Lemon Buttercream

Frosting, sauces and garnishes

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.

     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  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


  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.


8 thoughts on “Lemon Buttercream

  1. Hi Val – Don’t fret – we all have our disasters in the kitchen. Try and take consolation that we learn the most from our mistakes 🙂 I have spent many an hour scraping burnt cake batter off of the bottom of my oven!

    The type of buttercream above is called a Swiss Buttercream – this type involves heating the egg whites and sugar and then whipping into a stiff meringue (kind of like a 7-minute frosting) and then adding butter to it. The other popular style for wedding cakes is an Italian Buttercream, where you boil sugar to a “soft ball” stage and add that (carefully) to whipping egg whites, and then add butter.

    I’d like to see you obtain success with this – pop me an email and tell me more about the stages and what they looked like, and I’m sure we can figure this out together! Also, try the batch on page 147 – it’s a smaller batch of the exact same recipe, and is enough for an 8-inch cake

    1. Thank you Anna. We definitely do learn a lot from our mistake! I appreciate the information. I think my main mistake is that I probably did not whip the egg whites enough (i.e. into stiff meringue), so when I added the butter it liquefied even more. I will definitely try it again and let you know of my progress, thanks for the feedback! 🙂

  2. Hey Valerie! I had to laugh at the description you gave of trying to frost the cake! Lol! I know exactly how you feel about the whole disaster but truly you have to laugh. …I read the recipe a couple of times and (not having made it myself) I was wondering if you beat the egg white/sugar mixture till it was at room temperature “before” adding the butter? The directions can almost be read as though you should add the butter as you’re beating the warm egg whites and in that case the butter would melt as you added it and you’d have a heck of a runny mess on your hands. That’s the only reason I can see for this not working.

    1. Hi Sharon! You are so right, we do have to laugh at our mistakes. I usually do, but I guess because I wanted the cake to be perfect since it was for my mom, I didn’t at first see the funny side of it. The possible mistake you pointed out regarding the egg whites is most likely what happened. I probably did not whip them long enough. Thanks for your input!

      1. I have been making buttercream this way for years, and with great success. The trick is that the butter has to be very, very soft and the egg whites have to beaten to meringue stage. I boil the sugar/water to 240 and then, while the mixer is on high pour it into the egg whites very slowly. I hold the saucepan on the side of the mixing bowl so that the boiled mixture cools ever so slightly before it gets into the egg whites. I then keep the mixer on high and keep beating until the bowl is at room temperature. At some point the mixture will look like cottage cheese – don’t despair, keep beating and it will come together perfectly.

        I love to flavor the buttercream with melted chocolate and espresso powder…that goes with almost any cake or cupcake.

        I hope this helps.

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