Can You Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream in Small Batches?

Have you ever made Swiss Meringue Buttercream?

If not, I do suggest it, because this egg white-augmented buttercream has a fantastic flavor, and agreeable texture which is well suited for covering or filling cakes and piping into designs. And it also holds its shape, so while it doesn't have extreme super powers, it won't lose its shape or melt quite as quickly as a pain old American buttercream would in hot or humid conditions.

So who reading has made Swiss meringue buttercream?

I'd be willing to bet that some of you have, but a lot of you haven't, because it seems confusing and really hard. It also seems very high-stakes, because if you've perused recipes online, they all seem to yield a ridiculous amount of buttercream--on a recent search, I saw recipe yields of 9 cups, 10 cups, and so on. I suppose this is because it's often used to frost wedding cakes, which would require a larger quantity. But what if you only one to frost one cake, and don't need a vat of Swiss meringue buttercream in your house? 

That led to the big question for me: what would happen if I tried to make small-batch Swiss meringue?

Sounded like a #whathappenswednesday experiment to me. I decided to halve or possibly third a recipe and find out. 

While many recipes looked appetizing, it was Ron-Ben Israel's that kept my attention, primarily because the quantities were perfect for reducing: it called for 9 egg whites, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 6 sticks of butter. I used just a third of each of those ingredients: 3 large egg whites, 1/2 cup sugar, and 2 sticks of butter (and a dash of salt, added in - my addition). 

I followed the recipe if not the quantities to the letter, first lightly cooking the egg whites and sugar...

beating the mixture until it cooled and formed soft peaks and then firm peaks...

and then adding butter. 

The only weird part of the recipe was when I added the butter and the mixture looked all mangled and ugly for a few minutes. But I was assured by the recipe (and by other sources) that this was normal with a regular batch, too. I kept beating and the buttercream smoothed out and made a great topping for this cake. 

So, the answer is YES! It is possible to make Swiss meringue buttercream in small batches. Here's how.

Small-batch Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Adapted from Ron-Ben Israel - printable version here

  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 
  • pinch salt

Place the egg whites and the sugar in a large metal mixing bowl (I used a bowl which would fit in my stand mixer for an easy transition) set above a pot of simmering water. With the water simmering all the while, whisk the mixture until the sugar melts (no grittiness!) and the mixture becomes warm and very thin in consistency, like a just slightly thick pouring consistency. 

Remove the bowl from heat, and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form (I transferred the bowl to the stand mixer and did this in minutes). 

Now, add the butter and salt, and mix on low speed. The butter is going to look weird and lumpy at first. Don't panic.

Keep mixing. The mixture will start to look curdled and wrong. DO NOT PANIC.

Keep on mixing! Once you don't see any big lumps of butter, you can increase the mixing speed to medium-high. Eventually (it can take a few minutes), the mixture will become smooth and silky in texture. From here, you can add in flavorings, or add a touch of milk if needed to thin the buttercream. I like a fairly thick buttercream, so I left it pretty thick.

If you're not using this buttercream right away, you can refrigerate it. Re-beat before using to maintain the smoothness. Also re-beat if it begins to look lumpy as you're icing your cake. 

Have you ever made Swiss meringue buttercream?