Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How to make Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC)

How to Make Italian Meringue ButterCream - ButterYum
Italian meringue buttercream is easier to make than you think. It's infinitely better tasting than those overly sweet, crusty, gritty frostings made with shortening and powdered sugar that are so often mistakenly called buttercream. This is the real deal - the texture of IMBC is silky smooth, and the flavor is utterly out of this world. I highly recommend you give it a try. Let me show you how easy it is.


You can find a gazillion different recipes for Italian Meringue Buttercream (IMBC) online. Just pick one and go for it.

Start by combining the correct amount of water and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan. I make IMBC frequently, so I invested in this nifty copper sugar pot. The pot has a nice pour spout and it seems to heat the syrup very quickly, but I used a heavy bottomed stainless steel sauce pan for years, so that will definitely work fine for you.


Stir the water and sugar together, just until the sugar dissolves, then STOP stirring and let it come to a boil like this.


Now add a candy thermometer. The sugar syrup isn't very deep, so I find putting the thermometer in the pan upside down gives a better reading. You can also tilt the pan to get a good reading, but be careful... the syrup is EXTREMELY HOT!


Cook until the temperature reaches 248F. As you can see, we're not quite there yet, but it won't be much longer. The temperature rises quickly once you get to this point.


NOTE - be very sure your bowl and whip are free of grease, and make sure there are absolutely no traces of egg yolk in your whites. Greasy residue or the tiniest amount of egg yolk will keep your white from whipping.

In the meantime, beat room temperature egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whip attachment on med speed. Add cream of tartar, increase the speed to med-high and continue to beat until soft peaks form.


Here is what soft peaks look like... add the correct amount of sugar called for in the recipe and continue to beat until you reach stiff peaks.


Stiff peaks achieved. If your sugar syrup hasn't reached 248F yet, just turn the mixer speed down to low while you wait... you shouldn't have to wait long, if at all.


The moment the sugar syrup reaches 248F, with the mixer on med-high, start pouring it slowly between the whip and the edge of the bowl or you'll have strings of hardened sugar syrup all over the place. When all the sugar syrup has been added, increase speed to high and beat until the mixture cools to room temperature (monitor the temp by feeling the outside bottom of the bowl).


Now you can start to add your room temperature butter, a little at a time, until it's all combined. The meringue will immediately start to lose volume when you start adding the butter, but that's normal. Also, don't panic if your mixture starts to look curdled... just keep beating on high, it will magically come together soon. Add optional flavorings, and enjoy.


Here it is almost done... I'm making this batch vanilla, so I'll add either pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste to taste.


This is my vanilla version that I used to top some yummy chocolate cupcakes (cupcake recipe found here - cake batter only; no graham cracker crust or mini chocolate chips).
Enjoy!


There are many recipes online, but this one will make 4-5 cups.  One batch will frost a layer cake, but you may want to make more if you plan to pipe decorations.  Leftover buttercream will keep at room temp for 3 days, can be refrigerated for 10 days, or can be frozen for long-term storage. Bring to room temp before using. Beat for a few seconds with a whisk to restore creamy consistency.

Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream
makes 4-5 cups
Printable Recipe

1 pound unsalted butter, room temp (must be unsalted)
5 egg whites
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (divided 1 cup, and 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Have butter ready at room temperature.  

In a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan, make the sugar syrup by heating the water and 1 cup of sugar to 248F (this will take 5-10 minutes).  

In the meantime, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer until soft peaks form.  Slowly add the remaining  1/4 cup sugar; continue beating until egg whites reach stiff peaks.  Turn off mixer if the sugar syrup hasn't reached 248F yet.  

When the sugar syrup is ready, and the mixer on low speed, carefully pour the hot syrup into the whipped egg whites, just between the wall of the bowl and the whisk, being careful not to allow the syrup to hit the whisk.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and whip until the meringue has cooled completely (check by feeling the bottom of the bowl).   

Once the meringue has cooled completely, slowly add the butter, 1 tablespoon or so at a time, until all the butter is incorporated.  If the mixture looks curdled or "broken" at any time, increase the mixer speed and beat until it smooths out before adding more butter.  If the mixture or your kitchen is too warm, a short rest in the fridge may be necessary.  Beat in the vanilla and prepare to indulge!!









92 comments:

  1. I love IMBC! Thanks for the tutorial and beautiful pictures.

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  2. Wow I have been wanting to learn to make frosting (other than whipped cream frosting), this is great, thanks!

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  3. I love meringue buttercreams, but I love SMBC more because there are less dishes to wash and I don't have to boil sugar.. it stresses me out too much! I totally agree, I can't put that fake frosting in my mouth. Some people love the grittiness of powdered sugar and swear by it, I don't know how!

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  4. Oh I have bakers envy. My sister makes wedding cakes and other yummies. I did not inherit that gene! Glad you stopped by my blog and I look forward to seeing more of yours.

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  5. I have always been afraid of egg whites, some how I feel like we don't like each other, but this weekend I used them for my buttercream and they behaved fabulous.Meringue buttercream is delicious and very light ( I didn't mean in calories). Thanks for the tutorial.

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  6. Thanks for the step by step guide. The last time I made true buttercream (a Swiss one) it wouldn't come together at all so I am reluctant to try again. But yours look so good that I'm going to go for it.

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  7. Thanks for the steps and pictures! I've been looking for a good frosting idea for a cupcake event I'm going to next month, and this may just be the one!

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  8. Beautiful! I'll be using this again and again! I'm so glad you did this one because I needed a buttercream for my cookies this week.

    Your pictures are really nice by the way. Love them!

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  9. Ok one question before I forget. How do I store this stuff?

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  10. Your cupcakes look beautiful! Did you use a 1M tip for piping? I just bought one and haven't used it yet.

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  11. Hi Anne - Yes, a 1M tip - good eye!

    Hi Cooking Photographer - You can store this at room temp for up to 3 days, refrigerate for 10 days, and freeze for up to 8 months. Bring to room temp and rebeat to restore consistency before using again. You're going to LOVE it!

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  12. Thank you for the quick lesson. Looks like so good, I wish I could taste it now. Thanks for joining with us at TwirlandTaste and always know you're welcome anytime.
    Happy Twirls

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  13. I love all the pictures you take...and I love all the cool kitchen "machines" you have...I guess you would need such awesome stuff when you make wedding cakes like yours!

    Jenifer
    Fellow Foodie Blogger

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  14. Wonderful step by step procedures! Thanks for sharing...and they look sooo delicious!

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  15. I love that you're raising awareness about powdered sugar/shortening "buttercreams" and how there's something out there that's much, much, better. Wonderful post! -Julie

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  16. thanks so much for the step by step. I am a visual person and that meant a lot! I will make the frosting soon.
    Joan

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  17. So glad you liked it Joan. I like step-by-step photos too ;).

    Please visit again!

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  18. Hi - thanks for this tutorial! I really want to try to make this for my son's birthday cake and the pictures/step-by-step instructions will help. I don't have a candy thermometer - can I make it without it? Also, can I place fondant cutouts over top an iced cake of IMBC?

    Thanks!

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  19. Yes on the fondant cut-outs, but no on the lack of thermometer... the success and stability of the IMBC depends on getting the sugar syrup to exactly the right temp. There's a recipe in The Cake Bible for Neo-Classic Buttercream that doesn't require the use of a thermometer - it's not quite as yummy as IMBC, but it's still 1000 times better than canned frosting! (be sure you use UNsalted butter - very important!)

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  20. I enjoyed the pics and step by step. I'm going to attempt making the IMBC today or tomorrow. Wish me luck.

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  21. i've been meaning to give the IMBC a try! i've been obsessing over the swiss MBC for a while now.. and it's great! which do you prefer? the SMBC or the IMBC? i hear that they are both very similar in taste and texture- just two different ways of making it.

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  22. Is this frostin stiff enough to make flowers and other piping decorations

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  23. Yes and no. It's absolutely perfect for borders, as long as you don't heat the buttercream up from the warmth of your hands.

    Honestly, I haven't had a lot of opportunities to pipe roses, but a friend of mine has. His advice, use two piping bags, rotating each (pipe a rose while the other bag is resting briefly in the fridge, then switch bags and repeat). I hope I explained that well. He freezes the roses right away, then places them on his cakes while they are still frozen. They will be extremely soft when they thaw to room temperature, but they will hold their shape extremely well.

    :)
    Butteryum

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  24. As always, your posts are awesome! I am about to make the IBC now that you have once again shown me!

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  25. I have been having a heck of time with the "Wilton" buttercream recipe! I can't seem to get it smooth and its grity! I will definately google some IMBC recipes. Thank you for sharing! One more thing....your IMBC looks so smooth and shiny thats definately the result I'm looking for!

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  26. Looks very yummy... thinking about going in the kitchen and whipping some up.... How would you go about doing Expresso flavor ?

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  27. Hi Linda - That's one of my favorite flavor variations. It's really easy - for a 4-5 cup batch of buttercream, add 2 tablespoons of espresso powder that has been dissolved in 1 tablespoon of boiling water and allowed to cool (don't be tempted to use instant coffee which is bitter). Alternately, you could add a few tablespoons of Kahlua.

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  28. Thank you for this yummy recipe.. I am baking for a diabetic and wonder if Splenda could be used instead of sugar... Thankyou for your answer

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  29. No, I don't think it would work here. The success of this recipe is based on sugar being heated to the "firm ball stage", which you can't do with Splenda. I'd suggest finding a non-cooked frosting recipe if you'd like to incorporate a sugar substitute - perhaps a cream cheese frosting?

    :)
    ButterYum

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  30. What are the ingredients?

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  31. Hi! I found this post as a result of searching for a "not too sweet" frosting. Up until the addition of the butter, this is basically a marshmallow tasting frosting, correct? I ask because I made a no-cook marshmallow frosting the other day for a s'mores cupcake. The recipe started the same as this one, but instead of adding the cooked syrup, I added Light Karo Syrup. Do you think if I used my recipe & added butter, I'd get the same result as your Italian Buttercream? It was so much easier using the Karo, I'd like to stick with that if you think it will work.

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  32. Hi Nicole - Oh gosh, I don't know how corn syrup would work, but I'll tell you what I do know - the sugar used in this technique is cooked to the hard ball stage which makes the buttercream soft enough to spread and pipe beautifully, while at the same time keeping it firm enough to hold it's shape for up to 3 days at room temperature, even in 80 degree weather.

    The Cake Bible has a recipe called neo-classic buttercream which uses corn syrup and doesn't require the use of a candy thermometer. You might want to check the book out of the library and give it a try.

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  33. My first try at this kind of butter cream wasn't that great, However the way you do it. I can do this... Thank you for the post....

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  34. Thank you so much it was a great support, now to make italian meringue buttercream (imbc) is without a doubt simple and easy with the help of your advice. Thank you

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  35. I just learned that IMBC is best for hot weather so I am glad for your step-by-step tutorial! Thanks for the post and the excellent photos.

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  36. please can i have the quantities of the ingredients needed to make this as my daughter wants to try it but cant find the recipe to follow youre instructions- many thanks-jess

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  37. Can you please tell me how much water to use? Thanks!!!

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  38. Oh, and how much sugar goes in with the water, how much in with the egg whites?

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  39. Thanks for your recipe. This is my favorite too but often I'm in a hurry and opt for the sugar/butter recipe. Next time I'll think of you and cook my frosting.
    ~ ~Ahrisha~ ~

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  40. Hi thanks for the great tutorial, I was wondering how long can a mud cake be left at room temperature once iced with IMBC? My customer has requested a buttercream cake for a kids birthday and the party will be on Sunday...and she is picking up the cake on Saturday lunch time. Would she need to refrigerate cake or can she leave it at room temperature. Would refrigerating the cake affect the flavour and texture of the icing?? your help will be much appreciated.. Thank You. Karen

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  41. Hi Karen - As long as your mud cake doesn't contain any components that need to be refrigerated (cream cheese, whipped cream, etc), Italian Meringue Buttercream can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days. It can certainly be refrigeratd though, but bring the cake to room temperature for several hours before serving. The high butter content in this buttercream will harden firm upon refrigeration (good for traveling, not so great for eating). I hope that helps - feel free to let me know if you have any other questions.

    :)
    ButterYum

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  42. Hi Butter Yum, I desperately need your help. I have made IMBC for the 4th time and non attempt has turn out right. It's always split at the end result. I got the process all good until I add in the butter. I have no clue why? The only thing I am not following the recipe of any found online is, I normally cut down the butter by 1/4. Would this be the reason? My IMBC is always runny and split. so so frustrated... :-(
    Your expertise on this is appreciated.
    alice

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  43. Looks wonderful, would love to make it but would help to have the complete recipe!!! HOW MUCH WATER IS USED???

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  44. The recipe has been revised... thanks for pointing that omission out.

    :)
    ButterYum

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  45. Excellent! In a couple of hours will be eating chocolate cupcakes with creme de menthe imbc, thank you so much for getting the water amount up there so quickly :)

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  46. My pleasure. Just so you're aware - because I suggested people double the recipe listed at the time of your first email, I've taken the liberty to revise the recipe so no one has to do the math. Please use half the water if you're making the original recipe (no harm if you add too much water though... the sugar sugar syrup will just take a bit longer to reach 248F).

    Now I'm dreaming of creme de menthe chocolate cupcakes!!!

    :)
    ButterYum

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  47. How do you store IMBC? In my pastry class I took a few years ago, we made this buttercream but always after icing the cakes, the Instructor would have us put them in the fridge. I don't like it when it gets stiff. Can this be stored on the counter? If I made a Halloween cake on Sunday night with this, will it be fine on the counter until Monday night? Or will it get runny?

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  48. AS long as you cook the sugar syrup to the right temperature, storing at room temperature is fine for up to 3 days. See the text in red above for additional storage.

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  49. I have noticed that you use a copper pot... how does that work for you? Do you notice a difference in taste?

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  50. Great questions - No flavor is imparted from the copper sugar pot. Copper pots have been used by professionals to cook sugar, jam, and candy for decades, so don't hesitate to get one, but you can certainly use a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot if you prefer.

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  51. Can I use the cartoned egg whites or do I have to use the ones from the egg itself.

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  52. Unfortunately, egg whites in a carton do not work. If you read the carton, it states that those egg whites should not be used to make meringue - they just don't whip up very well.

    Cold eggs are easiest to separate, but room temperature whites will whip up to the highest volume so let them sit at room temp for a while before whipping.

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  53. Hi, I know you have said that carton egg whites would not work, but what about using meringue powder? Thanks :)

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  54. Hi Breezs - I have never tried meringue powder, but I've read that some people have success with it. An experience baker on a popular baking forum wrote this,

    "I use meringue powder all the time, and it works just like raw eggs, but without the risk of salmonella. The only drawback is that sometimes when you mix the meringue powder with the water, some of it clumps together and forms little lumps. I usually pass the mixture through a mesh sieve to get out the lumps before proceeding with the recipe."

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  55. Hi, I am making a cake and cupcakes for a children's birthday party. There will be alot of children eating the cake. I really want to use this recipe but is it safe? As in, are the eggs raw or does the hot sugar syrup cook them enough? I made swiss meringue buttercream the other day and heated the eggs and sugar until they reached 160F...the buttercream turned out great but I was still worried about the whole salmonella thing there too. Thanks so much for the recipe and pictures...I will be using if not for the bday party definitely for another occassion!

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    1. Hi - great question. Technically I can't answer, but the general rule of thumb here is if you plan to serve anyone with a compromised immune system, it's probably best to pick another buttercream. That being said, as long as you use fresh, clean, properly stored eggs, the risk of food borne illness is extremely, exceptionally, and extraordinarily low. My personal belief (as well as that of many professional chefs/bakers) is that during the past 20 years or so, we in here the US have been a bit brainwashed into thinking eggs are much more dangerous than they actually are.

      If, however, you're still on the fence, see if you can find in-the-shell-pasteurized eggs (not the liquid egg whites sold in cartons with pour spouts). The liquid eggs whites can be used if you're desperate, but you won't get anywhere near the same volume as you would from whole egg whites out of the shell.


      I can't wait to hear how you like the buttercream - please stop back to let me know.

      Take care,
      Patricia

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  56. Patricia, I made this for the first time yesterday, and I wish I had found this item by you before I started on it! You make it sound so much easier than it was for me, mine did turn out alright but it caused me a lot of concern while I was making it. I did see some of your comments on Rose's blog which were a help but this is even better. I shall now 'bookmark' this for future reference. Jeannette

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    1. I'm glad to be of service. Is this my dear friend Jeannette from the UK?

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    2. Yes , the one and only! Still baking and using Rose's recipes quite frequently, also clicking on to your blog regularly to see what delectable dishes you have made, never disappointed.

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    3. Thank you.... it's so nice to hear from you. Did you happen to see the British Flapjacks I posted recently? Tell me, does the recipe look authentic? I'd love to hear your take.

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  57. Yes, I did see your flapjacks, your recipe is quite authentic, Patricia! My daughter makes them regularly, they are favourites in her household, I don't have much success with them i'm afraid. I shall have to have another go I think, as yours look so good . The secret is to take them out of the oven just at the 'right' moment I think, they can quickly turn from nice chewy tit-bits to hard to bite into things. They are VERY sweet too, with the sugar and golden syrup, one is enough for me or even half of one! My daughter usually adds dried fruit to hers, either sultanas, raisins or cranberries, some add dessicated coconut too.
    I still admire your photography skills, your blog looks so professional compared to some others. Nice to keep in touch, Jeannette.x

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    1. My family can't seem to get enough of them. I tried a version with honey and they were good, but not as good as the Lyle's version (I wish it was more available here in the states). I will definitely try them with dried fruit, and coconut too. Thanks for your kind, sweet words.

      Be well!!
      xo

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  58. This frosting turned out so good. It was my first time to make it and with your clear instructions and tips, it came out perfectly. Thank you!

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  59. Hi :-)
    Can't wait to try make this maringue buttercream!
    I was wondering I make continental cakes and decorate and cover them with fresh whipped cream, can I used this maringue buttercream instead? Does it set hard?
    Thank you :-)

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    1. I'm not familiar with "continental cakes". This buttercream doesn't crust or set hard. It chills hard, but should be softened by bringing it to room temperature before serving.

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    2. Thanks Patricia :-)
      Continental cakes is a soft sponge layered with vanilla and chocolate castard. It's a typical Italian cake.
      Sorry I have one more question.... As I don't have a candy thermometer is there any other way of knowing when the sugar has reached 240 degrees? Maybe how long it should boil ? Thanks again

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    3. I've read extensively on the subject and it seems to be believed that a candy thermometer is essential when making Italian Meringue Buttercream. In The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, there's a recipe neo-classic buttercream, an egg-yolk/corn syrup based buttercream that doesn't require the use of a thermometer. It's very yellow in color due to the egg yolks. If color isn't a factor for you, it tastes wonderful.

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  60. Thanks Patricia :-)
    Continental Cakes is a soft sponge layered with vanilla and chocolate castard. Its a typical Italian Cake

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    1. Mmmm - sounds super yummy! Italian Meringue Buttercream can be a bit heavy. If you use it on a cake filled with custard, pipe a "dam" of buttercream to keep the custard from being squished out from between the cake layers.

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  61. Thanks for this recipe. I just decorated 30 red velvet cupcakes with it and they taste so yummy. Re not having a thermometer. You could try taking the sugar to soft ball stage which is around,the temperature you need. This recipe is so light and fluffy so much better than traditional butter creams with all that icing sugar

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    1. HI Christeen - so glad you loved the buttercream.

      Soft-ball stage is 240F. The temperature given in the recipe is 248F which is technically considered firm-ball stage (it should form a firm ball that will not flatten when removed from cold water, but it will remain malleable and will flatten when squeezed). You're right though, the buttercream can certainly be made with sugar syrup that only reaches 240F, but it won't be as stable at room temperature as buttercream made with syrup that reaches 248F.

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  62. I used this recipe for for a couple of my cakes a few weeks ago and it was delicious. I have sinced replaced my old Crusting Buttercream recipe with this one because it is sooth and tasty. Got rave reviews.

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    1. Excellent! It's really amazing stuff, isn't it? I love when people realize there's much better buttercream out there than the crusty gritty stuff.

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  63. I have just tried this recipe - my first time of making IMBC and it's turned out great! Only thing is I have only used half the amount of butter stated in the recipe as the IMBC started to actually taste too buttery. Is this supposed to happen? Either way, like I said it seems to have turned out brilliantly! Thanks.

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    1. Excellent - I'm so glad you like it. As for your question - did you use salted butter, or unsalted butter. The first time I made buttercream I mistakenly used salted butter and it tasted way too buttery. At any rate, using less butter is fine - I've done that myself on occasion.

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  64. Can I substitute light brown sugar for the regular sugar?

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    1. I'm not really sure, but good question. I'd suggest making a small test batch to see how it turns out.

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  65. Thanks, I made the recipe as stated and it came out fabulous. I may try the brown sugar later. I am Tarah Taylor, I just don't have any of the accounts you have listed but I am not incognito,lol

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  66. I'm assembling all the ingredients for my first try at your IMBC and have a few questions for you. Before adding the butter, the beaten meringue should be cool. Would that be room temperature? The bowl can't be the slightest bit warm? Also, it seems you have revised the recipe. The current listing is correct for one batch, right? Love your great pics and instructions. I thank you. . .and so do my grandchildren!
    ~Linda

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    1. Hi Linda - great questions. Yes, the meringue should be about room temperature when you start adding the butter. I could be the slightest bit "warm-ish", but definitely not warm enough to melt the butter. The current listing should make one batch, or 4-5 cups which is generally enough to frost a 2-layer 8 or 9-inch cake. I like to make an extra batch, separately, so I have plenty to pipe decorative borders. Leftovers freeze beautifully and come in really handy for cupcakes, whoopie pies, etc.

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  67. Did a test run of the IMBC a couple of days ago. It turned out beautifully -- kudos to you, Patricia, for giving us such great instructions!
    Tomorrow I have to make the "real" batch. Am I understanding correctly that if one batch is not going to be enough, you shouldn't double the recipe, but make another batch instead? In your finished iced cupcake pic, the frosting looks so white -- mine, not so much. It didn't matter since I added chocolate, but I was wondering how you kept yours so white. Could it be the brand of butter you use?

    Many thanks!
    ~Linda

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    1. Hi Linda - so glad you liked it!! The color will lighten the longer you beat it (more air makes it look whiter), but it will never be perfectly white. I use plain old unsalted butter. I've made double batches of buttercream, but you need a 6-qt or larger stand mixer, and if you use a kitchenaid with an 11-wire whip attachment, the buttercream gets stuck in the wires. That's why I prefer to make single batches in my 5-qt stand mixer.

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  68. I want to try to make this icing but I need chocolate icing. How much and what kind of chocolate should be used? Also if you wanted to add other flavorings how much should be used?

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    1. Hi Kat - You can add 5-6 ounces of melted and cooled chocolate after the buttercream is made. I like to use bittersweet chocolate, but feel free to use your favorite high quality chocolate (milk, dark, white).

      Other flavoring options: you can add up to 3 ounces of your favorite brandy or liqueur (Amaretto is one of my favorites). You can also add 1/2 - 1/3 cup of your favorite pureed fruit (raspberry is wonderful). Oh, and another thing I sometimes do is dissolve a tablespoon or so of espresso powder in a few tablespoons of hot water, allow it to cool, then add it to the whipped buttercream - play around with it until you get the flavor you're after.

      Have you considered whipped ganache? It's much easier to make than Italian Meringue Buttercream. I'm be happy to explain more about it if you like.

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  69. Can you cover a cake frosted with IMBC with fondant?

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    1. Actually, you can! However, IMBC doesn't "crust" so you should chill the cake very well to harden the IMBC before covering with fondant. I also find a thin layer of IMBC works better than a thick one when topping with fondant. Allow the cake to come to room temp before serving so the IMBC won't be too hard (otherwise I'll be like cutting through a stick of butter - not very palatable either). I hope that helps!

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  70. I just made Swiss Meringue Buttercream today for the first time - it has been on my "cooking bucket list" for some time and I love it. Now I will have to try the Italian version. So much butter, so many wonderful calories!

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    1. Flavor and texture wise, they're very similar, but Italian Meringue is more stable at warm temperatures. Great, great stuff!

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