Problems With Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Decorating By tuffstuff Updated 28 Dec 2008 , 12:42am by ceshell

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tuffstuff Posted 26 Dec 2008 , 6:38pm
post #1 of 11

I tried my hand at swiss meringue buttercream for the 3rd time. This was my first time making it for a tiered cake. I don't know how you people do it! It's so soft and if you mar it while handling (which I do A LOT), you can't just smooth it out with a viva towel!
Here's my main problem - I had to throw out my first two attempts because the egg whites cooked! So I tried whisking it constantly but then this made it hard to measure the temperature. I bought one of those candy thermometers that you clip onto the pan but since I'm using the KA mixing bowl, if I clip it, the little ball on the thermometer touches the bowl, which I'm assuming would give you an incorrect temp.
So I have to hold the thermometer with one hand and whisk with the other hand (and the whole time I'm worrying if the heat is too strong).
Then there's the matter of what I call "egg gristle" - that lumpy stuff that is in the egg whites. I tried to keep it ouf the egg whites but it was taking forever so I just left it in. Big mistake. These little clumps later were a problem when I was smoothig the icing. Some of them, I had to pick out with a toothpick. Do you guys usually notice this?
Lastly, my SMB is very soft. Am I just not whipping the egg whites enough?
Anyway, I am not sure if I want to continue using SMB. It's a big PITA. But boy is it TASTY.
Can anyone offer some solutions?
Here's how the cake came out (which wasn't that bad):

10 replies
leah_s Cake Central Cake Decorator Profile
leah_s Posted 26 Dec 2008 , 6:48pm
post #2 of 11

You might like Italian Meringue Buttercream better. Easier to make IMO. And a little more stable.

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tinygoose Posted 26 Dec 2008 , 7:05pm
post #3 of 11

You can also try using powdered egg whites like "Just Whites". SMBC is soft at room temp, but it hardens really fast in the fridge. You can also cut it with some shortening.

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-K8memphis Posted 26 Dec 2008 , 7:52pm
post #4 of 11

I was allergic to thermometers so I never even tried any of the meringue icings. Then I read Margaret Braun's book and she explained how to makie it so even I could get it. She just calls it Vanilla Buttercream.

Margaret Braun's Vanilla Buttercream

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
Tools needed - 2 large mixing bowls; electric stand mixer; whisk; saucepan.

1 1/3 cups (2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature,
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large egg whites.

1. Cream the unsalted butter and the vanilla. Set aside.

2. In the top bowl of a double boiler, whisk the sugar into the egg whites. Place on a pan of simmering water and heat until the sugar is dissolved, whisking constantly to prevent the egg whites from cooking.

3. Beat the cooked mixture on high speed until it forms a medium firm meringue, about 5 minutes.

4. Reduce the speed, and add the creamed butter to the meringue, about 1/4 cup at a time, continue mixing until the buttercream is smooth and creamy.

Don't worry if it curdles--keep beating it.

Eventually I went out and got a stainless bowl that fit down into my dutch oven better. If your bowl does not fit well* you will never get your egg whites to temp. But even if they don't get to temp you can still make the buttercream because I did forever. You just need the sugar to dissolve--just feel it, if it's grainy, wait. If it's smooth you got it.

Often I don't use a thermometer but if I do I use an instant read one--about $7 in the grocery store.

Another real real real real real important thing here. I stand on a stool to do this. I'm 5'8" I'm not short but the whole apparutus gets real high up on the stove huh. So my arm would freaking fall off if I didn't stand on a stool. I have a little step I use.

Those little white dooeys never bother me but you gotta keep that egg mixture movong well, scrape the bowl constantly or it will cook and then you got problems. I actually jack up the temperature and whisk quickly and viola.

I'd recommend that you practice with small amounts. It's worth the effort to me. And after you get the essentials worked out it gets easier and easier. I think I do about 18 egg whites at a time for a batch if memeory serves.

*The bowl needs to fit down and have a good surface to attract the heat. A mixer bowl is ok but when I got the other bowl I was able to finally get my stuff to the proper temp. The new bowl has a flat bottom and sloped sides so more of the surface of it is over the bowl of water.

The mixer bowl is so rounded--it does not conduct heat as well especially if it does not fit tight around the top. I realize it's a minor point but if you are trying to get it to temp it's very important. Again though it's not necessary to get it to temp to make it successfully.

And if you have a problem with those white tags on the eggs, you are not whisking effeciently enough to keep the eggs from cooking.

You can do it!! And shoot that cake is awesome.

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liapsim Posted 26 Dec 2008 , 8:12pm
post #5 of 11

I think your cake looks great! Sorry I can't help!

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JodieF Posted 27 Dec 2008 , 2:55am
post #6 of 11

When I had to do the HUGE 50th anniversary cake last August, and I was going to use all SMBC, I bought a hand mixer. I knew my arm would never hold up whisking for all those batches of SMBC. I whipped the eggs and sugar over the water bath with the hand mixer in one hand, and held my instant read thermometer in the other. Then I put the mixing bowl into a bowl of ice. The meringue would feel like it had let go of it's heat, but the stainless bowl would retain it. The ice bath fixed that problem. The buttercream whipped up beautifully. I think I used 18 pounds of butter for all those batches!


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Mike1394 Posted 27 Dec 2008 , 12:12pm
post #7 of 11
Originally Posted by leahs

You might like Italian Meringue Buttercream better. Easier to make IMO. And a little more stable.

AMEN icon_biggrin.gif I think it tastes better too. The only issue I ever had w/ IMBC was when I over whipped the whites.


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CakeWhizz Posted 27 Dec 2008 , 12:36pm
post #8 of 11

I don't know if this helps but this link demonstrates making SMBC without using a thermometer

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mpaigew Posted 27 Dec 2008 , 1:27pm
post #9 of 11

If you make it again, pour the egg whites through a mesh strainer, this will get rid of the "egg gristle" (I think it is hysterical that you called it that!!! LOL!)

I always add a small amount of shortening when I make smbc to help make it a little more stable. If I were you, I would also try imbc; I personally think it tastes pretty much the same and the process is easier.

Good luck!

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tuffstuff Posted 27 Dec 2008 , 8:06pm
post #10 of 11

Thanks for your help - I will try IMBC!

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ceshell Posted 28 Dec 2008 , 12:42am
post #11 of 11

I love everyone's suggestions for getting rid of the "egg gristle" - thanks, that info will come in handy if I ever try SMBC again. For my part, I prefer IMBC too, for the same reasons Leahs originally stated. Some people think that dealing with the sugar syrup is MORE of a pain but after using both methods, fussing with the egg whites was harder for me. I think I only managed one in 5 batches without the cooked egg bits, but my IMBC always turns out perfect and holds up STRONG. I use the Mousseline Buttercream recipe from The Cake Bible and it worked well from my very first time...and it was the first cooked icing I'd ever made. Personally I prefer pasteurized egg whites for IMBC (the only downside), and yes some brands DO whip into meringue (but not "Just Whites").

Use Antonia74's smoothing method if you don't have a technique you like (although it looks like you do...nice edges too!) ...her post is halfway down page 2.

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