‘Shortcut’ Swiss Meringue Buttercream

During my hiatus last year, one personal baking revelation has been Swiss Meringue Buttercream, or SMBC, to make it sound cool.

Pre-SMBC, I’d always relied on the gold-standard American-style buttercream, which uses a ton of fat and a double-ton of sugar. It’s a great buttercream to start out with because it’s virtually foolproof — both easy to make and easy to work with. But. It. Is. Very. Very. Sweet. The only exception is if you doctor it up with cocoa powder or chocolate, but otherwise plain vanilla buttercream is far too sweet for my liking.

The next step in my buttercream evolution was a ‘cooked’ buttercream, a creamy dreamy frosting that replaces some of the sugar with a cooked corn starch slurry. It does make for a less sweet frosting, but I don’t really care for the slight taste of corn starch. And it’s a very soft buttercream — great for frosting the outside of cakes, but I’m much less confident of it filling multi-layered cakes. So, cooked buttercream is not a frosting that I use very often.

I’ve known about SMBC for quite a while actually. It’s essentially a meringue to which you add fat. Because of the meringue base, it’s supposed to be quite stable to work with and uses much less sugar to achieve that stability. And, with a lot more fat than an American-style buttercream, it’s supposed to be much more delicious.

But — and it’s a huge ‘but’ — it’s quite a hassle to make compared to American-style buttercream. For the latter, you throw all the ingredients in a mixer, whip it up, and you’re done! To make SMBC, you first make the meringue. Which means you have to separate egg whites. (And figure out what to do with all the extra yolks later.) In Swiss-style meringue, you need to heat the egg whites and sugar over a water bath until all the sugar has dissolved. Then you can whip it up to stiff peaks, and then add the fat.

But I’ve found a shortcut for easy-peasy SMBC — meringue powder.

Meringue powder is exactly what it says on the tin — a powdered and sweetened egg-white product that, when you add water and whip up, gives you fuss-free meringue! I always have a tin of it lying around to make royal icing for decorating cookies. But once I hit on the idea to use it to create the meringue part of SMBC, it greatly simplified the whole SMBC making process.

Recipe for 'Shortcut' Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Makes enough frosting to fill and frost an 8-inch cake or top a dozen cupcakes generously.

INGREDIENTS

  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp meringue powder
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 300g unsalted butter or shortening, or a combination of the two depending on the climate (Because I live in the tropics, I use 80g butter + 220g shortening)

DIRECTIONS

Step 1: Add the icing sugar, salt, meringue powder, water, and vanilla extract to the bowl of your mixer.

Step 2: Start the mixer on low until all the dry ingredients have mixed with the water, then crank it up to high and whip it until you get a stiff, glossy meringue.

Step 3: While the mixer is running on high, toss in small bits of the butter/shortening, letting each bit completely incorporate before adding the next. Don’t be alarmed if your meringue deflates and looks soupy; just keep soldiering on until you’ve added in all the fat.

Step 4: When you’ve tossed in all the butter/shortening, whip for a few more minutes until it’s creamy and smooth.

This SMBC is so easy to make and you end up with wonderfully smooth buttercream that’s delicious, and actually edible! And it’s incredible easy to change things up:

  • Switch up the vanilla extract for any other alcohol-based extracts like almond, mint or lemon.
  • You can whip in about 100g of melted and cooled chocolate (dark, milk or white, or a combination).
  • Mix in up to 1/2 cup of any fruit puree or nut spreads. (The amounts may vary depending on the consistency of the puree/spread; add them in slowly so you don’t end up make your SMBC too loose.)
  • Whip in a few drops of food colouring gel to dye the buttercream.


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