How to Decorate Cakes with Italian Meringue Buttercream

August 12, 2012

This is a 10 year old learning to pipe buttercream roses with Italian meringue buttercream

Italian meringue buttercream is my preferred buttercream for icing cake with.  To color it, I add a small amount of Confectioner’s Sugar to it which allows the buttercream to accept food color gels.

Italian Meringue Buttercream

½ cup pasteurized egg whites

1 ¼ cups sugar divided ½ cup for the meringue and ¾ cups sugar for the hot syrup

¼ cups cold water

1 pound unsalted butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Italian meringue buttercream is made by whipping egg whites to a soft peak and then stabilizing them with granulated sugar.  Pouring a hot syrup into the stabilized egg whites and whipping the whole mass to cool before adding the softened unsalted butter.


Put the egg whites into the bowl of a heavy duty mixer with a whip and whip to the soft peak stage.   The mechanics of whipping egg whites is the development of air bubbles that are sitting one on top of the other.  As the whites whip the bubbles of air become tinier.  Soft peaks will show you small bubbles of air and when you pick up the whip, the peak will fall to one side.  Stiff peaks are when the whites raised on the whip will not fall at all.

When your egg whites are at the soft peak stage, gradually pour in ½ of a cup of granulated sugar reserving the remaining ¾ cups of granulated sugar for the hot syrup.

In a saucepan, bring the remaining ¾ cups sugar to a boil and allow it to reach a temperature of 240 degrees F.  Carefully pour the hot sugar into the whipped egg whites which will have tripled in volume. The whites will be very hot and must be allowed to continue to whip which will cool them and turn this mixture into a meringue.

When the whites are cooled, add the pound of unsalted butter and finally the teaspoon of vanilla.

To color the buttercream, you must add confectioners’ sugar which will allow gel colors to become vivid.  Never use liquid bottled color.  Always use gel colors with Italian meringue buttercream.

An 8 year old piping flowers with Italian meringue buttercream.

Mastering the techniques does not take long. It can be accomplished rather quickly.

When you first start to pipe buttercream flowers, it will feel awkward because you are using muscles in your hands and arms that you do not ordinarily use.  Part of the process in learning to pipe buttercream flowers is to build those muscles with repeated use and to create muscle memory.  Eye hand coordination is also developed in this process.  Remember to do a bit of piping over  a period of days for the quickest results.  You will actually be processing the piping techniques in your sleep and over time, your piping will improve.

It is always best to crumb coat the outside of the cake that is to be decorated.

Smooth layers of buttercream are best added a layer at a time. The first application of buttercream on a raw cake is called the crumb coat. Masking the cakes requires a couple of smooth coats of buttercream.

When I teach buttercream piping, I always start with the rose as that is a challenging flower for people to learn and master.  After accomplishing the rose, the remaining flowers are rather easy to learn to pipe.

It is helpful to know what kind of tips to use to pipe the various flowers.  It is always nice to have your tools and equipment perform a couple of functions.

Ateco has so kindly placed this beautiful photo of tips on the web and if you don’t know which tips to purchase, go to the Ateco website and study the kinds of tips you can use.

The flowers above are made with a curved tip #61 which will also make a beautiful cupped blossom.  Dots are made with round tips of various sizes from #1, #2, #3 on up to #12 which will make a beautiful pearl dot border.  Become familiar with the tips, their shapes and what they can do for you.  Experiment and practice each day until you feel comfortable holding a piping bag and applying the amount of pressure on the bag necessary to pipe beautiful flowers and leaves.

15 Responses to “How to Decorate Cakes with Italian Meringue Buttercream”

  1. jessica Says:

    Where does the water incorporate in this buttercream recipe?

    • The 3/4 cup of sugar that is put into the saucepan is moistened with the water to then bring that to a boil which will reach a temperature of 240 degrees F and that syrup is then poured into the stabilized egg whites..this in effect cooks the whites which must be whipped until they are cooled and then the butter is added to the whites which have become a meringue..and Italian meringue is a meringue in which hot syrup is added to whipped egg whites..French meringue is a hot syrup added to whipped egg yolks..and Swiss meringue is a mixture of egg whites and sugar warmed to 145 degrees F over a bain marie..or double boiler..before they are whipped..hope that is clear and I will correct the recipe to help make it clearer for people..thank you for pointing this out..

  2. Sharon Says:

    Hi, how much confectioner’s sugar sghould you add in context to this recipe?

  3. mama Says:

    hi i would like to know how much confectioners should i add if i want to color it. Thanks 🙂

  4. mama Says:

    I just saw the previous comment. sorry. 🙂 Thanks anyway

  5. Norhayati Says:

    Can I use IMBC to pipe flower/rose in the warm and humid country?

    • So.. you can pipe Italian meringue buttercream roses in warm humid areas.. My hands heated up those piping bags.. I would just get some cold IMBC and blend the warmed buttercream into it and worked it in the Hobart a bit to pull it altogether.. the trick is to maintain a cool temperature with the buttercream.. that may requiring finessing it by blending it with colder buttercream so it is sturdy enough to pipe.. if that is clear? lol

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