Italian Meringue Buttercream

This buttercream is excellent for any celebration cake, cupcakes, or baked good topping. It is also easy to flavor with extracts or flavorings, so it is adaptable to nearly any dessert icing need.

Italian Meringue Buttercream
Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox
Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
30 mins
4 1/2 cups

Italian Meringue Buttercream combines the light, airy quality of meringue with the richness of buttercream . A go-to favorite in home kitchens, it is also commonly found in professional bakeries because of its stable structure, ease to work with in piping and decorating, and subtle sweetness that goes with any dessert frosting need. While it takes a little more effort to create than standard buttercream, you'll appreciate the work involved in creating this silky, melt-in-your-mouth icing.

What Sets Italian Meringue Buttercream Apart From a Standard Icing?

Compared to a simple buttercream that blends powdered sugar, butter, and flavorings quickly, Italian meringue buttercream takes more time to prepare and requires a few specific tools to ensure success.

As the name suggests, Italian meringue buttercream combines hot sugar and whipped egg whites to create an Italian meringue, followed by adding soft butter and vanilla extract. The ingredients are few, but how they are blended makes a light, smooth icing with a subtle sweetness that is ideal for decorating any cake, cupcake, or dessert.

What Does This Buttercream Taste Like?

Italian meringue buttercream has been described as light, silky, rich, and less sweet than standard buttercreams or icings. It has a wonderful balance of rich flavor from the butter while being soft and airy because of the meringue. It is an adaptable recipe that can be flavored with any extract or flavoring.

Do I Need Any Unique Ingredients or Tools To Make This Recipe?

Only a few ingredients are needed to make this buttercream at home: fresh egg whites, granulated sugar, water, unsalted butter, and vanilla extract.

This recipe involves making a meringue with hot sugar, so you will need a sugar thermometer, as well as a stand mixer to help whip the egg whites and sugar together safely.

italian meringue buttercream ingredients
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

How To Make Italian Buttercream

The process involves boiling granulated sugar and water to 240°F (also known as "soft-ball stage"), then adding the hot sugar to whipped egg whites. You might recognize this method if you've made an Italian meringue for other desserts, such as a lemon tart or a baked Alaska—but this recipe takes it one step further.

making italian meringue buttercream
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Once the meringue has cooled, you add butter piece by piece until the meringue and butter are thoroughly combined. Finally, add your vanilla extract and blend; then, you have a deliciously light buttercream ready to use for decorating.

adding vanilla to italian meringue buttercream
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Can I Make an Italian Meringue Buttercream Without a Candy Thermometer?

It is much easier to use a thermometer when making this buttercream, but there is another method to use that has been used in kitchens for generations.

To have your sugar up to the necessary temperature, 240°F, will mean your sugar is at the "soft-ball" stage. Sugar goes through various stages as it is cooking, and the softball stage refers to the point when the sugar, once cooled, will be able to form a pliable ball that feels a little like sap in your fingers.

To use this method, you'll need to drop a small amount of the cooked sugar into a glass of cold water, wait for it to cool slightly, then roll it in your fingertips. If the sugar dissolves in your fingertips, it hasn't cooked long enough; If the sugar is too hard and forms a hard ball, it has been overcooked.

Could I Add Different Flavors or Colors to the Buttercream?

Absolutely! The recipe lends itself well to different flavorings and extracts. Feel free to add your favorite flavors to this recipe in place of vanilla, and adjust the amount to fit your preference.

You can also add food color to the buttercream, but keep in mind that using food color gels (available online and at specialty stores) will give you a more prominent color than liquid food colors commonly found in grocery stores.

Should I Only Use This Buttercream for Cakes?

Italian Meringue Buttercream is perfect for any dessert that needs frosting. It is ideal for topping and decorating layer cakes but also great for cupcakes , to use as a filling for cookies and cookie sandwiches (especially French macarons), and great for topping cookie bars and brownies .

Keep in mind that the buttercream stays soft at room temperature and won't develop a sugary crust like icings tend to do. Avoid stacking anything on the icing and use a light wrap when storing desserts.

Can I Make Italian Meringue Buttercream Ahead of Time?

Italian Meringue Buttercream can be made in advance and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

If you don't plan on using the buttercream or have leftovers, it refrigerates and freezes very well.

If you do chill the buttercream, give it time to return to room temperature and re-whip it before you use it. If the buttercream seems separated as you are mixing it, continue whipping, and it will return to a smooth consistency.

italian meringue buttercream
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Editorial contributions by Nik Pugmire .


  • 2 ¾ cups granulated sugar, separated (550 grams)

  • 5 large egg whites (170 grams)

  • 2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature (454 grams)

  • ½ cup water (118 grams)

  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract (7 grams)


  1. In a medium saucepan, combine 2 ½ cups sugar and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil on your stovetop. Allow this sugar mixture to cook until the syrup reaches 240°F. Tip: Avoid the temptation to stir the sugar and water while it's boiling. This can lead to the sugar crystalizing, resulting in a gritty texture. If you notice sugar crystals on the side of the pot while cooking, either wipe them away with a pastry brush dipped in cool water or cover the pot with a lid for a few minutes to allow the condensation to drip down the sides.

  2. Once the sugar-water syrup reaches 230°F, begin whipping your egg whites and the remaining ¼ cup sugar in a stand mixer at a high speed with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. The goal is to have the egg whites at soft peaks and the syrup at 240°F around the same time. If the egg whites are at soft peaks before the syrup reaches 240°F, reduce the speed to low and continue to mix until the sugar is ready.

  3. Let the syrup cool slightly, allowing the bubbles to slow down; then, with your mixer on low, add the sugar to the egg whites in a steady stream between the side of the bowl and the whisk attachment. Once all the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high, and continue to whip until the meringue has cooled to room temperature.

  4. Slowly add the butter to the meringue in small pieces, allowing the meringue to incorporate the butter before adding more. The mixture might look like it is separating during this process, but that is entirely normal—keep mixing, and it will all come together. Continue adding the butter until it is thoroughly combined, and mix the buttercream until it is noticeably light and smooth.

  5. Add the vanilla extract, and blend until well combined. Use immediately, or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until needed.


If you want to use Italian meringue buttercream after it has been refrigerated, it will need to come up to room temperature, then be mixed again until it is smooth and creamy. It is normal for the buttercream to look separated once it has been chilled but continue to mix until it comes back together.

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