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Italian Meringue Buttercream is silky, smooth, and airy. Use it to frost smooth, professional looking cakes or pipe on cupcakes! It is also a lot easier than it seems! I am here to give you all the professional techniques and troubleshooting tips to set you up for success!

Italian meringue buttercream in a clear glass against a wooden backdrop.

I love Italian Meringue Buttercream because it is light and airy but simultaneously rich and creamy. It is also magically stable and will keep for months in the freezer! So stable, in fact, if you think you totally messed it up, take heart, it’s probably totally fixable! I will give you all the troubleshooting advice below.

It is perfect for building professional layer cakes like I did in this layer cake assembly tutorial using this devil’s food cake or piping on cupcakes like these lemon coconut cupcakes.

Why you will love this Italian Meringue Buttercream:

  • It is less sweet than American buttercream. If you don’t love the sweetness of frostings then you will love IMB. It is creamy and just the right amount of sweet.
  • Versatile base: This of this recipe as your white canvas ready for your masterpiece! Add melted chocolate, salted caramel sauce, lemon curd, Nutella and anything else you can think of!
  • Stability: Italian meringue buttercream is the most stable of the meringue buttercreams. It holds up to heat better than Swiss meringue, but it will still melt over 70 degrees F.
  • Professionally tested: This is the buttercream that I used in my former life as an Executive Pastry Chef and currently use for custom cake orders. I have made it close to a thousand times. You can trust that it is going to work.
A spoonful of piped white buttercream.
Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream Closeup Featured
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What is Italian Meringue Buttercream?

Italian meringue buttercream (IMB) seems complicated at first; it’s definitely the most sophisticated of its peers. Simply put, it is made by whipping egg whites to stiff peaks while simultaneously cooking sugar to the soft ball stage; you then slowly pour the sugar into the whipping egg whites; and, finally, add butter.

How is Italian Meringue Buttercream different than other types?

Italian Meringue Buttercream is made using an Italian meringue as the buttercream base as the name suggests. It has a lighter texture and taste than Swiss Meringue Buttercream and German; it doesn’t taste like pure butter like French Buttercream; and it isn’t as sweet as American Buttercream.

Professional Tips for Success:

  • Go at your own speed. There is no rule that you have to whip the egg whites on high while you cook your sugar, so if they have reached stiff peaks and your sugar syrup is stubbornly stuck at 220˚F (been there), just turn down the mixer to low. Don’t stop that mixer! I didn’t say that! I said LOW.  
  • Pour your sugar in with the mixer on HIGH. Do you want scrambled eggs on your cupcakes? I didn’t think so. Turn that mixer up!
  • Pour the sugar down the side of the bowl. Don’t hit the whisk because 235˚F syrup in the face is unpleasant. Don’t be that person. You will know if you did it right because there will be one little lava trail of cooled sugar down one side of the bowl.
  • This sounds obvious but I’m going to say it anyways: cook your sugar to 235˚F. Soft ball syrup is a range. But, if you shoot for 235˚F, then by the time you get from the stove to the mixer, if the syrup has inched up a few degrees, no love has been lost. You will know if you overcook your sugar because there will be a pool of cooked sugar in the bottom of your mixer.
  • When you start adding your butter, you want it to be soft but still a little cool. If it’s not totally soft enough, add it a little bit at a time and squeeze each piece before tossing it in. That’s right, squeeze your butter! It’s kinda fun. And kinda gross at the same time.
  • If your buttercream gets soupy, switch from the paddle back to the whisk and beat it on high. All is not lost. Trust me. More tips below.
  • If your buttercream breaks (looks curdled) when you start adding the butter, take heart, it will come together. Add the butter in little pieces and squeeze each one to soften it. If you have a kitchen torch you can torch the outside of the bowl with the mixer on high, but keep the torch moving! You want to warm the bowl not melt the buttercream.

Ingredients Needed

  • Granulated Sugar: The granulated sugar in the meringue is here for stability as well as sweetness. The more sugar in the meringue, the more stable and the less volume.
  • Water: Unlike when making a wet caramel the amount of water in a buttercream matters. In a caramel all the water will evaporate before caramelizing but that is not the case in an Italian meringue. Be sure to measure your water for the best results.
  • Egg Whites: For the best results use separated egg whites. The stabilizers and foaming agents in liquid egg whites keep them from being as stable. They will curdle more easily when the syrup is added. Use the egg yolks to make lemon curd. Mix it into your buttercream for a fun lemon twist!
  • Kosher salt: Kosher salt is optional but it will balance the sweetness slightly and also add stability to the meringue.
  • Cream of tartar: Cream of tartar will also stabilize the meringue. It is optional but why not stack the deck in your favor.
  • Unsalted butter: Use a good quality unsalted butter for the most stable buttercream. If you use salted butter, your buttercream will be salty! Eww.

How do you flavor Italian Meringue Buttercream?

  • Lemon: You can use lemon extract (I only use Nielson Massey lemon extract), lemon paste (again only Nielson Massey lemon paste), lemon zest mixed with the sugar for the meringue, or lemon curd.
  • Strawberry: Strawberry puree will break the buttercream. Use strawberry jam such as my strawberry jam without pectin, or dehydrated strawberry powder.
  • Berries: For all other berries I prefer using jam.
  • Peanut Butter: For this recipe as written, add ½ cup smooth peanut butter. You could also use chunky for texture, but I would add crushed salted peanuts as a garnish instead.
  • Nutella: Add ½ cup Nutella or another chocolate hazelnut puree.
  • Chocolate: Add 200 g (approximately 7 ounces) of melted and cooled chocolate to the finished buttercream. Use milk chocolate, semi-sweet or unsweetened to your taste.
  • Vanilla: Add up to 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or 2 split and scraped vanilla bean pods. Save the pods for vanilla bean anglaise or vanilla bean pastry cream!

How do you color Italian Meringue Buttercream?

You can use gel food colorings. You could also use natural colorings like dehydrated strawberries or beet powder.

How to Make Italian Meringue Buttercream

Prepare your ingredients:

Step 1: You want to make sure that you have everything measured out and ready to go. This step is critical. In the professional kitchen it is called mis-en-place. This recipe is simple but it does require seamless execution.

Step 2: Prepare your tools. Be sure that your mixing bowl is clean and free of any residual fat, or your meringue will not whip up and there will be sadness abound. You also want to make sure that your pot is clean. Dirty residue can cause the sugar to crystallize.

Prepare the Italian meringue:

Step 3: Mix half of the sugar with the water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir just until the sugar dissolves. When the pan heats up, brush around the sides of the pot with a clean pastry brush dipped in water to dissolve any sugar crystals adhered to the sides of the pot. You can also use a paper towel that you roll up or your clean finger in a pinch.

A silver stand mixer with a clear bowl and eggs whites in the bottom.

Step 4: When the sugar syrup starts to bubble begin whipping your egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. You can add a pinch of salt and/or cream of tartar for stability if you wish. When your eggs begin to look frothy, slowly begin adding your reserved sugar, whipping constantly on medium-high.

Egg whites whipped and shown on a silver whisk.

Step 5: Continue whipping your egg whites until they form stiff peaks (photo 1 above). Ideally your meringue should reach stiff peaks at the same time that your sugar syrup reaches 235˚F.

If your egg whites are whipping too fast, reduce the mixer speed to medium or even low. You can also adjust the heat on the sugar syrup to make it cook faster or slower. Just be aware that turning the heat on the sugar syrup too low will cause it to crystallize. I know. It’s frustrating but we can do this!

Step 6: To test your syrup you can either use a candy thermometer or you can do it the old-fashioned way, which is what I did here. Take a tiny bit of the syrup on a spoon and dip it into ice water, reach in and grab the sugar. If it dissolves, it isn’t close to ready; if it forms a little malleable ball, it’s ready!! I don’t have a photo of this stage because if I had taken the time to snap a photo, my sugar would have over cooked.

Step 7: Turn your mixer up to high and SLOWLY pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl as in photo 2 above. Be very careful not to hit the whisk. Ideally you pour it in one solid stream down the edge because it will solidify where it hits the bowl, so if you pour it in three different places, you will be losing sugar. Sadness.

The whisk attachment of the stand mixer blurred to show that it is turned on.

If you look closely at the above photo you can see where my sugar hit the side of the bowl. One little stream. No excess sugar lost. Go ahead, take a closer look…This is what perfection looks like. 😉

Finish the buttercream:

Step 8: Keep whipping the Italian meringue on high until it forms stiff peaks like in the first photo below, but what is more important than the stiffness of the meringue is the temperature of the meringue. Before you begin adding the butter, the bottom of the bowl should feel barely warm (picture 2).

There is so much sugar in this meringue that it will not over-whip before it cools appropriately. Even though my meringue had reached stiff peaks in photo 1, I still needed to whip it another few minutes for it too cool.

Egg whites whipped to stiff peaks and butter that is pliable to the touch in a hand.

Step 9: When the bowl feels just slightly warm, switch to the paddle attachment and begin adding your butter a piece at a time like in picture 3. I take my butter out of the fridge when I begin measuring my ingredients. Before adding each piece squeeze the butter. I do this to finish warming it and to make sure it is the right temperature. It isn’t necessary. In full disclosure, I stopped doing this years ago as my comfort level grew.

Smooth buttercream against a paddle attachment with no visible pieces of butter.

Step 10: Continue to beat the butter in on medium-high until the buttercream is smooth and there are no remaining pieces of butter. The buttercream in photo 1 above is still a bit lumpy. Not there yet!!! Photo 2 is smooth and creamy. At this stage I switch back to the whisk, add any desired flavorings and beat it until it is light and fluffy. You are now ready to frost!

Step 11: Add any flavorings such as extracts, lemon curd, salted caramel sauce, melted chocolate, jam  or nut pastes.

Italian meringue buttercream in a clear glass with graceful swirls.

Chef Lindsey’s Recipe Tip

The biggest take-away here is that you are in control! You control the heat of your sugar and how quickly it cooks; you control the speed at which your egg whites whip; and you control the temperature delta of your butter and meringue. If one is getting away from you, adjust and keep going!

How to refresh refrigerated Italian Meringue Buttercream?

  • To refresh refrigerated buttercream: Throw it in the mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until smooth; then switch to the whisk to whip it up until light and fluffy.
  • To refresh frozen buttercream: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight, let warm slightly at room temperature and then proceed with the refreshing refrigerated buttercream instructions above.
  • Speed it up! You can speed up the refreshing process by warming the bowl over a gas stovetop flame or with the kitchen torch. Just be careful because you don’t want to melt your buttercream.

How to fix Italian Meringue Buttercream

Why is my Italian Meringue Buttercream curdled?

It will look curdled if it is too cold. This is most common when trying to refresh or rewhip cold buttercream. The easiest way to fix it is to gently heat the bowl with a kitchen torch while beating it with the paddle attachment. Keep the torch moving so you don’t melt the butter. You can also just let it mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment until it warms itself up enough and comes together.

Why is my Italian Meringue Buttercream soupy?

It is soupy if it is too warm. The meringue was too warm for the temperature of the butter that you added. You can add slightly cold butter to warm meringue but adding perfectly room temperature butter to warm meringue will lead to soup. To fix the soupy buttercream, place the bowl, buttercream and mixer attachment in the refrigerator. Chill 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on how warm it is. Continue to mix on medium speed until it comes together. As a last resort when you have tried everything else, just keep mixing it on medium with the paddle attachment. Go do something else and come back. Sometimes, just sometimes, all she needed was time to get herself together. And I think we can all feel that.

Why are there butter chunks in my meringue buttercream?

Sadly the butter was too cold when it was added to the buttercream. You can try to fix this by gently warming the entire bowl with a kitchen torch while beating the buttercream with the paddle attachment. Most likely in order to get rid of the lumps you will have to make the whole buttercream too warm to use. Pop it in the refrigerator and then beat it again with the paddle attachment once cool. Alternatively, you could just use it with some butter pieces because continuing to heat it you run the risk of melting all your butter and ruining your buttercream. Cover the cake in sprinkles and no one will notice. And that is my professional opinion.  

I melted my butter in the Italian Meringue Buttercream

Unfortunately this is the one mistake that you cannot come back from. If you start adding the butter and you see it melt in the meringue, stop adding butter. Keep beating and allow the meringue to cool before continuing to add more butter. A little melted butter is okay; all the butter melted is ruined.  

Storage

Store Italian Meringue Buttercream at room temperature for 2-3 days or refrigerated for 2 weeks. It can also be frozen for 3 months. Before using, mix cold buttercream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium until it comes together. It will look curdled first. Don’t stress, just keep mixing!

If you tried this recipe and loved it please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it goes in the comments below. I love hearing from you; your comments make my day!

Italian meringue buttercream cleanly piped into a clear glass with a little sticking out of the top.
4.97 from 114 ratings

Italian Meringue Buttercream

A step-by-step Italian Meringue Buttercream tutorial! It is the smoothest and creamiest of all the buttercreams! You will love it on cakes, cupcakes and more! Plus it’s easier than you think!
Prep: 30 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 24 cupcakes

Ingredients 
 

Instructions 

  • You want to make sure that you have everything measured out and ready to go. This recipe is simple but it does require seamless execution. You also want to make sure that your mixing bowl is clean and free of any residual fat, or your meringue will not whip up and there will be sadness abound.
  • Mix half of the sugar with the water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir just until the sugar dissolves. When the pan heats up, brush around the sides of the pot with a clean pastry brush dipped in water to dissolve any sugar crystals adhered to the sides of the pot. You can also use a paper towel that you roll up (I did because I forgot my brush at school.)
  • When your sugar starts to bubble begin whipping your egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. You can add a pinch of salt and/or cream of tartar for stability if you wish. I only used salt in the photos you see. When your eggs begin to look frothy, slowly begin adding your reserved sugar, whipping constantly on medium-high.
  • Continue whipping your egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Ideally your meringue should reach stiff peaks at the same time that your sugar syrup reaches 235˚F. If your egg whites are whipping too fast, reduce the mixer speed to medium. You can also adjust the heat on the sugar syrup to make it cook faster or slower.
  • To test your syrup you can either use a candy thermometer or you can do it the old-fashioned way, which is what I did here. Take a tiny bit of the syrup on a spoon and dip it into ice water, reach in and grab the sugar. If it dissolves, it isn’t close to ready; if it forms a little malleable ball, it’s ready!
  • Turn your mixer up to high and SLOWLY pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. Be very careful not to hit the whisk. Ideally you should pour it in one solid stream down the edge because it will solidify where it hits the bowl, so if you pour it in three different places, you will be losing sugar. Sadness.
  • Keep whipping the Italian meringue on high until it forms stiff, but what is more important than the stiffness of the meringue is the temperature of the meringue. Before you begin adding the butter, the bottom of the bowl should feel barely warm.
  • When the bowl feels just slightly warm, switch to the paddle attachment and begin adding your butter a piece at a time. I take my butter out of the fridge when I begin measuring my ingredients. Before adding each piece squeeze the butter.
  • Continue to beat the butter in on medium-high until the buttercream is smooth and there are no remaining pieces of butter. Add the vanilla extract or other flavorings. At this stage I switch back to the whisk and beat it until it is light and fluffy. Pipe or spread as desired!

Video

Notes

Variations – Use different flavorings like lemon curd, melted chocolate (200 g), nut paste (1/2 c), extracts, jam (1/2 cup) or just keep it pure with a spit and scraped vanilla bean pod.
Storage – Store Italian Meringue Buttercream at room temperature for 2-3 days or refrigerated for 2 weeks. It can also be frozen for 3 months.
Yield – This makes enough buttercream to frost a 2-3 tiered cake or 24 cupcakes. 

Nutrition

Calories: 203kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 41mg | Sodium: 133mg | Potassium: 15mg | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 473IU | Calcium: 5mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: French
Calories: 203
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Before You Go

I hope you enjoyed this professional chef tested recipe. Check out our other delicious, chef-developed cake frosting recipes!

Hi, I’m Chef Lindsey!

I am the baker, recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Chef Lindsey Farr. I believe in delicious homemade food and the power of dessert!

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269 Comments

  1. I have been so afraid to try and make Italian Meringue Buttercream, but your tutorial makes it seem not so hard. I am going to try it. I have one question: I am still learning about all the different buttercreams and their characteristics, so is this Italian Meringue Buttercream as glossy as Swiss Meringue Buttercream? Thanks.

    1. Hi Rachel! Don’t be afraid! You’ve got this! Italian Meringue Buttercream has a lot of the same characteristics as Swiss Meringue Buttercream because they both employ meringues. It is that meringue that creates that glossy finish and adds the stabilization and smooth, creamy, not-to-sweet texture and taste. If you’ve made Swiss Meringue then you’re already half way to Italian Meringue. Happy baking!

  2. I am a hobby baker, making a 3-tiered wedding cake (14, 10, and 7 inch with 2 layers each) and have a few questions.
    –About how many cups of icing does one recipe make?
    –I need to frost the cake on Friday and take it to the reception place to stay until the reception on Saturday evening. I don’t think there is a refrigerator large enough to put it in. (I am in Europe.) Will this icing be okay on a frosted cake for that amount of time? I plan to use pasteurized egg whites. It is November, so shouldn’t be too warm (unless the venue is turning up the furnace.)
    –Finally, I want to put cake lace on it. Will this frosting be too soft or moist for the cake lace to stay in place? Will it melt the cake lace?

    1. Hi Beth! That is quite the undertaking! This recipe makes about 2 1/2 quarts of buttercream, which will frost a 6 inch cake with no filling. If the cake has a filling and you are only using it for a dam and the outside, then it will frost up to a 10 inch cake.

      This will hold on a cake for up to 7 days. I suggest freezing it for transport and stability but you don’t have to.
      You can put whatever decor you would like on it. It only gets moist if it starts to “sweat” from humidity and getting warm out of the fridge. I’ve never worked with cake lace but I am sure it will be fine.

      Good luck!

  3. WOW. This recipe is incredible. Not a sweet person here, but needed to frost a birthday cake and decided to be ambitious. (I have made american buttercream before but not this). THIS STUFF IS SOOO GOOD. And it was EASY. Your descriptions and explanations were perfect. Totally my new go-to for any and all decorating. Thank you so much for this!

    1. Thank you, Jak!!You are so welcome! I’m so glad you liked my recipe and found my instructions useful! This is the perfect buttercream recipe for those who don’t like super sweet desserts

  4. A recipe that I’ve used in the past for IMBC has called for 8 egg whites, and 1.75 cups of sugar (dissolved in 1/2 cup of water, no sugar added to the egg whites). It calls for 4 sticks of butter, the same as your recipe does. This has been a bit too thin for my liking, and tasted mostly like butter, very small taste of sweet at all. I know it’s not supposed to be nearly as sweet as AMC, but would like something somewhere in between, which is why I chose IMBC over SMBC. I’m not sure if this recipe would be thicker/thinner and/or sweeter/less sweet than my recipe I’ve been using is. I don’t know if it would be possible to add a bit more sugar to either the syrup or the whites. Also curious if adding more or less butter makes it thicker/thinner and/or sweeter/less sweet. Curious to hear your input!

    1. Hi Brock! Great question! The easiest way to look at the difference between the recipes would be comparing the weights of the different ingredients. So your recipe has more eggs and a little less sugar. Mine will, therefore, be a bit sweeter and it could be the eggs that are making the buttercream runnier. It could also be the water mixed with the sugar. Be sure to use just enough to wet the sugar. The only way to find out is to give it a go! I know this one isn’t runny but it is also only moderately sweet. There is no reason you couldn’t add a bit more sugar to the recipe. I would add it to the sugar syrup. Happy baking!

  5. Hello! I have a question, I live in Puerto Rico and the weather is very warm. Does it work for hot climates? does it melt?

    1. Hi! All buttercream will eventually melt especially if it is hot and humid. This and the swiss meringue are the most stable of the less sweet buttercreams, but if you don’t have access to a good refrigerator and temperature controlled workspace, you might need to use an American Buttercream. The sugar makes that more stable. I do use IMB in the summer in a hot and humid prep kitchen but it is a pain and you have to work fast and go in and out of a commercial refrigerator. Happy baking!

    1. Hi Marlene, you can add the cream cheese in at the very end when the butter cream comes together. I wouldn’t add much more than 200g but start with 50g and then increase until you get the flavor you want! Enjoy!

  6. Hi, this is my first visit to your site. Thank you so much for the detailed, descriptive instructions and beautiful step-by-step photos, plus the video! I am excited to try this French meringue buttercream very soon.
    My question is this: Would it be possible to make a large quantity of this butter cream as a sort of ‘base’, freeze it in portions and then add flavoring to each individual portion when it is defrosted and re-whipped for use? I’m a home baker doing fairly small projects for small family gatherings and with my granddaughter, and it would be handy to have this ready to go, although I would like to be able to make decisions about flavorings for each individual bake as needed.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Lisa! Welcome! You can absolutely make large quantities of this buttercream and freeze it unflavored. I do this at the restaurant where I am the pastry chef. I usually store it in the refrigerator for up to a month but you can absolutely freeze it. This frosting is perfect for what you are talking about. Just make sure your mixer can handle the batch! You don’t want to end up with a hot sugar syrup situation! Happy baking!