This weekend was my niece’s 30th Birthday party and I made her cake which will feature on the blog soon. Always wanting to do something new I decided to try my hand at Italian Meringue Buttercream. It seemed to have a number of advantages over the standard (and for me overly sweet) standard buttercream the biggest of which, with my busy work schedule this week, being it can be made in advance and frozen, but also because it got such rave reviews on the blogs I have read and frankly over the last year I had a vast reservoir of egg whites in the freezer which needed using.
Making it is actually quite straight forward if you know your Italian meringue. Basically you make italian meringue and then once cooled to room temperature you whisk in barrel loads of butter and add your flavouring. If you freeze/refrigerate it you need to bring it back to room eemepartire and then whisk back to perfection – well that is what the recipes said.
What none of the recipes tell you is that it can all go horribly wrong as I discovered to my horror yesterday.
The mixture is basically an emulsion of egg white, liquid and fat and as such it is slightly unstable. The vigorous introduction of air brings all the ingredients of a salad dressing together, but over time they separate back out. Buttercream is slightly more stable than that but it has the same risks.
So what happened?
Well the cakes and buttercream were made last weekend and then shoved in the freezer. I then took the day off work to get the cake ready. The day before I was due to assemble and decorate the cake, everything was removed from the freezer and left in the fridge to defrost overnight. When I inspected the buttercream (having got up early to get it out of the fridge) I found it was still a little frozen in the middle and very cold. Undaunted I got on with other tasks and waited for it to warm up to room temperature. A few hours later I plopped it back in the mixer and set it running. To my horror it collapsed into a disgusting curdled mess. I tried whisking for longer and it just got worse.
Despairing phone calls were made to the beloved and the mess got thrown away in a bit of a paddy. There was another huge tub of the stuff and I had a lot to do over the day, so the thought of going to the shops, never pureeing 1kg of raspberries, and then making up more left me feeling very crestfallen.
I had the slightest suspicion that the mix was too cold so decided to make one batch of butter cream fresh, and then try again with the old defrosted batch once it had had a little time to warm up. New batch made and cake covered I the had a decision to make. Head to the shops and waste another hour or try to get the defrosted batch to work. It curdled again but I wasn’t ging to give up. As ever the internet came up trumps though it took a little hunting. Curdling it seems is a very common problem when bringing frozen or refrigerated buttercream back to life.
So how do you rescue curdled buttercream?
- Take a quarter of your curdled mess and put it in the microwave for 15 seconds … getting an even more liquid curdled mess ! (OK – I was very doubtful at this point)
- Start mixing the rest slowly and stream in the liquid from the microwave and ramp up the mixer and keep going.
Miraculously after 5 minutes it starts to come back together again. By the time I had finished I had a beautiful smooth buttercream even better than the new batch I had made (probably because I whisked it for longer). Frankly it felt like a miracle though I am sure there is some chemical reason why this works, but works it does.
Whisking and temperature seems to be the key. It also seems to be the solution to the other problem you might find and I also experienced without knowing it. The whole mix can break down to a liquid soup when you add the butter to the meringue or later add liquids like fruit puree. The answer is really not to lose faith – carry on whisking and if that still doesn’t work, put it back in the fridge for 20 minutes and whisk again. Truly it comes back!
So my verdict. This buttercream is a wonder – delicious, not too sweet, fluffy and light with the possibility of a vast array of flavours from fruit puree, to dulce to leche to vanilla or other extracts. It is highly versatile, keeps in the fridge for a week and the freezer for a few months – and it has lazarus like properties. It shall now be my go to buttercream for any cake.
This covers two 8 inch cakes with one filling. You also must use a cooking thermometer for this recipe
- 350g – 400g Sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
- 120g Water
- 8 Large Egg Whites (at room temperature)
- 455g Unsalted Butter (softened at room temperature and cut into 3cm cubes)
- 250g fruit puree/1tsp vanilla extract /180ml dulce de leche 9Basically whatever takes your fancy)
- put the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl
- add the sugar and water to a sauce pan
- bring to the boil
- when the sugar mixture hits 115C start whisking your egg whites until beginning to stiffen
- when the sugar mixture hits 118C pour it into the egg whites whisking all the time
- continue whisking until the mixture cools (you can tell by touching the side of the bowl)
- once the meringue gets below 35C add the butter piece at time whisking all the time
- carry on whisking until you get a smooth butter cream (keep the faith here)
- now add you flavouring – there is a risk of curdling and collapse at this point – keep whisking until you have a smooth cream – frankly you can’t whisk too much but you can whisk too little
- use on cake or store in the fridge for up to a week or the freezer for for 3 months