Lemon Buttercream

Yield: about 6 cups
Recipe: 36/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 181

    I really enjoy buttercream. Used to frost cakes, cupcakes or even to separate and fill the layers in a cake, it is both sweet and rich. Nonetheless, I have only ever made vanilla or chocolate buttercream, with slight variations at times. Lemon buttercream was a first for me. More than that, it was the first time I made buttercream with egg whites as opposed to butter and icing sugar. I was so unsure about the ingredients that I double-, no triple-, checked the ingredients and instructions to make sure that it was indeed a recipe for buttercream composed of plain white sugar and egg whites. Suffice it to say I had my doubts. However, this recipe was in Anna’s cookbook, book that never fails me, so of course I knew it must be delicious and doable.


  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 egg whites
  • 2 1/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    I don’t know what happened or at what step I could have made a mistake, but even though I followed the instructions to the letter (in my opinion), it was a total disaster. In all my baking experience and baking mistakes, never had a recipe been so disastrous for me. The buttercream was as liquid as a potage. After whisking for a long time and not seeing a difference in consistency, I added, in desperation and in a last-ditch attempt to thicken the buttercream, what seems to be about 4 cups of icing sugar. Probably not the best move. The consistency did not change but the buttercream was now much sweeter. Being tired and having no other option, I decided to try anyways to pour the buttercream on the cake.

    As I should have expected, the buttercream covered the whole cake, then went on to cover the plate it was sitting on, the table, and part of a chair. It just would not stop. I put the buttercream-covered cake in the fridge to chill and hoped (almost prayed) that it would solidify. Such a ridiculous attempt at making buttercream with sugar and egg whites has left me no less then flabbergasted and a bit embarrassed, I must add, as I am sure than many a baker has successfully made egg-white-based buttercream. I will no doubt repeat this recipe to try to understand what I could have done wrong. Mostly, I just need to prove to myself that I can actually do it.


  1. In a large metal bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg whites until well combined.
  2. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk by hand until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Using a stand or hand mixer, whip the mixture until it has cooled to room temperature, about 6 minutes. Note that the egg whites will have more than doubled in size.
  4. While beating, add the butter a little at a time, and mix until homogenous.
  5. Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract and beat until the buttercream is smooth and fluffy. The frosting is best used at room temperature, but can be stored in the fridge.