Meringue buttercream troubleshooting


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There are a few different threads about meringue buttercream, but most of them are about issues or questions with the meringue itself. The issues I have right now occur after the butter is added so I wanted to start a new thread.

There's been many posts about making meringue properly, and I think my Italian meringue is pretty great now, no problems there. However, I've never been able to get a perfectly smooth finished buttercream with no air bubbles, and I think it has to do with not emulsifying the butter properly when I add it.

To be clear, my procedure is:
  1. Wait for meringue to cool down to ~85°F, and use butter at ~68°F.
  2. Switch to the paddle attachment and start beating on lowest speed.
  3. Add butter in ~10-15 g chunks, waiting until previous addition is incorporated (about 5-10 seconds between additions).
  4. Continue beating on lowest speed until buttercream forms.
While adding the butter, the buttercream usually becomes very soupy, which I know is supposed to be normal. However, even after all the butter is added, it's taken me 20-30 minutes while beating on lowest speed for the buttercream become creamy, which I'd think is much longer than normal. My concern is that I'm doing something wrong in my process of adding the butter which isn't allowing it to emulsify correctly, which results in the many air bubbles in the finished buttercream.

Am I adding the butter too slowly? My thinking is that by waiting too long between additions, I lose the emulsion.

When I google this issue, every single source says to just beat the buttercream on low speed on a stand mixer or mix by handle to knock out the air bubbles. However, even when beating on lowest speed for 30+ minutes, that doesn't solve the problem and neither does trying to press the buttercream against the sides of the bowl using a large rubber spatula. Besides, those are all methods to fix a buttercream with many air bubbles, but I'd like to prevent that from happening in the first place if possible.

For reference, I use a simple 1:2:3 ratio for my Italian buttercream: 1 part egg whites, 2 parts sugar, 3 parts butter. For the latest batch, I used 175 g egg whites. I know that it's a smaller than ideal quantity for a 6 qt mixer, but I always thought that as long as you can still make the meringue fine, it won't be a problem. However, I've read online that to fix air bubbles, you actually need to paddle on lowest speed with the buttercream up to above the level of the paddle. With that quantity, the buttercream was only about 2/3 way up the paddle, so maybe you do actually need the paddle completely submerged in the buttercream to prevent air bubbles?

Here's a picture of the finished buttercream today. Note all the air bubbles.
IMG_20210316_180729[1].jpg


Something that I noticed just this time (hasn't happened before even when I still had many air bubbles) is how the buttercream actually slides around the edges of the bowl. Here's a link on imgur to show this (don't know how to attach videos here). This is something I've seen in improperly emulsified mixtures before, which is why I'm thinking the problem stems from when I'm adding the butter to the meringue. There isn't any separated oil though and the buttercream still looks/taste creamy, it just slides around the bowl when tilted instead of adhering to it. Even after beating for a very long time on lowest/low speed (speeds Stir and 2 on the KitchenAid), I never fixed this.
 
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I’m thinking you could probably have a different ratio with lower butter. I would definitely give you a fluffier buttercream. i’m starting to feel better so I do want to bake a cake this weekend. Let me mess with the ratios using a pound of butter. And I will use my 6 quart mixer and see if can’t increase the volume.
 
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There are a few different threads about meringue buttercream, but most of them are about issues or questions with the meringue itself. The issues I have right now occur after the butter is added so I wanted to start a new thread.

There's been many posts about making meringue properly, and I think my Italian meringue is pretty great now, no problems there. However, I've never been able to get a perfectly smooth finished buttercream with no air bubbles, and I think it has to do with not emulsifying the butter properly when I add it.

To be clear, my procedure is:
  1. Wait for meringue to cool down to ~85°F, and use butter at ~68°F.
  2. Switch to the paddle attachment and start beating on lowest speed.
  3. Add butter in ~10-15 g chunks, waiting until previous addition is incorporated (about 5-10 seconds between additions).
  4. Continue beating on lowest speed until buttercream forms.
While adding the butter, the buttercream usually becomes very soupy, which I know is supposed to be normal. However, even after all the butter is added, it's taken me 20-30 minutes while beating on lowest speed for the buttercream become creamy, which I'd think is much longer than normal. My concern is that I'm doing something wrong in my process of adding the butter which isn't allowing it to emulsify correctly, which results in the many air bubbles in the finished buttercream.

Am I adding the butter too slowly? My thinking is that by waiting too long between additions, I lose the emulsion.

When I google this issue, every single source says to just beat the buttercream on low speed on a stand mixer or mix by handle to knock out the air bubbles. However, even when beating on lowest speed for 30+ minutes, that doesn't solve the problem and neither does trying to press the buttercream against the sides of the bowl using a large rubber spatula. Besides, those are all methods to fix a buttercream with many air bubbles, but I'd like to prevent that from happening in the first place if possible.

For reference, I use a simple 1:2:3 ratio for my Italian buttercream: 1 part egg whites, 2 parts sugar, 3 parts butter. For the latest batch, I used 175 g egg whites. I know that it's a smaller than ideal quantity for a 6 qt mixer, but I always thought that as long as you can still make the meringue fine, it won't be a problem. However, I've read online that to fix air bubbles, you actually need to paddle on lowest speed with the buttercream up to above the level of the paddle. With that quantity, the buttercream was only about 2/3 way up the paddle, so maybe you do actually need the paddle completely submerged in the buttercream to prevent air bubbles?

Here's a picture of the finished buttercream today. Note all the air bubbles.
View attachment 4003

Something that I noticed just this time (hasn't happened before even when I still had many air bubbles) is how the buttercream actually slides around the edges of the bowl. Here's a link on imgur to show this (don't know how to attach videos here). This is something I've seen in improperly emulsified mixtures before, which is why I'm thinking the problem stems from when I'm adding the butter to the meringue. There isn't any separated oil though and the buttercream still looks/taste creamy, it just slides around the bowl when tilted instead of adhering to it. Even after beating for a very long time on lowest/low speed (speeds Stir and 2 on the KitchenAid), I never fixed this.
Too much moisture is making it flow in the bowl like that.
Either excess egg white or the sugar wasn't cooked far enough. cook it to softball.
I would chill it and start mixing it again, it should fluff up at least until the water emulsifies back into it.
 
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Too much moisture is making it flow in the bowl like that.
Either excess egg white or the sugar wasn't cooked far enough. cook it to softball.
I would chill it and start mixing it again, it should fluff up at least until the water emulsifies back into it.
for reference,
225 egg (whites yolks or whole egg whatever you want to use)
1 kilo sugar cooked to softball.
1500 butter.

1.2.3 ratio indicates too much egg in your formula .
and some egg whites contain excess water.
 
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Too much moisture is making it flow in the bowl like that.
Either excess egg white or the sugar wasn't cooked far enough. cook it to softball.
I would chill it and start mixing it again, it should fluff up at least until the water emulsifies back into it.
He doesn’t use vague temperature is like “softball stage“. Rather specific temperature. And for Italian meringue buttercream what home bakers referred to as “softball stage” is incorrect, it is too low.
 
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I cooked the syrup to 248°F, which should be fine enough. I might also add that this was a Bailey's flavoured buttercream, so I added liqueur at 7% the weight of the total buttercream. However, I already noticed the slipping in the bowl before I added that liquid; it was already happening even after I'd only added the vanilla extract, so I didn't include that detail originally since I didn't think it was relevant.
 
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I’m thinking you could probably have a different ratio with lower butter. I would definitely give you a fluffier buttercream. i’m starting to feel better so I do want to bake a cake this weekend. Let me mess with the ratios using a pound of butter. And I will use my 6 quart mixer and see if can’t increase the volume.
Huh I've heard that higher ratios of butter give you a more stable buttercream, so always thought that it would also mean a fluffier buttercream too. Curious to see what your results are from testing!

If the problem is also fixed by increasing volume, I figure I can just make vanilla buttercream in bulk, then freeze it and portion it out to flavour for cakes as needed.

I'm still not sure if the problems are with the ratios themselves though. I used the 1-2-3 ratio in the first place since that's basically the most common ratio that I've found across recipes online and in textbooks/cookbooks; I do think it's more likely to do with temperature issues or adding the butter too slowly.
 
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Huh I've heard that higher ratios of butter give you a more stable buttercream, so always thought that it would also mean a fluffier buttercream too. Curious to see what your results are from testing!

If the problem is also fixed by increasing volume, I figure I can just make vanilla buttercream in bulk, then freeze it and portion it out to flavour for cakes as needed.

I'm still not sure if the problems are with the ratios themselves though. I used the 1-2-3 ratio in the first place since that's basically the most common ratio that I've found across recipes online and in textbooks/cookbooks; I do think it's more likely to do with temperature issues or adding the butter too slowly.
You can actually go down to about 165% in a meringue buttercream. I normally use a higher percent butter fat. So I will buy a butter with a lower percentage of butterfat.

I’ve added butter in different ways and I a different different temperatures. I’m not totally convinced it is a volume issue your bowl, but I want to use my 6 qt to try to recreate your conditions.


This is a full batch of buttercream, it comes to the neck of the paddle. You see the volume—and this has 300% butter to egg whites
553E99CF-3891-4FAD-9801-B71E65BF14CC.jpeg


If you zoom in, you can see it doesn’t have air bubbles.
46ADAF6B-0357-41A7-8902-7F422E44D231.jpeg



This is a half batch. While significantly less in the amount in the bowl, it still have volume
85B3D2AE-5674-4C10-9382-08FDCE017661.jpeg


because there’s less in the bowl in the emulsification process it heats more, so it is warmer. But I still have good volume. And no air bubbles.
5C9A422B-D571-4C79-AE18-45B6A36F82B0.jpeg


After I added the chocolate. I then chilled it. So I am thinking something else is going on with your meringue. I still looks too thick. So I am going to try to recreate the conditions to see if I can figure out what is happening.
012B770C-D509-4C23-8939-EDA6E29FDC72.jpeg
 
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I cooked the syrup to 248°F, which should be fine enough. I might also add that this was a Bailey's flavoured buttercream, so I added liqueur at 7% the weight of the total buttercream. However, I already noticed the slipping in the bowl before I added that liquid; it was already happening even after I'd only added the vanilla extract, so I didn't include that detail originally since I didn't think it was relevant.

That a very good temperature. When did you add the Bailey’s?
 
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That a very good temperature. When did you add the Bailey’s?
Added it after beating the buttercream for around 20-30 minutes on lowest speed after all the butter was added in. I figured at that point the buttercream wasn't going to get any better from further beating. I first added in a bit of vanilla extract and beat that in to incorporate before the Bailey's. Since I noticed the slipping in the bowl already, I added the Bailey's very slowly to try to prevent the emulsion from completely breaking.

Since I actually used the buttercream today, not yesterday, I chilled it, let it come to room temperature, then re-beat it on lowest speed. Here's a gif to show it in the mixer. As @retired baker mentioned, doing that did help it fluff up and got rid of the slipping issue, but the air bubbles remained. The gif also gives a better idea of how much volume was in the bowl if that helps with your testing. The temperature of the buttercream at that point was 72°F.
 
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Added it after beating the buttercream for around 20-30 minutes on lowest speed after all the butter was added in. I figured at that point the buttercream wasn't going to get any better from further beating. I first added in a bit of vanilla extract and beat that in to incorporate before the Bailey's. Since I noticed the slipping in the bowl already, I added the Bailey's very slowly to try to prevent the emulsion from completely breaking.

Since I actually used the buttercream today, not yesterday, I chilled it, let it come to room temperature, then re-beat it on lowest speed. Here's a gif to show it in the mixer. As @retired baker mentioned, doing that did help it fluff up and got rid of the slipping issue, but the air bubbles remained. The gif also gives a better idea of how much volume was in the bowl if that helps with your testing. The temperature of the buttercream at that point was 72°F.

OK adding it after the buttercream has emulsified is good. The bettercream should not pull away from the bowl during mixing and coagulate into mass. And in the gif it doesn’t look like it’s pulling away from the bowl.

But I’ll run a test and see what the texture is like.
 
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@Norcalbaker59 I did another test with Italian buttercream today, this time with a bigger batch. My ratios and amounts were

100% | 380 g | Egg whites
200% | 760 g | Sugar
250% | 950 g | Butter

Pretty much the same procedure, cooked syrup to 248°F, added to stiff peaks meringue.

Probably due to the bigger batch, but the cooked meringue took forever to cool down to the desired temperature. I was beating it on speed 7 after adding the hot syrup. After 25 minutes, it was at very stiff peaks but still above 100°F, so I started rubbing the bottom of the bowl with an ice pack. After 15 minutes of doing this (40 minutes total), it was still above 90°F, so I put it in the fridge. After 20 minutes in the fridge (now 60 minutes since adding the hot syrup), it had finally cooled down to 85°F (measured after re-homogenizing it).

And in the process of cooling down, the Italian meringue had lost some noticeable volume. I took a couple videos ( ) where you can see the meringue progressively losing volume. The first gif was maybe around 15-20 minutes, while the second was later on but I forgot how long into the process; you can see how the meringue isn't reaching as high up in the bowl as the meringue that's on the sides from when it was at max volume. Is this normal for an Italian meringue?

But of course the entire goal was to see if this time I'd still have air bubbles, and unfortunately they were still present. I added 68°F butter to the 85°F meringue, this time trying to add it more quickly. After adding the butter, the mixture turned soupy, then curdled, and it took about 20-25 minutes of beating on lowest speed to form a creamy buttercream. Measured at 188 g/cup. Even this batch didn't go up to the neck of the paddle, as you can probably guess from how high the meringue was, so maybe that is really necessary to ensure no air bubbles?

I'm still not sure where the problem is. Could also be the meringue - you mentioned that it looked too thick before, and from the gifs you can already tell how much thicker it is from how much volume it lost from its max volume after adding in the hot syrup. It was noticeably denser and much harder to move the whisk attachment through it. Could be another reason for air bubbles in the finished buttercream? But the problem is that even after the meringue has reached stiff peaks and max volume, it's temperature was still way too high and so I had no choice but to continue whipping.
 
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@Cahoot,
There will be a slight decrease in volume, not much though. If it is taking that long to cool try adding the butter around 90°F. The melting point of butter is 95°F. So as long as you’re well below that you should be fine. You just don’t want the butter to break. I’ve added the butter to the meringue at 90°F. The buttercream will be a little soft and you may need to chill it before using it.

I’m going to get back to the baking mid week. So will do the buttercream as well. I had some things that had been canceled earlier in the week and then at the last minute added back on my schedule Friday. I have some appts on Mon & Tue, one of which is my first dose for the COVID vaccine. I am excited to finally get the vaccine. But I have to drive to the next county. My county has no vaccine appointments available even for those of us in the high risk group.
 
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@Norcalbaker59 yay! Happy to hear that, hope all went well with the vaccination.

@Cahoot
I watched my friend make a Swiss buttercream last week. Context: hot humid kitchen. To get the buttercream to cool down, she placed ice packs all around the mixer bowl but it was falling off. Probably a terrible way to use cake strips, but I suggested that she gets some cake strips to secure the ice packs around the bowl. She’s getting wiltons and regency ( the cake strips with Velcro) to try out.

We get a lot of free reusable ice packs when we order online groceries here.

I’ll update if that helps with the cool down process.

Sorry no help for air bubbles though.
 
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@Norcalbaker59 yay! Happy to hear that, hope all went well with the vaccination.

@Cahoot
I watched my friend make a Swiss buttercream last week. Context: hot humid kitchen. To get the buttercream to cool down, she placed ice packs all around the mixer bowl but it was falling off. Probably a terrible way to use cake strips, but I suggested that she gets some cake strips to secure the ice packs around the bowl. She’s getting wiltons and regency ( the cake strips with Velcro) to try out.

We get a lot of free reusable ice packs when we order online groceries here.

I’ll update if that helps with the cool down process.

Sorry no help for air bubbles though.
Ahh that's a neat idea! It does get really tiring standing beside your mixer rubbing the bowl with an ice pack for 20 minutes straight haha. In the future I'll probably just start doing with placing the ice packs around the stand mixer bowl as soon as it needs to start cooling down instead of waiting. With that plus adding cooler butter hopefully making a meringue buttercream won't be a 2 hour process anymore.
 
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Ahh that's a neat idea! It does get really tiring standing beside your mixer rubbing the bowl with an ice pack for 20 minutes straight haha. In the future I'll probably just start doing with placing the ice packs around the stand mixer bowl as soon as it needs to start cooling down instead of waiting. With that plus adding cooler butter hopefully making a meringue buttercream won't be a 2 hour process anymore.
Look into a large flexible physical therapy ice pack.

In another life I used to be a pretty decent athlete. Once when I was in physical therapy for a torn iliotibial band, they used this really large flexible ice pack that they would wrap around my thigh after my session. When I saw it, I was like, I can think of a use for that in my kitchen. I asked if they could sell me one. They didn’t have a spare, so they ordered one for me. But I would guess you could buy one online somewhere or from a PT place.

I’ve had this thing for years so I can’t remember what I paid for it.

This thing is large and flexible so I am able to wrap it around the bowl.

20CE2486-1DDC-4600-AE63-E83ADF407729.jpeg
 
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