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Jul 16, 2007 07:21 AM

how to 'stiffen' Italian Meringue buttercream?


I used to have no problems with making Italian meringue buttercream. But, the last few times I've done it, I've ended up with a product that is quite soupy (even after refrigeration). There are two natural questions that arise from this:

1). What am I doing wrong?


2.) How can I correct the buttercream I just made?

If it makes any difference, the recipe is roughly 6 egg whites, 2c sugar and I think I used roughly 2 sticks of butter. I think the recipe calls for a full 4 sticks of butter, but I don't like it with that much butter. (Plus extracts, a bit of water and karo for the sugar syrup, etc., etc.) I know I'm not including any technique info. However, I don't have time to make another batch, so, to be honest, I'm not looking for answers to #1 right now.

What I really need is some advice on #2. The buttercream has been in the fridge for ~24 hours, and is still like a thick batter. It's just vanilla flavored, and I've added different colored dyes to different pots of it so that the birthday boy can receive his requested 'rainbow' colors. The recipients of my baking prowess, such as it is, are a bunch of 4 year olds, so I'm not too worried about refined palates being offended.

Is there any way to rescue the buttercream and make it useable? I'm inclined to try and beat in powdered sugar (remember, these are 4 year olds--there's almost no way it can be too sweet for them). Does anybody have any other ideas? I don't think I'm going to be able to keep stuff adequately refrigerated to prevent the icing from just sliding off the cupcakes, so that's not an option. I've already made part the buttercream chocolate by mixing in melted bittersweet chocolate, and that is sufficiently stiffened by the chocolate. It's the vanilla flavored buttercream that needs rescuing.


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  1. Butter is what is used to give body and structure to your buttercream, so reducing the butter content by half caused your problem. You have too much liquid (egg whites, flavoring, etc) to form a good emulsion (butter cream is basically an emulsion-you are mixing water and fat). You might be able to salvage it by taking two sticks of butter and creaming them, and then add in the soupy buttercream slowly, however your meringue may have lost too much of its air at this point for it to solidify.

    A general guideline is for every egg white, you want just over 2 ounces of butter. 6 egg whites is approx. 6 oz, so you should have had 12-14 ounces of butter or emulsified shortening, which translates into about 3 1/2 sticks of butter. If you do not want so much "buttery taste" replace butter with emulsified shortening like crisco.

    If you would like a new recipe that shouldn't take too long to prepare, e-mail me at

    Hope this helps!


    4 Replies
    1. re: mystic3030

      Thanks, mystic, that does help. Sigh. Perhaps I will give this a try. While too much butter taste is off putting to me, crisco in frosting is, IMHO, absolutely revolting.

      When I get home I'll put out some butter to come to room temp, let the buttercream come to room temp and see if I can make this all come together.

      1. re: Smokey

        Smokey - please report back. I'm curious to see how it turns out. Plus, if you do end up successful I'd love to see snaps of the finished cake!

        1. re: Smokey

          I agree with your thoughts on crisco in frosting being gross, as well as the strong butter taste being unappealing, which is why I generally do not enjoy buttercream. If you ever have a buttercream that has very little butter taste, it is most likely mixed with a shortening. Most bakeries and grocery stores use that method, or are using a very mild sweet butter, which can be expensive; upwards of $10 a pound, which is why some cakes cost a LOT of money. Shortening is used to cut cost, as well as the butter taste.

          I hope your project turns out OK, but if it doesn't you can always combine some cream cheese, a *little* bit of butter, lemon juice, and sugar in a mixer and whip it for a quick, good frosting, without that butter taste!


          1. re: mystic3030

            Oh, believe me, I know that supermarkets usually use crisco. The bad taste and mouthfeel of it is apparent in every bite!

            As for the cream cheese frosting idea, it's not bad, but I don't think it will go with the cupcakes I'm making. Thanks!

      2. I'm no expert but I suspect it's soupy because you didn't add all the butter that was called for. Proportions are soooo important. THe only other possible cause may be that if you didn't beat the egg/syrup mixture until cool (I'm assuming it was a boiled syrup?) before adding the butter it may have melted the butter...ergo the soupiness.

        I suggest trying the powdered I can't see any other way of stiffening it up to be spreadable. Good luck!!

        5 Replies
        1. re: HungryLetsEat

          Powdered sugar will not stiffen it, and could possibly make the problem worse. Sugar is hydroscopic, which means it will attract moisture. The sugar is just going to dissolve in the liquid, and make an unbearable sweet product. The best solution is what I stated above...cream some more butter and try to add the soupy buttercream in to it.

          Even if the butter melted, you would not have a soupy texture, it would be hard, since the butter fat would just become re-set in the refrigerator, and you would have the water from the butter pooling on top of the buttercream.

          Your problem was definitely not enough butter in the beginning.

          1. re: mystic3030

            THanks for the info, mystic3030! I knew I should have waited for the experts to weigh in I learned something new as well.

            1. re: mystic3030

              I think agree with you about not trying powdered sugar to bolster frosting that is "soupy." However, I can say from experience that frosting that is just a little too loose can definitely benefit from a powdered sugar rescue.

              I'm not convinced that not enough butter is the whole answer, however. I see recipes that are VERY similar except for widely varying amounts of butter. I think Smokey may have gotten his sugar syrup too hot and killed his meringue.

              Smokey, were you using a thermometer, and did you transfer your sugar to another vessel before pouring it into your whites?

              1. re: danna

                I don't think I killed the meringue. I was using a thermometer, took the sugar to 240, poured it slowly into frothy/white egg whites, taking care to neither hit whisk nor side of bowl. I got a BIG BOWL full of fairly thick/hard meringue that I let whip for a good 10-15 minutes so that it had a chance to pretty thoroughly cool down before I started tossing in chunks of room temp butter.

                I didn't transfer the hot sugar syrup to another vessel, but have never done that before.

                1. re: Smokey

                  Yeah, from the description, i don't think you did either. The time I "killed" mine, it turned into a soupy mess toward the end of the pouring of sugar syrup.

                  According to Ruth, you should transfer to a glass measure to stop the sugar temp from continuning to rise. But as you know, she's kind of a PIA. ;-)

                  I, too, don't care for super-buttery-greasy icing. Do try the frosting I mentioned in the nirvana thread sometime. The creme anglais gives you a few more ingredients that are neither butter nor sugar to keep you from being overwhelmed by either.

          2. Thanks for all the advice. mystic3030's advice worked perfectly. I let the buttercream and some more butter come to room temp. Whipped a few Tb. more into each of my colored pots of buttercream and they stiffened up nicely. Certainly no ability to pipe this stuff, but that wasn't my goal. I just didn't want buttercream soup running off the sides of the cupcakes!

            Thanks for the help!