Take your cakes to new heights, and finish them with perfectly made buttercream. Here, we explain the difference between the three main types of buttercream, and how they’re made.
Find the full recipe for Swiss and Italian buttercream meringue linked below, along with helpful troubleshooting tips for common problems.
What are the three different types of buttercream?
- American buttercream
A simple mixture of whipped butter and icing sugar, with a little milk and additional flavour, such as vanilla essence. It has a thick, smooth texture and sets firmly once the butter has cooled. However, it will soften quickly if it gets too warm.
- Italian buttercream
The addition of egg whites creates a firm, glossy finish to this meringue icing. The egg makes the icing more stable, easier to pipe, and more resilient to warm weather. This technique uses a sugar syrup to cook the egg white.
- Swiss buttercream
Often seen as an easier alternative to Italian meringue, this technique also uses egg whites. However the egg and sugar are cooked at the same time before being whipped.
Is buttercream and icing the same thing?
Buttercream is a type of icing. In the UK, the word ‘icing’ covers many techniques, including the three buttercream methods above. Icing can also include a simple mix of icing sugar and water, or Royal Icing which incorporates egg whites to sugar and water - then sets rock hard. In America, you’re more likely to see icing called frosting.
What is the difference between Italian and Swiss buttercream?
The difference between Swiss and Italian meringue icing is simply the way in which the eggs are cooked. Italian meringue uses a hot sugar syrup to cook the eggs, while Swiss meringue heats the eggs and sugar together over a bain marie. They both create a similar textured buttercream so try the method you feel most comfortable with.
How to make buttercream
Each recipe for buttercream (below) requires sugar and butter, while Swiss and Italian meringue also use egg whites. For Swiss and Italian buttercream you will need a whisk, and we recommend a stand beater as it can take up to 10 minutes to achieve the right texture. A thermometer is also essential for heating your sugar precisely.
How To Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream
RECIPE: Find our recipe for perfect Swiss Meringue Buttercream here
The Swiss method for meringue icing cooks the sugar and eggs together over a bain marie. The eggs and sugar are stirred together over the gentle heat until the sugar dissolves into the liquid egg whites, before being beaten off the heat. Softened butter is added slowly to create the thick, smooth texture.
For perfect Swiss meringue buttercream, use a thermometer to make sure the egg whites and sugar mixture reaches 72C. This ensures the eggs are properly cooked, and kills any bacteria.
How To Make Italian Meringue Buttercream
Italian meringue buttercream uses a sugar syrup to cook the eggs. Heat the sugar with water to 117C in a saucepan, then slowly pour it into your whipped eggs while beating constantly.
As with Swiss meringue buttercream, it’s important to reach the correct temperature to make sure the eggs are cooked. But be very careful when cooking with molten sugar, it’s extremely hot.
Common problems, and how to fix them
The most common problem when making either Swiss or Italian meringue buttercream is curdling – the dreaded soupy texture! This is usually a problem with temperature and can be saved.
- If the whisked egg white and sugar mixture is too hot when the butter is added, the buttercream will likely curdle. Popping it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes will usually help before whipping it up again.
- Equally, if the mixture is too cool, it can also curdle. In this case, popping it over a bain marie momentarily will help.
The temperature of the ingredients is also very important. All your ingredients should be at room temperature and the butter should be very soft, but not runny. And it’s important to add it very gradually.
If in doubt, whip it up. Often, a good amount of whisking will save a buttercream, so walk away and come back 10 minutes later to find beautiful, silky buttercream.