OK! Time to use that egg white left over from Tuesday’s cupcakes. If you have never tried Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB), you are in for a delightfully different type of icing. It is less sweet, and much richer than usual buttercream– it truly melts in your mouth. To me, this equals a much more sophisticated taste, and I am a huge fan. Some people think it is hard to make, but if you follow these directions carefully, you will finish with a splendid new icing that you will use over and over. Keep an open mind, and this may become your new favorite way to top a cake.
This recipe uses exactly one egg white, and makes enough to fill one piping bag. It will generously ice five or six cupcakes, or the top and sides of one 6-inch cake. You can also chill it to form the centers of amazing chocolate-covered bon-bons, but that is a story for a different day…
This icing is based on a meringue. To make it work right, everything you use has to be grease-free and spic and span (I’ve always wanted to say that!) A good way to ensure all the grease is gone is to soak a paper towel with lemon juice and give everything a good wipe-down: bowl, beaters, spatula, spoon. Let it air-dry, and you’re ready to go.
First, we make a double-boiler. Put just enough water in the bottom of a small saucepan so that you can bring it to a slow simmer.
Put a metal or glass bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the hot water. Bring the water to a slow simmer.
Add the egg white and sugar to the bowl, and whisk constantly. (You don’t want scrambled egg white instead of meringue, so keep it moving!) As you whisk, take the temperature of the mixture with a digital thermometer. When it reaches 160°F, remove the bowl from the top of the pan and discard the simmering water.
Now you are going to start beating the egg white-sugar mixture with hand-held electric beaters until it forms medium-stiff peaks, and until the bowl is entirely cool to the touch. This is the meringue.
Next, you are going to add lots and lots of butter (6-10 tablespoons, see note below.) Yes. Just close your eyes and do it. It will be worth it in the end. The butter needs to be just soft. Overly-soft or melty butter will not whip up correctly in the icing. To get mine to the right consistency, I remove it from the fridge, stand it on end in the microwave, and zap it for 5 seconds, reverse ends, then 4 seconds, reverse again, then 3 seconds. I know this sounds like microwave voo-doo, so take it with a grain of salt. Just soften your butter so that it is just barely soft and beatable— using whichever technique you prefer.
Cut the butter into pieces, and whip it into the meringue until you have a nice, fluffy icing. I add about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract with the butter; you can use any flavoring you wish: rum, coconut, raspberry, orange, lemon, mint, etc. If you wish to add coloring, I recommend using gel paste colors, so as not to add too much liquid to the final mixture.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream can be kept covered in the fridge for several days, or frozen for several weeks. Just bring it back to room temperature, and give it a good whip with the beaters to bring it back to life.
*Note: Sometimes, if you happen to be using a smaller egg white, you don’t need all 10 tablespoons of butter. Start by beating in 6 tablespoons. If the icing seems to be at the consistency you want and the taste you want, stop there. If it’s not yet thick/stiff enough, beat in the remaining butter, two tablespoons at a time, testing after each addition to see if it’s where you want it.
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