Swiss and Italian Buttercreams


Yellow Birthday CakeMany years ago when I realized that pastry was to be a major focus in my life, I was fortunate to have Andre Gotti, a French pastry chef as my mentor. Although I had no training except watching my grandmother and mother make pastries that were unparalleled – even in France- Andre saw someone with a burning desire to learn.  My mother made croissants, Schaum Tortes and Dobos Torte to name a few, long before many people in America heard of them.  I used to watch my mother and grandmother make phyllo from scratch and pull it out so thinly we could read a newspaper through it.  In fact, the only time my grandmother was ever cross with me was when I sat on the resting phyllo that was covered on a chair.  We had special table cloths that covered a big round table (corners would tear the pastry).  It was my job to sweep up the paper thin crumbs that fell to the floor while being pulled.  When I talk about this, I guess my interest in pastry is not such a mystery.  I should also share that my mother and grandmother were from the now defunct country of Yugoslavia.  What I remember most, is how they would chatter away in their native tongue, while I watched and waited for the phyllo to tear, which is never, ever did.

Back to buttercream!  I used to marvel at Andre when he made Italian buttercream.  He could time it so deftly, that the egg whites, which were not stabilized as I do, would be beaten just enough when the syrup came to the correct temperature.  I still can’t figure out how he did it.   The problem with beating egg whites “au natural” is they can easily be over-beaten resulting in dry whites that won’t accept the syrup.  So I came up with a way to stabilize the egg whites and then to hold them while the sugar syrup reached 250 degrees.  Not because I was so smart, but because I was so desperate.

Both of these buttercreams are emulsions.  The difference between the Swiss buttercream and the Italian Buttercream is the Swiss meringue is made by simply heating the egg whites and sugar together, then beating them stiff and cool, and adding the butter.   This is the simpler of the two.

The Italian buttercream uses a hot sugar syrup that has been taken to a temperature of 250 degrees.  It is then added to the egg whites, beaten until cool and the butter added.  While the Swiss buttercream is often thought to be heavier than the Italian buttercream, I found it to be somewhat heavier but not overbearingly so .  The  Italian buttercream which is made with a hot sugar syrup, is deemed to be more stable.

It is important to use a whisk for this procedure.  A whisk is used to incorporate air into a mixture thus lightening it.  A paddle simply beats ingredients together.

Not to be overlooked is the flavoring of the buttercreams.  While they can be be flavored many different ways, it is important to flavor them well or they are unbelievably bland.   Vanilla, almond extract, chocolate, coffee, raspberry, lemon or orange are a few of the flavors.  One of my favorite was one we did with passion fruit.  I teamed it with an orange chiffon cake and it was something else!

Recipes are written differently and the egg whites can be really confusing.  Some tell you how many eggs to use, some give you a cup amount.  I always have egg whites in the freezer so I prefer a cup amount.  But if you don’t have egg whites hanging around this can be confusing.  So I have given you measurements in eggs and cups.  Just remember that 8 large egg whites make a cup.  However, since the eggs vary in size it may be slightly over or under, but it won’t make that much of a difference.  Here is a chart of whites to help with other recipes.

1 egg white = 2 tablespoons                                          5 egg whites = 2/3 cup
2 egg whites = 1/4 cup                                                   6 egg whites = 3/4 cup
3 egg whites = 1/3 cup                                                   7 egg whites = 7/8 cup
4 egg whites = 1/2 cup                                                   8 egg whites = 1 cup

The temperature of the butter is important.  If it is too cold, it can curdle the buttercream while it is being added.  However, beating it longer will bring it together.  If the butter is too soft or runny, the buttercream will be really soft.  A temperature of 72 to 74 degrees for the butter is ideal.

We made the Italian Buttercream in a 60 quart bowl.  We found that for each quart measure of a mixing bowl one stick of butter could be used.  So in the 60 quart mixer we could use 60 sticks or 15 pounds of butter.  We froze the buttercream in big cambro containers.  On Wednesday, we would bring out however much buttercream we needed and placed it in the refrigerator.  At the end of this article, I will show you how we reconstituted the buttercream.  After it was reconstituted, we added additional flavors to accommodate the cake we were assembling, i.e. hazelnut, lemon, raspberry, etc.

I really don’t remember how I came  up with this technique.  I do remember when I first started I read in Martha Stewart’s Wedding book that you must never freeze the buttercream.  I am very much in the “trust, but verify” camp.  This method  of reconstitution was the result of the verify part.  I felt I could control the outcome of the buttercream this way as opposed to leaving it out overnight.

Italian ButtercreamIngredients
Adding the sugar to the egg whites as they are beating stabilizes them and allows them to be held while the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature.  Whipped egg whites should never stop being beaten if other ingredients are to be added as they can granulate which makes them unusable  and gritty tasting. If the proper stage of the egg whites has been obtained and the syrup is not ready, simply turn the machine to low and keep the mixture moving in the bowl.  This is all you need to hold them.  However, this technique is not successful unless the whites are stabilized with the sugar to prevent them from drying out.

6 tablespoons water
1 cup sugar (200 grams or 7 ounces)
3/4 cup egg whites (6 eggs or 180 grams or 6 1/3 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/4 cup sugar (50 grams or 1 3/4 ounces)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon almond extract
1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter softened but not runny (5 sticks or 570 grams or 20 ounces),

This small amount of sugar syrup comes to temperature very fast after it reaches 220 degrees.  Watch is carefully to prevent it from going too high.

Place the water in a small saucepan.  Add the sugar and stir; Sugar and water in pan

Sugar/water in pan mixed

bring to a boil.  Boiling SyrupWash down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water to prevent crystallization. Brushing pan Boil to 250 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Simultaneously, place the egg whites and cream of tarter in a 5 quart mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment.  Egg whites/cream of tarterBeat until soft peaks form.  Soft peak whitesGradually add the 1/4 cup sugar.  Beat until stiff on high, then immediately turn them down to low or #1 to hold them.  Whites before sugarWhen the sugar syrup is ready, raise the mixer to medium and slowly pour it over the whites.Syrup going inAim for between the whisk and the side of the bowl.  Do not pour it over the whisk as it will not incorporate into the egg whites.  If necessary, let it hit the side of the bowl, but as little as possible.  Also, make sure it is poured in slowly to prevent the syrup from sinking to the bottom of the bowl, as it cannot be incorporated from there.

Beat until completely cool.Whites/syrup beatingAdd the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time.

Butter going inDo not add more butter until the preceding butter is incorporated.  The meringue will deflate considerably.  That is how it should be.  Meringue fallenWhen all the butter is in, add the extracts and beat to incorporate.  flavoring inContinue beating until very light in texture.Finished buttercream

Yield:  2 + pounds, 950 grams or 6 cups

Swiss ButtercreamIngredients 3 (1 of 1)5 large egg whites (2/3 cup, 140 grams or 5 ounces)
1 1/4 cup sugar (250 grams or 9 ounces)
1 1/2 cups butter, softened (3 sticks, 340 grams or 12 ounces)
2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a mixer.  Sugar and whitesPlace over, not in, simmering water and heat to 120 degrees.  simmering water

double boiler

The mixture will be hot and the sugar will be dissolved.  Fit the mixer with a whisk and beat on medium until it forms a thick, glossy meringue and the bottom of the bowl is cool to the whites in bowl

Whisking 1

Whisking 2

Whisking 2

Beaten Whites on whisk

Add the butter about 2 tablespoons at a time, Butter inallowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next one.  When all of the butter is in, continue beating for a minute or two to lighten in. all butter in Add the vanilla or any other flavoring you wish.flavorings

finished buttercream

Reconstituting Frozen Buttercream (This works with Italian, Swiss and French Buttercreams)
This was the technique we used at the bakery.  We made and reconstituted a lot of buttercream over the years and this never failed.

Place the desired amount of buttercream in the mixing bowl.  Cold buttercream in bowlPlace the bowl in a larger bowl and add really hot water.  In hot waterLet it sit in the hot water until about 1/3 of it is melted.  Parially meltedPlace it on the mixer with the paddle attachment and beat it until it is reconstituted.Beating initially

If it curdles or is heavy looking, put it back in the hot water and let a little more melt. Heating 2nd timeRebeat.Fully reconstituted.

Yield:  1 1/2 pounds or 680 grams or 4 1/2 cups

Monday we will look at French Buttercream.

Pastry has not only been my profession, but my passion. If there is anything in particular you would like to see or any questions about baking or pastry, please let me know. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a post!
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8 thoughts on “Swiss and Italian Buttercreams

  1. Kim

    Helen, I never realized there were so many different techniques for buttercream icing. I believe it is true that baking is a science when I see all the different nuances with each technique. Thanks for sharing the info.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Your welcome Kim. Today there is the French Buttercream and on Thursday will be the German and American. Then we buttercreamed out for a while until I figure out what to do with all of these!

  2. Jorge

    Italian BC has no comparison to the powder sugar/butter frosting. Helen – how much chocolate would you add to make a Chocolate Italian Buttercream? Would you recommend using cocoa or melted chocolate?
    I will be making vanilla cupcakes with a Chocolate BC, and maybe filled with ganache.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Jorge: I used 12 ounces melted and cooled chocolate to this size recipe of Italian Buttercream. I agree the European buttercreams are fantastic.

  3. vera parker

    I took a black-and-white 8 mm. movie of my mom pulling out the strudel dough because I thought my young daughters should see this some day. I made my mom so nervous she had a tear in the dough. Was she ever mad at me!

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