Basics of Baking: BUTTERCREAM (Swiss Meringue Buttercream)
by Asyraf Mutalib
In my previous post, I taught you about the basics of cake making. I hope you’ve done your homework because now I am going to cover the topic of buttercream. Before that, can we just take a moment and ponder on the wonderfulness of your teacher telling you at the end of the lesson to go home and bake a cake and then bring it to school the next day so he/she can taste it? I can’t tell if I want to be the student who has to bake a cake as his homework or be the teacher who gets to eat 40 cakes made by his/her student… You know what, I’d pick both! That is, unless somebody presented me with a burnt cake or one of my students accidentally used salt instead of sugar and sugar instead of salt. Oh, what a disaster. But I don’t think that would ever happen to any of my students or you because I’ve done my part (which was teaching you as best as I could!). Like any of you would have tens of kilos of salt in your pantry, right?
Now back to our topic: buttercream. Buttercream is a gift that was sent from the heavens to grace our cakes. EXCEPT American buttercream because that thing always comes out way too sweet and gritty unlike the Swiss meringue buttercream which is truly God-sent. It is smooth, just sweet enough and rich with buttery goodness (not butter flavouring!!!).
I remember making my first ever Swiss meringue buttercream (SMBC) using my brand new stand mixer. It was left standing (pun intended) on the counter for about a week before I actually used it for the first time. During that one week, I would rub it and power it on every day just to hear the whirring sound of the motors. Did I mention about telling my baby how beautiful she was? I was lucky that nothing went wrong during the making of that buttercream… until I added chunks of Oreo into it and after I tasted it. It was disgusting and I swore to never make it ever again. Since it was that bad, I was forced to make cream cheese frosting for my cupcakes because I had a bake sale the next day so I ended up sleeping late that night. I kept cursing at that buttercream because it was such an idiot. I was hoping to get a taste of buttercream nirvana that I constantly read about online but I was definitely not prepared for what I got. Why? Because I used a butter blend or in other words, margarine. What I should have used was pure butter. Turns out I was the idiot.
The buttercream was absolutely delicious!
I wrote that note in my recipe book on the 30th of November 2014. It took me a bit over five months to get over the SMBC trauma (yeah, it was that bad). I had learnt my mistake and used pure butter for my second attempt. I couldn’t help but constantly sneak a few bites of it every minute! Cleaning up had never been better because I got to lick the spatula, the whisk and the bowl clean! It was just like the reviews people kept posting online- smooth, silky, and rich with buttery goodness- but since I made a chocolate SMBC, it also had a nutty hint to it! It was so good that I forced my entire family to have a taste and I kept telling (and screaming) how delicious it was over and over again! Since then, this very type of buttercream has been my go-to buttercream whenever I make a cake.
SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
(recipe adapted from BakeLikeAPro)
The main ingredients to make SMBC are egg whites, sugar, and butter. I usually add some salt so feel free to add a ¼ teaspoon of it for extra flavour.
- ½ cup egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup / 227g butter
The butter should not be at room temperature and it should also not be rock hard. I suggest you take it out before you start gathering the other ingredients so by the time you’ve made the meringue it would be at the right temperature.
Have those three ingredients and you’re good to go!
1. Begin by heating the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl over simmering water.
The purpose of heating the egg whites and sugar is to dissolve all the sugar which results in a smooth meringue and to kill the bacteria so that it is safe to eat. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the hot water and stir the mixture constantly using a spatula to avoid getting sweet scrambled eggs! This process can either be as quick as 2 minutes or as long as 5 minutes depending on the temperature of the water. You know you’re done when you rub the mixture between your fingers and feel no lumps of sugar and the mixture is quite hot to the touch.
2. Make Swiss meringue.
Working quickly (so that you don’t scramble the eggs), transfer the mixture to a clean metal bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer (also clean and grease-free) and whip on high speed with the whisk attachment until it transforms into a beautiful, glossy meringue. I highly suggest you beat the mixture in another bowl because you are sure to end up with a smooth meringue. It will take a few minutes of whipping to reach stiff peaks depending on what you’re using. Make sure that the meringue is really stiff! At the beginning of this process, the bowl will feel hot to the touch but it will become cool once the meringue has reached stiff peaks.
3. Add the butter.
When you are positive that the bowl is cool and the meringue is no longer warm, beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Once you’ve added all the butter, keep beating until it becomes smooth. IF it starts to curdle, just keep beating until it becomes smooth again though it may take a while. If you didn’t add your butter when the meringue was warm, you have no reason to be worried or scared. Just keep beating it and it will come together.
The thing that I like about SMBC is that it flexible. From the basic recipe above and a couple more ingredients, you can create many variations of it: chocolate SMBC, vanilla SMBC, or even strawberry SMBC. To make chocolate SMBC, just add some melted chocolate or add a dash of vanilla if you want vanilla SMBC. As for the strawberry SMBC, we’ll just have to wait and watch… *wink*
Now it’s your turn to make this. Good luck and let me know how it goes!