Buttercream is my quintessential topping when it comes to cakes. If a cake or cupcake isn’t iced in buttercream, it probably isn’t going to find its way into my mouth. For most of my life I thought that buttercream was pretty simple. You mix powdered sugar, butter, cream, and vanilla, and voila – buttercream! But a couple of years ago I was introduced to a different variation of this tasty treat, Swiss buttercream.
Swiss buttercream is a little more involved, but don’t let that intimidate you. This version of buttercream is perfectly manageable and almost fool proof. Swiss buttercream differs from American buttercream (the simple version on the back of the powdered sugar bag) in that it starts with a meringue base. You heat sugar and egg whites over a double boiler until the sugar is dissolved, then you whip the egg white base on high speed until if forms soft peaks. Then you slowly add in butter until you have a heavenly dessert topping.
When finished you are left with a silky smooth icing that is light and airy. Not necessarily words you would normally use to describe buttercream, but this version earns it! Where American buttercream can err on the heavy side, Swiss buttercream won’t leave you feeling weighed down. The sweetness is subtle, not cloyingly sweet, just perfectly balanced.
The recipe I have for you today uses a simple cranberry puree to flavor the buttercream. If you’d like to make just a plain buttercream instead, simply omit the cranberry puree. You can also sub in other flavors such as chocolate or different fruit curds by simply replacing the cranberry puree. If you are interested in learning about the different types of buttercream, Serious Eats has an awesome article that explains all the nuances.
Room temperature butter is very subjective. For this recipe, you want the butter to be soft, but still have a slight still. Butter that has sat at room temperature for too long will keep the buttercream from properly setting up, and require you to chill the buttercream before you can finish whipping.
The amount of cranberry puree is subjective. I found that adding the minimum of 75 grams led to a very subtle cranberry flavor. I wanted bigger flavor from the cranberries, so I ended up adding 115 grams.
Swiss buttercream can be made ahead and stored in the fridge. If making ahead of time, allow the buttercream to come to room temperature on the counter for a couple hours prior to using. If you try to use it right out of the fridge, the buttercream will be too hard to be manageable.
I found that making this ahead of time and storing it in the fridge for a couple days allowed the cranberry flavor to intensify.
Cranberry Swiss Buttercream
Total Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yields: about 2 ½ cups
Shelf Life: 1 week airtight in the fridge or frozen for up to 3 months
340 g unsalted butter, room temperature
115 g egg whites
225 g sugar
12 g vanilla extract
75 to 115 g cranberry puree (recipe below)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Whisk the sugar and egg whites in a heat proof bowl. Heat the mixture over a double boiler, whisking constantly. Heat until the mixture reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer, the mixture should feel smooth when tested with your fingers. If the mixture feels gritty, continue to cook until smooth. For me, this took about 10 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a stand mixer, and whip at high speed until soft peaks form and the mixture is glossy.
Add in the vanilla and the salt.
With the mixer on medium high speed, pinch off small pats of butter and add in gradually. Allow the butter to fully incorporate before adding additional butter. Continue adding until all the butter has been used.
Add in the cranberry puree. Continue to beat on high speed until creamy and emulsified. If the buttercream doesn’t look creamy, see below for some common troubleshooting tips.
Troubleshooting Broken Buttercream
If the buttercream looks curdled, continue to beat on high speed. Swiss buttercream tends to go through a stage where is appears curdled before it comes together.
If the buttercream is thin and soupy, it is likely the egg whites didn’t cool down enough before you started to add in the butter. Place the bowl of the mixer in the fridge for about 10 minutes. The icing around the edges will just start to solidify. Remove the bowl from the fridge and whip again on high speed until the buttercream comes together.
Total Time: 25 to 30 minutes
Prep Time: 5 to 10 minutes
Inactive time: 20 minutes
Yields: about 1 cup
Shelf Life: about 1 to 2 weeks airtight in the fridge or frozen for about 3 months
8 oz fresh cranberries (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ cup water
Pinch kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
Cook over medium heat until cranberries pop, about 5-10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook an additional 10-15 minutes until the mixture thickens. The mixture should be on the thick side and coat the back of a spoon without running off.
Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.