Fluffy (Swiss Meringue) Buttercream Frosting

Fluffy (Swiss Meringue) Buttercream Frosting
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Many people make buttercream frosting, which we generally refer to as lard frosting. They take room-temperature butter, blend it with a lot of powdered sugar, add food coloring, perhaps a bit of flavoring, and call it frosting. It’s a travesty. It tastes like butter and powdered sugar, or, more often, shortening and sugar. Ugh. Fortunately, we know a way to make a light, fluffy buttercream frosting. It takes a bit more effort, but it is so worth it.

We learned this technique from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking, From my Home to Yours, and use it whenever we need an exceptional buttercream frosting. The first time we used it was for her Perfect Party Cake and it rocked. It wasn’t lardy, and it wasn’t even heavy (even though it had 3 sticks of butter); instead, it was like having a bite of a sweet cloud. We’ll provide a recipe that will frost a nine-inch single layer cake. Double it if you have a two-layer cake.

Makes frosting for a nine-inch cake.

Fluffy Buttercream Frosting

Fluffy Buttercream Frosting


  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla and/or other flavors
  • Possible other flavorings:
  • Lemon: use 2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Chocolate: use 2-3 Tbs best quality cocoa

Abbreviated Instructions

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Place over boiling water and whisk until hot, about 3 minutes.

Place on stand mixer, and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high until cool, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment, and, on medium-high, add the butter 4 tablespoons at a time, allowing it to become fully incorporated before adding the next.

Mix on medium-high until thick and smooth, 6 to 10 minutes.

Turn mixer to medium, and add vanilla and any other flavorings or colorings.


Ingredient discussion:

Yep, no confectioners’ sugar needed. Just plain old granulated. Naturally, we use whites from free-range eggs, and pure vanilla extract, and definitely unsalted butter. No one likes salty frosting. Fewer ingredients always means you want the best ingredients possible.

Procedure in detail:

improvised double boiler
It’s easy to set up a double boiler for this frosting. Just find a pan that the mixing bowl almost fits into.

Make a double boiler. Take the mixing bowl from your stand mixer and find a pan that it can sit in without touching the bottom. Add water to the pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low boil. Place mixing bowl over the boiling water.



egg whites and sugar
It looks like marshmallow sauce once the sugar has dissolved into the egg whites and it’s heated through.

Whisk egg whites and sugar. Put the egg whites and sugar into the mixing bowl and whisk them together. Keep on whisking. As the mixture warms, the sugar will dissolve and start to look like marshmallow sauce. Keep whisking until the sauce is hot, about 3 minutes.



egg whites and sugar.
Whip it with the stand mixer until it’s cool, about 5 minutes. The frosting will then have the appearance, but not the viscosity, of shiny taffy. We think it’s technically a meringue at this stage.

Whisk to cool. Place the bowl on the stand mixer, with the whisk attachment, and whisk on medium-high until cool, about 5 minutes. You didn’t think we’d make you whisk that by hand, did you? The mixture will get glossy and smooth.



fluffly buttercream
You really want the butter pretty soft when you add it, as it’ll make for a lighter, fluffier frosting.

Beat in butter. Change to the paddle attachment, and, still on medium high, add the butter in three additions, making sure the butter is fully incorporated before adding the next piece.

Beat. Let the mixer run on medium-high until the frosting has thickened and is super-smooth, about 6 to 10 minutes. If the frosting separates, continue mixing; it will come back together.



adding cocoa
We used cocoa as both the coloring and flavoring, but other flavors and colors work, too. Using the juice of a whole lemon makes for a really, really good frosting.

Add flavorings. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the vanilla and any other flavorings, making sure to add them in small amounts (1-2 teaspoons at a time).



Frosted cake
This made enough to frost the entire cake, but we wanted to leave the dark sides exposed to be reminiscent of a glass of Guinness.
Guinness and Guinness shaped cake
By making stencils and dusting on cocoa and powdered sugar we were able to let people know the special ingredient in the cake!


Frost and decorate. Since we intended this for a Chocolate Guinness Cake, we added cocoa and stenciled a glass of the dark drink on top of the cake.

We had also made those four little tart pans, partly so we could use the excess batter, and partly for this:

Will the real Guinness please stand up.
Will the real Guinness please stand up.

This is a great frosting; it’s not super-sweet and it’s pretty light. For those who want to decorate, it’s an easy-to-handle frosting, especially if you chill the cake and have the frosting at room temperature. As far as we can tell, the only downside is that the frosting hardens when refrigerated, making it more like the traditional buttercreams. So, we just try to remember to allow the cake to warm a bit before serving. Five stars.

Worth the trouble?

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