Friday, January 24, 2014

Swiss Meringue Buttercream...Zero Calories

Vanilla cupcake with Chai Spiced Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Okay, so this isn't zero calories.  I lied.  This recipe is full of fat, but I had to lure you in somehow!   If you want something zero calories you are reading the wrong blog!  I am a big believer in eating anything and everything you want---in moderation.  I admit that I've eaten a cupcake for breakfast, but how is that any different from eating a donut?  Mmmmm....donuts.....

Back on track now, this recipe is a lightly sweetened Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  What does that mean?  How does it differ from other buttercreams?  This buttercream is buttery in flavour, hence the name, but what makes it "Swiss" is the cooking method.  In short, you cook egg whites with sugar, beat into a meringue and add in butter.  It is divine.  

Italian Meringue Buttercream requires you to cook sugar and water, then whip into raw egg whites, thereby cooking them and then adding in butter.  It is just as good as Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but with less of a "buttery" flavour for some reason.

Both of those meringues are far less sweet (translation: considered an "adult" frosting) than your grocery store bakery frosting, which is known as an American Buttercream. American Buttercream consists of butter, powdered sugar and heavy cream.  This sugary concoction has its place in the baking world, but not for my delicate tea flavoured cupcakes, hence why I chose Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  

  • 1/2 cup of egg whites (approximately the whites from 4 large eggs)
  • 1 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter cut into cubes, room temperature
  • 2 tsp of flavouring (vanilla, almond, etc)  
1.  You will need a 5qt or larger stainless steel bowl, and a whip attachment for your mixer or hand-mixer.  I recommend you wash these thoroughly to be sure there is no fat on your tools or wipe them down with white vinegar like I do.  Don't worry, it won't leave a funny smell to your frosting.

2.  Separate your egg whites from your egg yolks.  Don't let this step fool you.  If you get any egg yolk in with your whites, your whites will never whip into stiff peaks and you will have a meringue soup instead of a luscious whipped frosting.  There are many ways to separate yolks from whites, including using your hands, using the actual egg shell (be sure to wash your eggs), using a water bottle, a funnel or other gadgets sold at kitchen supply stores.  Here is a link that shows you  6 ways to separate an egg.  Tip:  Be sure your eggs are fresh and cold.  They will be easier to separate with less chance of the yolk making its way into your whites.

Yolks are no good for this recipe
3.  Pour your half cup of whites into the clean stainless steel bowl, along with the sugar.  Over medium-low heat, bring a saucepan with 2" of water to a low simmer.  You will be creating a double boiler and placing your stainless steel bowl over the pot, but not touching the water.  At this point you will need to whisk away, being sure that you are only heating the whites enough to dissolve the sugar, but not cooking them into a solid.  

4.  Once the sugar has been dissolved and there are not visible granules left (you can check this by touching it with your fingers; it shouldn't be grainy), remove your bowl from the heat and place in your stand mixer or on your countertop.  You will now beat the heated mixture on medium-high until stiff peaks form with the wire whip attachment.  Stiff peaks means that the meringue will hold it's shape and not flop when the mixer stops.  

Stiff peaks, and now adding butter cubes
5.  At this point, you will turn your mixer down to low and slowly toss in your cubes of butter. Once you have all of your butter in, add in your flavourings*.  Beat this on low speed for about 5 minutes.  Your mixture may look a bit soupy, even curdled before it turns into a nice, smooth frosting.  Beating on low helps to eliminate any air pockets.

Smooth Swiss Meringue Buttercream

For those that need some visual help, check out the queen of all things Martha Stewart.  She has a simple video showing you what to do.  


This recipe is another one that can be adapted to suit your needs.  You can easily use any extract or emulsion that you want OR, for a fruit flavoured frosting, add 6oz of fresh berries right after your butter and  beat until it is smooth but streaky in colour.  Do not overbeat!

You can also puree your berries and strain them if you don't like seeds, or an easier way, add 1/2 cup of your favourite seedless preserve.  Flavourings don't have to be in liquid form, feel free to add ground up tea leaves, pumpkin pie spice or just plain old cinnamon.

Experiment and have fun.  You can't go wrong!

Vanilla Cupcake with Chai Spice Swiss Meringue Buttercream

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