Foam Protection

You may have noticed that both of the meringue buttercream recipes I’ve put up have small amounts of cream of tartar in them. What’s it for? Oh, it’s just a little insurance policy, a bit of protective medicine in the event I get carried away with the whip while making my egg foam.

For you see the same action the creates a nice, light egg foam will transform it into a runny, clumpy pool of water and froth if applied with too much gusto. Again, the issue is proteins. As I mentioned yesterday, egg proteins are interesting and varied molecules. In addition to water-loving and water-hating regions along their length, they have bonding sites at various points. When the individual egg proteins are in their natural state (bunchy coils) many of these bonding sites are taken up, bonding the proteins to themselves (that’s what keeps them in a bunches). Whipping breaks these loose bonds, freeing up the bonding sites on the molecules so they can hook on to other molecules into those bubble-protecting networks I told you about.

The trouble is that if you keep the whipping up too long, the proteins start bonding to one another a little too eagerly. More and more “attachments” occur, causing the network to tighten, ultimately squeezing out the water molecules and popping bubbles. The result is an irretrievable, useless mess — and you can get there quicker than you think.

The good news is that the baker can protect against this (to a point) by plugging up some of those protein bonding sites with other types of molecules: copper (which is why copper pans are so popular among egg whippers), silver (which is why silver pans…oh wait, no they aren’t), or various types of acids like cream of tartar. None provide foolproof or lasting insurance against a ruined foam, but they will expand the margin of error should you be a little too free with the whip.

7 thoughts on “Foam Protection”

  1. Hello!!!
    How are you?
    Could you please tell me how I can fix a disaster SMBC? SMBC was soupy, I have put SMBC in the fridge, thinking that it will firm up, because it has butter in it. Just like puff pastry. It still did not come together.
    Could you please tell me, how long it will take for the butter to come together to become SMBC? I know how to make meringue but I dont know how to make SMBC. Which is why a time frame would be helpful. I am requesting for the time frame. The time I start to add butter to the meringue to the end (for the butter become smooth butter cream). What I have noticed is that, after I make meringue, I add room temperature butter. It became soupy, soupier, soupiest and never came back together. I have been holding my beater for a long long time, and my hands are still hurting. It would have been worth it, if the end was a nice, smooth butter cream 🙂

    Also, does the temperature of the meringue puts an impact to the butter cream? My meringue was warm when I started to add room temperature butter. My butter was cold but soft. When I pinch my butter, it would leave my finger print on it.

    Thank you very much!!!!

    1. Hi Khan!

      Sorry to hear about the problems. But to answer your question, yes, the temperature of the meringue matters a great deal with this type of frosting. It sounds like your was too warm, thus the problems. Try re-beating it now that it’s cool. You may need to let it soften a bit if it’s been in the refrigerator all night. It will probably break at first, but it may eventually fluff back up again.

      Good luck!

      – Joe

  2. Hello!!
    I could not make it work. However, I will make it again. I have a question?

    After I mix my egg whites and sugar for 5 to 7 min in double broiler. Can I hand whisk my sugared egg whites to bring it to normal temperature THEN pour the sugared egg white in my ELECTRIC mixer and whisk it into meringue? And then add soft room temperature butter.

    Thank You!

    1. Hey Khan!

      Certainly you can do that…to make sure the mixture is well cooled and doesn’t warm the mixer bowl. I like that idea.

      – Joe

  3. And it worked. I am so happy. Today!
    I hate American butter cream. Its grainy. I have been searching for a good butter cream that I can put on my cakes n cupcakes. It did not even get soupy when I added butter. My meringue deflated and it came back together.

    I had some problems too. After using my butter cream, I had some leftover. I put my left over butter cream in the fridge, not the freezer. I bring it out to use again for the second time. I was stirring the butter cream with my spoon then I noticed it started to curdled a little bit. I wonder why that happen. My butter cream was cold but soft. I cannot understand why it curdled/ separated. Is there anything to do with temperature? Or does the butter cream, is meant to be used up immediately? Because it has eggs in it.

    Thank You!!

    1. Hi Khan!

      Indeed the curdling has to do with temperature. After buttercream is refrigerated it needs to come to room temperature again, then be re-beaten. It will probably break even more at first, but will come back together after the temperature evens it again. Just keep beating!

      – Joe

  4. I forgot to mention the time my butter cream was in the fridge. I took out the butter cream from the fridge after two hours. It cannot get rancid in just two hours. When I first made my butter cream, it was nice. It looked like a nice whipped cream.


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