How to Fix Broken Buttercream

Whether French, Italian or Swiss, meringue buttercreams are a dream to work with— they take on flavor and color well, stand up to storage in the fridge or freezer and achieve a velvety texture like no other frosting can… under the right circumstances, that is.

Meringue buttercreams are intimidating to many cakemakers. Take a look into the Cake Central forums and you’ll see read horror stories of mixers full of a curdled mess. But do not be discouraged! With the right tools, ingredients and troubleshooting methods you’ll fall in love with meringue buttercream too.

What is meringue buttercream? A meringue buttercream is an emulsion of fat and liquid. (For more on buttercream emulsion, check out “Science of Baking” in Volume 4, Issue 1 of Cake Central Magazine.) I’ll leave the technical stuff to the scientists. All you need to know for now is that water and oil don’t mix unless you force them together, as in a delicious vanilla Italian meringue buttercream.

Why does buttercream break? The first potential issue is inconsistent temperature. Both your egg/sugar mixture and your butter must be at the same temperature, and I have found that just slightly warmer than room temperature works best for me. Another issue might be excess liquid. Unwanted liquid can result either from failing to cook your sugar syrup to 238° F (for Italian meringue) or from the addition of fruit or other moist flavorings.

How do you know your buttercream is “broken”? Trust me, you’ll know. If your buttercream breaks, the fat and liquid won’t emulsify, and you’ll be left with a bowl of fat globules that look like cottage cheese with soupy liquid in the bottom. Did I paint a picture of how gross this is? It’s gross. But don’t despair. It can be fixed!

The best cure is prevention. The best plan is to avoid a broken buttercream in the first place. You can do this by using a trusted and tested recipe and following the directions meticulously. This means reading through the recipe from start to finish before you even crack the first egg. Be sure to cook your syrup to 238° F, and add fruit and flavorings a little at a time. Avoid adding a lot of moisture, such as fruit juice. Instead, use extracts, oils or compounds.

The Fix. Broken buttercream happens to the best of us, even when you’ve made the same buttercream 1000 times. Here’s how to get yourself back on track:

Step 1: Try mixing it a little longer and see if it comes together on its own.
Step 2: If it doesn’t come together with additional mixing, scoop out a cup of curdled mixture and microwave 5 to 10 seconds, until melted but not hot.
Step 3: Pour melted buttercream into the mixer while on medium speed and whip until combined. This works everytime.

Alternatively, for those braver souls, you can whip on medium speed with a torch against the side of the bowl, until the outside edge of your buttercream is slightly melted. Then whip until combined.

Don’t give up. I can’t overstate the benefits of using a meringue buttercream, and I encourage you to give it a try. Check out these helpful resources to get started:

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Recipe – SMBC

How to Ice & Smooth a Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Comments (12)

on

Your details have persuaded me to give SMBC a 2nd try. Never heard about the heating of a bit of SMBC & adding it back to re-blend. Thanks!!

on

I love using swiss meringue buttercream...but i can seem to color it...like if the gel coloring doesn't incorporate well to the smbc...is there something i'm doing wrong? Should i use powdered food coloring instead? Thank for all your advice :)

on

Gel coloring is water based. It doesn't adhere well to the high-fat content. Stick with lighter buttercream colors when tinting or try using an oil-coloring, like those used for melting chocolates.

on

Please help, I can't get past heating the egg whites and sugar. They turn into scrambled eggs. What am I doing wrong?

on

Thanks for the directions on fixing broken buttercream - worked like a charm. Pretty sure I squealed like a child when it came back together!!!! thank you so much!

on

You indicate egg whites should be cooked to 238 but the video you link to says 160. thats quite a difference!? 

And the ads at the bottom of the video are impossible to close so cant see the written instructions.... 


on

Dara1974. You have to keep mixing with a wisk as you are heating  your egg whites and sugar, if not........scrambled eggs!

on

@bern25, the sugar syrup in IMBC gets cooked to 238 degrees F, not the eggs. In a SMBC, you heat the eggs and sugar together to 160 degrees. Although they use the same ingredients, the Italian and Swiss methods are very different. Be sure you thoroughly read through the recipe before beginning and prepare your mise en place with meticulous detail.

on

OMG.!! Just this morning I had to ice cupcakes to take to work. My btrcrm was in the freezer and I put it in the microwave to soften up so I could beat it back into it's lovelyness ;)!! ..............I left it in a couple of seconds toooooooooooooooo long! I tried to beating it and nothing happened it just thickened into something less soupy. I put it back into the freezer, beat back into the lovelyness it once was, iced those cupcakes and the client was oh so very happy. 


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