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RuthWells

DEMO -- Italian Meringue Buttercream

67 posts in this topic

A lot of people seemed to have trouble with the IMBC recipe recently published in Fine Cooking, so I thought a demo of a very popular recipe, the one from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible ("Mousseline Buttercream"), might be helpful. Over the years I've tweaked my technique a bit, and it no longer truly mirrors Rose's instructions. Hope this helps!

First, the formula:

-- 5 egg whites (best at room temp)

-- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

-- 1/4 cup sugar

-- 3/4 cup sugar

-- 1/4 cup water

-- 1 lb. unsalted butter, softened but not warm or soupy (bringing to room temp and bashing with a rolling pin works well)

-- 1 to 1.5 tsp vanilla extract or liquor for flavoring (** Ruth's note -- RLB suggests using as much as 3 oz. of liquor to flavor, but I find that the emulsion doesn't hold with this much liquid added. 1.5 tsp is even a bit of a stretch.)

-- Equipment: a stand mixer works best, using the whip attachment for the eggs and switching to the paddle when you start adding the butter (to reduce unwanted air bubbles when icing the cake), and you'll need a candy thermometer.

Okey doke. First pic -- nice soft butter:

gallery_32228_2878_12867.jpg

It doesn't *need* to be quite this soft, but it does need to be pretty soft in order to incorporate well with the meringue. But not so soft that it's melting. Okay, first you are going to get your egg whites whipping. You're going for stiff peaks. When they are foamy, add the cream of tartar. When you've got soft peaks, gradually add the 1/4 cup of sugar and whip to stiff peaks, as below:

gallery_32228_2878_40581.jpg

Now, while you're fussing with egg whites, you also want to get your sugar syrup going. Combine 3/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water (no need to mix it and risk crystalization) and set over med/high heat. It's going to come to a boil fairly quickly; when it does, pick up the saucepan by the handle and give it a little swirl to aid in dissolving all the sugar. You are going to get an all-over bubbly surface, and that's when you want to start checking the temp. When you've done this a few times, you will notice that when the bubbles get thicker-looking and the syrup takes on the palest of amber hues, you'll be right where you want to be (248*-250*F). Here's what it looks like at just about 246*. You can sort of see the more viscous quality of the bubbles, but it hasn't yet started to turn pale amber:

gallery_32228_2878_77437.jpg

At 248*, take this off the heat. If your egg whites are at stiff peak and you're feeling confident, you can leave the mixer running on high and start dribbling the sugar syrup into the bowl directly from the saucepan, aiming for the space in between the moving paddle and the edge of the bowl (if you hit the beater, you're going to lose a lot of your syrup to the side of the bowl, where it will stick and remain). If the egg whites aren't quite ready or you'd like a little safety net, lightly spray the interior of a Pyrex 2-cup measure with cooking spray *ahead of time*, and when you get to 248*, pour the syrup into the cup. This will slow down the carry-over cooking of the syrup and give you a cool handle to hold and a handy spout whilst pouring the syrup into the egg whites, as described above.

After you've gradually poured all of the syrup into the whites, feel the side of your mixer bowl. It will feel HOT. You're going to let your mixer continue to run for several minutes while the mixture cools down -- keep the mixer on med/high for 2-3 minutes, then reduce to medium (but no lower). Keep feeling the side of the bowl to guage temp. Here's what the egg whites will look like after all the sugar syrup is incorporated -- this is an Italian meringue (which is useful for piped cookies and macarons, too, not just for buttercream!).

gallery_32228_2878_50751.jpg

The meringue is glossy, thick and dense, and very stiff. If for any reason you don't get a result that looks like this, stop and start over -- don't waste a pound of butter if your egg whites aren't right.

Once the egg whites have cooled down (could take 5-10 minutes with the mixer running), you're ready to start adding the soft butter. With the mixer running on medium, plunk 1-2Tbs into the bowl at a time. After the first 1/4 pound or so goes in, the meringue is going to thin out considerbly and you'll be certain that you've made a mistake -- don't fret. This is what it looks like with a portion of the butter added:

gallery_32228_2878_707268.jpg

See how soft it is drooping off the paddle? No worries. Keep adding the butter, 1-2Tbs at a time. From time to time, feel the side of the bowl to keep an eye on the temp. If the bowl still feels hot, and/or the butter melts when you start to add it, stop adding butter and continue to beat on medium until the bowl cools down. If your bowl starts feeling cool (which is what happens to me more often than not), you may get something that looks like this:

gallery_32228_2878_75885.jpg

See how it looks lumpen and curdled on the beater? My butter, though soft, was a bit cool going into the bowl, and it started to sieze up a bit. At this point you're making an emulsion, just like mayo or ganache, and the mixture really wants to be watched closely. When I get this curdled effect and the bowl feels cold, here is my foolproof remedy: stop adding butter, soak a dish towel in hot water, wring it out and wrap it around the bowl while increasing beater speed to high. The gentle warming of the mixture plus the additional agitation will bring it into line pretty quickly, and you will see the emulsion coming together before your eyes:

gallery_32228_2878_54901.jpg

This is still not completely combined, but it's close. When you can see the emulsion coming back together and the bowl no longer feels cool to the touch, it's safe to start adding butter again. When all the butter plus vanilla or other flavorings are in, this is what you'll see:

gallery_32228_2878_81155.jpg

It's smooth and light, but able to hold peaks well, as you can see on the beater. You can incorporate melted cooled chocolate, lemon curd, raspberry puree, liqeurs (but only 1-2 tps to keep the emulsion intact), crushed nuts or nougatine -- sky's the limit. It holds up well enough to pipe roses and intricate borders. Everyone should try this buttercream at least once -- enjoy!


Edited by RuthWells (log)

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Thanks for the great demo Ruth. Your buttercream is beautiful.

I'm amazed you can get your whites to firm peak with a paddle and not a whisk. Is there a reason you choose one implement over the other? I've only ever made my IMBC with a whisk.

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Great demo - thanks! The only buttercream I have tried is a Swiss buttercream. This looks great! I wish I weren't going away this weekend or I would try it.

How long does it keep? And can it be left at room temp on a cake or does it need to be refrigerated? Thanks again!

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Great demo -- should help a lot of people with questions!

One little tip to add -- when combining the water and sugar to make the syrup, for those who are new or not comfortable at making a sugar syrup. Put the water in the bowl pan first, then add the sugar. More sugar dissolves this way without the need to stir. Little tip my chef instructor passed on.


Cheryl, The Sweet Side

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Thank You RuthWells,

I would like to just add one piece of cocktail trivia here for this thread, It's more of an urban legend or "wives tale", but it has been demonstrated for years, if "she smokes, it's good"; upon having poured your (hopefully properly) cooked syrup in, and you continue whipping, if a plume of vapor comes off of that bowl rim, then to qoute Oliver, were "dancin", if not, you have a 50/50 shot at it working.

Good luck,

Michael :wink:

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Over the years, I've learned that I can use a probe-type thermometer in the sugar syrup - set the alarm to go off at 244 or 246 and the syrup will be at 248 by the time you pour it in. I have to walk about 15 steps in the shop from the stove to the mixer and if I let the alarm go off at 248, the syrup could get to 250 or higher by the time I poured the syrup in. There's no discernable difference by pulling it off the flame at the lower temp.

I started doing this when the little bits of hardened sugar that show up when you add melted chocolate to the buttercream really bothered me. I thought it might have something to do with the temp of the sugar, so I started to pull it off the heat at 246 and I don't see those little white flecks anymore. But I still get steam! :raz:

I have successfully added the 3 oz of liqueur to the buttercream but I don't like how "hot" it tastes with that much alcohol so I don't usually add that much. The only time I can get away with the full 3oz is with Bailey's Irish Cream - anything else like Amaretto or Grand Marnier seems to get "hot" with that much of it added.

Thanks Ruth for taking the time to put together the demo....


Edited by JeanneCake (log)

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Thanks for the great demo Ruth.  Your buttercream is beautiful.

I'm amazed you can get your whites to firm peak with a paddle and not a whisk.  Is there a reason you choose one implement over the other?  I've only ever made my IMBC with a whisk.

Thanks, Alanamoana. Interesting question about the paddle v. whisk. If I'm not in a harried rush, I usually use the whisk up until it's time to start adding the butter, then I switch to the paddle for the butter (so that I'm not trying to smooth out so many d@mned airbubbles when icing the cake). If I'm in a rush, I just grab whatever's closest and go.

I used to have an antique stand mixer with no whisk attachment, so I never knew that I wasn't *supposed* to be able to get stiff peaks without one....... :wink:

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Great demo - thanks! The only buttercream I have tried is a Swiss buttercream. This looks great! I wish I weren't going away this weekend or I would try it.

How long does it keep? And can it be left at room temp on a cake or does it need to be refrigerated? Thanks again!

I tried Swiss buttercream for the first time last week and found the flavor to be almost indestinguishable from the Italian, but much much softer in texture. I like to pipe decorations on cakes, so I prefer the staying power of the Italian. It will keep for weeks in the fridge and months in the freezer, and I have often left it on a cake at room temp for several hours (as long as it's not in the full heat of summer). Just as you'd expect, it doesn't hold up terrifically in direct sunlight in July, but in most respects and at reasonable room temp, it holds up terrifically.

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Great demo -- should help a lot of people with questions! 

One little tip to add -- when combining the water and sugar to make the syrup, for those who are new or not comfortable at making a sugar syrup.  Put the water in the bowl pan first, then add the sugar.  More sugar dissolves this way without the need to stir.  Little tip my chef instructor passed on.

Great tip!

Another little tip for the sugar syrup -- if the syrup is at target temp and the egg whites are lagging behind, add some water to the syrup to bring the temp down and buy yourself a few minutes to get the egg whites stiff.

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Thank You RuthWells,

    I would like to just add one piece of cocktail trivia here for this thread, It's more of an urban legend or "wives tale", but it has been demonstrated for years, if  "she smokes, it's good"; upon having poured your (hopefully properly) cooked syrup in, and you continue whipping, if a plume of vapor comes off of that bowl rim, then to qoute Oliver, were "dancin", if not, you have a 50/50 shot at it working.

Good luck,

Michael  :wink:

Fun observation!

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No matter how hard I've tried, I always, always, always hit the beaters when pouring in the sugar syrup. When that happens, I get hardened bits of sugar in my buttercream. I also read once to pour it down the side of the bowl...when I did that, I had a giant lump of hardened sugar at the bottom of the bowl and and a broken buttercream.

The only way I can work it (and I have a 6qt KA) is to pull the bowl off the mixer, whisk in the syrup by hand (and man does it get stiff towards the end) and then quickly put it back on the mixer and proceed as directed.

Great demo. I wish this was here a few years ago when I was having my buttercream nightmares.

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Hats off to you, Ruth! A terrifiic demo and I'm sure very many people will find it extremely useful. Please, please try this everyone if you already haven't.... REAL BUTTERCREAM can't even be described unless you've tasted it, and you'll never go back! :smile:

I'd like to make 2 points not mentioned, although there are no flaws in Ruth's demo. Just more info in case anyone needs more help.....

First...this bit:

If the egg whites aren't quite ready or you'd like a little safety net, lightly spray the interior of a Pyrex 2-cup measure with cooking spray *ahead of time*, and when you get to 248*, pour the syrup into the cup.  This will slow down the carry-over cooking of the syrup and give you a cool handle to hold and a handy spout whilst pouring the syrup into the egg whites, as described above.

This is exactly right.... you can pour directly from the saucepan or you can move the sugar syrup into a heatproof container like a pyrex measuring cup first, which buys you a little time. The point I wanted to make is that in either case, NEVER scrape the saucepan. You will inevitably get chunky crystallized sugar bits around the maniscus of the sugar syrup clinging to the pans sides.... don't scrape that down... don't touch it and don't let it get into your buttercream. Otherwise all you'll end up with is crunchy sugar bits in the buttercream, which ain't so good.....

The second point I wanted to make is that in Ruth's photo of "stiff peaks" on the egg whites....forgive me if I'm wrong Ruth but that to me looks like "firm peaks," not stiff. The difference between firm and stiff isn't visual, because both appear the same, but textural. "Stiff peaks" make the mixer work pretty hard, and show up about 4 or 5 minutes after what looks like "firm peaks." In either case, the peaks will hold their shape when you stop the mixer, but "firm peaks" are much more solid. This buttercream still works beautifully and tastes the same whether you take the whites to the firm peak stage or just to the stiff peak stage, but mixing them another 4 or 5 minutes further to get a solid mass of egg whites first does make the rest of the process a little easier, (ie: incorporating the butter) and it also helps keep the final buttercream from deflating or weeping over time.

Figured I'd add that in there....once you have firm peaks on your whites you don't necessarily need to stop the mixer and wait for your syrup is all. I make mine by getting the whites to firm peaks, firing up the sugar syrup and waiting for it to come to temp, and by the time that's ready the whites are at stiff peaks so I just pour the syrup directly into them. Just worth a mention, anyways.

Again, terrific demo. Thank you....thank you.... :smile:

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The point I wanted to make is that in either case, NEVER scrape the saucepan. You will inevitably get chunky crystallized sugar bits around the maniscus of the sugar syrup clinging to the pans sides.... don't scrape that down... don't touch it and don't let it get into your buttercream. Otherwise all you'll end up with is crunchy sugar bits in the buttercream, which ain't so good.....

EXCELLENT point, Sugarella! Besides, what you really want to do is leave the clinging syrup in the pot so that you can go back when it's cooled a bit and pull it off with your fingers to play with and eat it...... :wink:

The second point I wanted to make is that in Ruth's photo of "stiff peaks" on the egg whites....forgive me if I'm wrong Ruth but that to me looks like "firm peaks," not stiff. The difference between firm and stiff isn't visual, because both appear the same, but textural.  "Stiff peaks" make the mixer work pretty hard, and show up about 4 or 5 minutes after what looks like "firm peaks." In either case, the peaks will hold their shape when you stop the mixer, but "firm peaks" are much more solid. This buttercream still works beautifully and tastes the same whether you take the whites to the firm peak stage or just to the stiff peak stage, but mixing them another 4 or 5 minutes further to get a solid mass of egg whites first does make the rest of the process a little easier, (ie: incorporating the butter) and it also helps keep the final buttercream from deflating or weeping over time.

Interesting note. I guess I don't have a terribly finely tuned sense of firm v. stiff peaks, but will say that I've never ever had a problem with this buttercream weeping or deflating... for what it's worth. I often omit the cream of tartar in this recipe, so tend to be a little hyper-alert to potential overbeating of the whites. This would be interesting to experiment with!


Edited by RuthWells (log)

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I've been looking at this thread and a couple of cake related ones as well within egullet to incorporate recipes and make a really fabulous cake, I want to hear your opinions on this kick....

Sarah's ultimate butter cake

Ruth's IMBC

ChiantiG's praline paste

Nightscotsman's whole almond praline

......doesn't it sound like a successful cake? let me know what you guys think :smile:


...a little bit of this, and a little bit of that....*slurp......^_^.....ehh I think more fish sauce.

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I've made this type of buttercream many times, however, it always seems to take longer than 5 minutes for the mixture to cool down. I get worried and a few times I've added the butter too soon because I was concerned that I would overwhip italian meringue while waiting for it to cool. I managed to recover the buttercream those times but I want to get a feel for how long it has taken for others to cool the meringue. So has anyone else had to wait longer than 5 min. for the bowl to feel cool?

Thanks!

Chris

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I've made this type of buttercream many times, however, it always seems to take longer than 5 minutes for the mixture to cool down. I get worried and a few times I've added the butter too soon because I was concerned that I would overwhip italian meringue while waiting for it to cool. I managed to recover the buttercream those times but I want to get a feel for how long it has taken for others to cool the meringue. So has anyone else had to wait longer than 5 min. for the bowl to feel cool?

Thanks!

Chris

I've made double batches that took forever to reach room temperature, and even with a single batch it has often taken longer than 5 minutes to reach room temp. RLB says to beat for a few minutes, and then, if its still warm (which it always is), continue beating on low for as long as it takes to come to room temperature. That's what I usually do now. But in the past I have beat the meringue for a long, long time on high speed, and never had a problem with it seperating.


"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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My usual batch size is 30 oz of whites to 6# of butter. I add the syrup on speed 3 (hobart) and let it cool for about 8? 10? mins at speed 2. I know when the meringue starts to climb on the beaters that it is too cool. To test, I put the inside of my wrist against the bottom of the bowl and if it can stay there comfortably, I know it's time to add the butter.

If your butter is cool - not soft - then you can start adding it sooner, while the meringue is still warm-ish. If your butter is squishy soft (all these techical terms, I know!) then wait until the meringue is cool to the wrist before you start adding it.

When I make small batches in the KA, I beat the whites with a whip at speed 6 - add the syrup while on speed 8, then back to 6. If it seems to be taking a long time, I can go to speed 4, but I very rarely have to do that.

If you are really bothered by the sugar crusting on the sides, wash the pan down with a pastry brush dipped in water to help minimize it (I don't, I just live with it). The amount of buttercream you end up with is supposed to have a correlation to the amount of syrup added to the whites; I usually get 10.5- sometimes 11 pounds of buttercream to my 6# of butter batches.

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I've never had the buttercream separate because of whipping the egg whites too long, and for big batches, I've whipped for 15 minutes at least. With all that sugar, it would have to go a long time.

I have had occasion, in a 90F kitchen, when the meringue just wouldn't cool down. I put a shallow bowl of ice water under the mixing bowl (touching the mixing bowl) to cool the bowl off some, then remove it when the meringue seems to be cooling down.

I have had the meringue begin to curdle because of cold butter (opposite kitchen -- only 62F). In this instance, I warm the bowl up with a blowtorch, in moderation. Remove heat when you start to see the buttercream smooth out.


Cheryl, The Sweet Side

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Great Demo, Ruth!

I'm putting this on my to-do list for June. To-try, rather.

Question: How much cake will your given amounts frost? Say 1 8 inch, round cake?

I don't do frosting, but my younger brother does, and his birthday isn't too far away.


May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Question: How much cake will your given amounts frost? Say 1 8 inch, round cake?

The recipe will yield enough to cover a 2-layer, 9" cake.

And that's allowing for several spoonfuls for, um, quality-control along the way.


"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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Question: How much cake will your given amounts frost? Say 1 8 inch, round cake?

The recipe will yield enough to cover a 2-layer, 9" cake.

And that's allowing for several spoonfuls for, um, quality-control along the way.

Thanks Patrick.

And the quality-control part is very important. :biggrin: I taste everything that goes in my oven before it goes in side. :wink:


May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Question: How much cake will your given amounts frost? Say 1 8 inch, round cake?

The recipe will yield enough to cover a 2-layer, 9" cake.

And that's allowing for several spoonfuls for, um, quality-control along the way.

Thanks Patrick.

And the quality-control part is very important. :biggrin: I taste everything that goes in my oven before it goes in side. :wink:

LOL, what Patrick said. If you're scoping out tupperwear containers for storage, 4 cups is just about perfect -- provided you do your due diligence for quality control.

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Question: How much cake will your given amounts frost? Say 1 8 inch, round cake?

The recipe will yield enough to cover a 2-layer, 9" cake.

And that's allowing for several spoonfuls for, um, quality-control along the way.

Thanks Patrick.

And the quality-control part is very important. :biggrin: I taste everything that goes in my oven before it goes in side. :wink:

LOL, what Patrick said. If you're scoping out tupperwear containers for storage, 4 cups is just about perfect -- provided you do your due diligence for quality control.

Got it, thanks!


May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Everyone should try this buttercream at least once -- enjoy!

Thank you so much for the wonderful demo and tips. I' going to try this soon because I hate that the powdered sugar we get here isn't fine enough and often, you can still feel a little grittiness in buttercreams.

One little tip to add -- when combining the water and sugar to make the syrup, for those who are new or not comfortable at making a sugar syrup.  Put the water in the bowl pan first, then add the sugar.  More sugar dissolves this way without the need to stir.  Little tip my chef instructor passed on.

Great tip for beginners. Not only that but sometimes the sugar at the bottom will burn before it dissolves/melts. Now I always add water to the pan first.

No matter how hard I've tried, I always, always, always hit the beaters when pouring in the sugar syrup. When that happens, I get hardened bits of sugar in my buttercream. I also read once to pour it down the side of the bowl...when I did that, I had a giant lump of hardened sugar at the bottom of the bowl and and a broken buttercream.

The only way I can work it (and I have a 6qt KA) is to pull the bowl off the mixer, whisk in the syrup by hand (and man does it get stiff towards the end) and then quickly put it back on the mixer and proceed as directed.

Oh maaan ... that would be such a PITA for me coz I make lots of marshmallows. I have the Pro 600 Series 575W 6qt KA too. And I don't have that problem. There's a small space between the top of your flat beater or wire whisk and the bowl that you should be able to slowly pour a thin stream of syrup in. Use something with a spout; I find that my 1/4C measuring spoon with a pouring lip works best. And if your syrup pools at the bottom, I suggest you check the level of your bowl & beater. I recall reading it in the manual. It should work because I don't have syrup pooled at the bottom of the bowl. The beater should do a very fine job incorporating everything in the bowl. I don't even have to stop & scrape! I make about 15 to 20 batches of marshmallows per week. I already snapped the wire whisk (I only had the KA abt 7 months) and now will only use the flat beater for marshmallow making. I burned 3 regular stand mixers prior. :raz: Good Luck kthull, I hope you get it to work.


Edited by JustKay (log)

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