9×13) and am wondering if I should double the above recipe to cover just the tops of both cakes or if one batch will be enough?

    Also, I’ll be flavoring the SMBC with earl grey tea – I was thinking 3 tea bags per 6 oz? What do you think?

    Thanks!

  22. Nancy says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe and the pictures! Today was the first time I made buttercream successfully, the pictures really helped. At one point it looked curdled, but I beat it on high just like you said, and it came out beautifully. Hopefully my family will all like the chocolate hazelnut cake and real buttercream frosting tomorrow.

    • joepastry says:

      Great Nancy! And thanks for spreading the love…literally and figuratively. More people need to know how good this stuff is!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  23. Nathalie Guess says:

    Hi Joe, thanks for sharing these wonderful recipes! I am wondering if I could use honey instead of sugar in the swiss meringue buttercream recipe. Do you think it will work??
    Thanks so much!!

  24. val says:

    hi joe,

    I love this post, very informative. I just read through all the comments and learned a ton!

    I’m making a birthday cake for my son’s first birthday this weekend. I was wondering how early in advance can I make this buttercream. I have a 9 in 2 layer tier and a 6 in 2 layer tier to be stacked. Will 1x this recipe be enough for a light coat under rolled fondant?

    Thanks in advance. I plan on sticking around and looking through the rest of your site. Thanks!

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Val!

      If you’re just planning on using it as an undercoat then you’ll probably use about half a recipe. You can prepare it a day in advance and leave it on the counter overnight. Otherwise it’ll keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, but you’re better off freezing it after maybe three days to keep it from picking up off odors in the fridge. You’ll need to let it warm to room temperature completely before you use it, and may need to re-beat it to get the fluff back. Odds are it’ll break when you first start to beat it because some parts of the mass will be colder than others. Just keep beating until the temperature and the texture even back out!

      Cheers and good luck with the project!

      - Joe

      • val says:

        thanks for replying, joe!

        i forgot to ask, if i was using smbc for cupcakes, would it crust over like an american buttercream would? or would it stay sort of wet to the touch?

        thanks again!

        • joepastry says:

          Hi Val!

          Real buttercreams don’t form the same sugar crystal crust that American buttercreams do. It should stay fairly glossy for a day or two!

          Cheers,

          - Joe

  25. Evelyn says:

    Hi Joe,
    Need your help on some questions about SMBC.
    This is my first time going to make this buttercream. Abit nervous actually. :)
    Once i have iced the cake with SMBC, can I leave it at room temperature til the next day? Say around 36 hours? Or should i start to put the cake in the fridge after 24 hrs? I try not to put in the fridge if possible as i will hv fondant deco on it.
    Will SMBC turn soft at room temperature and ‘sink’ all my deco?
    Should. I keep it in a box at room temperature or is it ok to put it on cake stand?
    Thanks!

    -evelyn

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Evelyn!

      You’ll do great. If the cake needs to hold that long you can put the iced cake in the fridge for sure. That’s probably a better thing than to leave it out for 36 hours. How big are the fondant ornaments? If they’re small they can probably handle the coolness as well. As far as holding up, it depends on how warm the room is. If it’s 70 – 75 all should be well. What about refrigerating the cake after it’s iced and applying the fondant decorations a couple of hours before serving?

      And it is indeed OK on a cake stand. Buttercreams do fine sitting out….but I’d try not to let the iced cake sit out for more then twelve hours if you can help it.

      Does that help?

      - Joe

  26. Trisha says:

    Hello,
    I’m looking forward to trying this recipe out especially with all the wonderful reviews it has. I’ve only ever used American buttercream, but I am not starting to sell my cakes and would like to add more variety. I feel I have researched and googled until my eyes hurt. Do most bakers use a SMBC on their cakes or is traditional BC still the to to icing. I’ve had many compliments on my BC, but I do love change. Will this SMBC work well on any cake/ flavor of cake and fondant deco?
    Any and all info is greatly appreciated!

    • Trisha says:

      *now (not not)

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Trisha!

      My sense is that most American cake bakers use some sort of American buttercream on their cakes because it’s easy to make, less inexpensive and holds up well. I’d say it’s in the wedding cake industry that you find more traditional buttercreams like SMBC and IMBC. You also find these sort of “finer” buttercreams in/on small cakes and pastries in boutique pastry shops. So maybe that’s how you want to use them: less on larger cakes where the buttercream is more expensive and more temperature-sensitive, and more on specialty items. Just a thought!

      Thanks for the comment!

      - Joe

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