Culinary Arts

What Is Italian Meringue? Easy Recipe for Italian Meringue Buttercream

Written by the MasterClass staff

Apr 30, 2019 • 5 min read

A meringue is a foam of air bubbles enclosed in egg white and stabilized by sugar, first developed in the seventeenth century by cooks who used bundles of straw as whisks. Nowadays, we tend to whip our whites in a stand mixer, but there’s still a bit of technique involved in making meringue.

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What Is Italian Meringue?

The most stable type of meringue is the Italian style, which is made by beating egg whites to firm peaks, then slowly whisking in hot sugar syrup to produce a dense meringue with a satiny texture that can be used as-is to top cakes and pies, or as a base for buttercream frosting.

Since the hot sugar syrup gently cooks the egg whites, it’s possible to pasteurize them without further heating, but Italian meringue can also be baked until crisp. The only downside of Italian meringue is that it requires doing two things at once. Luckily they’re two pretty uncomplicated things: whisking egg whites (or monitoring a stand mixer as it whisks egg whites for you!) and boiling sugar with water to make syrup.

3 Ways to Use Italian Meringue

Since Italian meringue holds its shape without baking, it’s useful for all sorts of cold and room temperature applications, such as:

  • Frosting cakes and pies. Simply spread or pipe Italian meringue onto any dessert for a sweet, stable decoration, like lemon meringue pie. Torch or very briefly broil to brown, if desired.
  • Making Italian meringue buttercream frosting. Italian meringue adds lightness to rich buttercream frosting. When your meringue forms soft peaks and the bowl feels cool to the touch, switch from the whisk attachment to the paddle attachment and add 2 cups of room temperature butter, one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each addition. Continue to mix until smooth and fully incorporated, then switch back to the whisk attachment and add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, whisking until fluffy.
  • Folding Italian meringue into other desserts. Ice creams, sorbets, and mousses benefit from the airy texture meringue provides when folded into their dairy or fruit-based mixture. Italian meringue adds extra creaminess while maintaining lightness to decadent desserts.

What Is the Difference Between Italian, French, and Swiss Meringues?

Italian meringue may be the most stable style, but it’s not the only way to whip up a meringue.

  • Italian meringue is the most stable of the three because it requires hot sugar syrup to be drizzled into whipped egg whites so you get beautiful, fluffy peaks. It’ll be satiny in texture and will give you tall, proud peaks when you frost your cakes or pipe onto a cake or tart.
  • The French style is the easiest way to make meringue, since it simply involves whisking egg whites with sugar. French meringue is made by mixing sugar with raw egg whites and is the least stable type of meringue. As such, it will usually need to be baked, so it’s best used when folded into other batters to give them lift and lightness or baked for crunchy meringue cookies. Learn how to make French meringues here.
  • The Swiss style, aka meringue cuite, is smoother and more dense than French meringue but less stable than Italian. Marshmallow-y Swiss meringue is made by beating egg whites and sugar together in a double boiler (a pan or bowl set above boiling water) until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is hot to the touch. It’s then removed from heat and further beaten until doubled in volume. Swiss meringue tends to achieve less volume than the other varieties, because the sugar is added early on in the whipping process, interfering with the ability of the egg proteins to unfold and bond with each other to form the walls that support the little bubbles of air. Find Chef Dominique Ansel’s recipe for Swiss meringues here.

4 Tips for Making Perfect Italian Meringue

There’s a lot that can go wrong when trying to force liquid egg whites into a solid-like foam, while also heating sugar and water to a specific temperature, so set yourself up for success with these key tips.

When whisking the egg whites:

  • Use a large bowl, at least eight times bigger than the starting amount of egg white.
  • Make sure your egg whites are free of any traces of yolk and that your mixing bowl and whisk are clean and dry.
  • The more powerful the whisking, the more quickly the egg whites will aerate. Do yourself a favor and use a large, balloon-style whisk or, even better, an electric mixer.
  • If your sugar syrup has not reached the soft ball stage, but your egg whites are almost ready, reduce mixer speed to low. (Do not stop mixing.)

When making the syrup:

  • Don’t skimp on the sugar—it’s not there just for flavor. Sugar helps strengthen the walls of egg white protein that hold the air bubbles in place.
  • Use a digital instant-read or candy thermometer to check the temperature throughout cooking.
  • Use a clean pastry brush dipped in water to brush down any sugar that adheres to the side of the saucepan.

Although not strictly necessary, you can use stabilizing agents to prevent your egg whites from weeping, or leaking water. Stabilizing agents work by bonding to the egg white proteins, so that they can’t form the super strong bonds with each other that tend to push water out.

  • Use a copper or silver-plated mixing bowl, or add a pinch of powdered copper supplements.
  • Once the egg whites just start to develop some structure, add an acid in the form of ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar or ½ teaspoon lemon juice per egg white.

Always store baked meringues in an airtight container, since sugar attracts moisture from the air, meringues left exposed to humid air will form beads of sweat.

Meringue on whisk with ingredients on cloth

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Simple Italian Meringue Recipe (Plus a recipe for Italian Meringue Buttercream)

Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
  • 1½ cups (286g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large egg whites (144g)
  1. Make the sugar syrup: In a medium saucepan, combine sugar with ⅓ cup (72g) water and set over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil the sugar with the water to the soft ball stage, 240–250°F, then remove from heat.
  2. Meanwhile, in the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on high speed until foamy.
  3. Slowly stream the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites with the mixer running on high speed. Whisk until the meringue forms soft peaks and the bowl feels slightly warm to the touch. When you lift the whisk up, the meringue should still be warm and hold its shape. If it’s cold, you’ve gone too far!

To make your Italian meringue into buttercream, switch from the whisk attachment to the paddle attachment and add 2 cups of room-temperature butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each addition. Continue to mix until smooth and fully incorporated, then switch back to the whisk attachment and add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, whisking until fluffy.

Learn more about the fundamentals of pastry making with Chef Dominique Ansel here.