Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream {dairy-free}

While the name implies “buttercream”, there isn’t actually any butter or cream in this frosting. This is a perfectly light frosting to compliment our Grain-Free Chocolate Mud Cake (or cupcakes) and can be flavored with anything you prefer, not just vanilla.

Please share:

I’ve been craving a really great frosting for a couple months now. My old go-to (pre-paleo) was the usual: powdered sugar, butter, cream. You know, classic buttercream. I had mastered it. Enter paleo, and not a single one of those ingredients is on the “ok” list. So I was back to square one.

In my research for a powdered-sugar-less frosting, I came across meringue-based frostings. Since then, I’ve made both French Buttercream and Swiss Meringue Buttercream. What’s the difference, you ask? A lot, actually.

French Buttercream is made by whipping raw egg yolks until fluffy, then beating in hot sugar syrup (or in my case, maple syrup), then adding shortening/butter. This makes a super thick, dense, creamy frosting and it tastes incredible. BUT, it was just too heavy for me. And I really love frosting. Also, the egg yolks were uncooked, which can be a problem for some people. I wanted a frosting everyone could safely eat.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is somewhat the opposite. It uses egg whites that are cooked with a sweetener, whipped into a meringue, and then shortening/butter is added to it to make the buttercream frosting. This results in a much lighter, less sweet frosting that is also safe for everyone to eat, even kids.

The only problem with Swiss Meringue Buttercream is that it’s a little finicky. I won’t say it’s easy to fail at (it’s not), but it does require a little extra work to get it just right. I thought I failed at it a couple times, but it turns out I was just being impatient. Temperature and time are key ingredients to the perfect frosting. But the good thing is that if you fail at those (as I initially did), it’s an easy fix and you don’t have to throw away all your hard work.

So now that you’re mentally prepared to take on the Swiss Meringue Buttercream, what will you put it on? Might I suggest the Grain-Free Chocolate Mud Cake? It makes fabulous cupcakes too.

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream by Our Paleo Life

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream {dairy-free}

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

While the name implies "buttercream", there isn't actually any butter or cream in this frosting. This is a perfectly light frosting to compliment our Grain-Free Chocolate Mud Cake (or cupcakes) and can be flavored with anything you prefer, not just vanilla.


  • 4 Large Egg Whites, about 160g
  • 1-1/4 cups Mild-Flavored Honey* or Maple Syrup
  • 1 cup Spectrum Shortening, room temperature, cut into Tbsp size chunks
  • 1/2 cup Ghee**, room temperature, cut into Tbsp size chunks
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped or 1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract


  1. Add egg whites and honey/maple syrup to the bowl of a stand mixing. Place over a pot with about 1" of gently simmering water.
  2. Slowly heat the egg white mixture to 160°F (reduce 2°F for every 1,000ft in elevation), whisking occasionally.
  3. Immediately remove from heat. With the whisk attachment, beat the egg white mixture on high speed until it nearly triples in size, is bright white, and has stiff peaks. Add in the scraped vanilla bean seeds (discard the pod) or vanilla extract and beat just until incorporated. If the meringue is still warm (feel the outside of the bowl, it should be cool), wait to add the shortening/ghee.
  4. Once the meringue is cool enough, using the paddle attachment, beat in the shortening/ghee one chunk at a time. The meringue will deflate and maybe even look curdled or soupy. Just keep beating it, and it will eventually come together in a thick, creamy frosting. It may take about 5-ish minutes.
  5. Worst case, if it's still not coming together and is too runny, put it in the fridge for about an hour, let it firm up, and then beat it again.
  6. Frost your cooled cake or cupcakes right away, or store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  7. If refrigerating, set out at room temperature for a few hours and then re-beat the frosting to get it spreadable.
  8. Store frosted cakes in the fridge if not serving same day.


* We prefer maple syrup over honey, since the honey flavor can be a bit overpowering. A combination of both maple and honey is good as well.

** Ghee adds a great flavor to this frosting, but if you don't have any, can't get any, or don't want to use it, you can use all shortening instead.

Nutrition Information:
Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g

Please share:

      1. There is an option to use shortening instead of ghee right in the recipe notes for a dairy-free option.

  1. @plee, I have not personally tried meringue powder with this recipe, but I’m not sure it would have the same result.

  2. @Rusty, there is a note in the recipe saying it’s fine to use shortening instead of ghee, so it can be made 100% without butter. Many who are affected by dairy can eat ghee just fine because the dairy solids are removed in the clarification process.

  3. Pee yes you can. I usually make Italian meringue buttercream and always use powder (meriwhite) for that. Swiss meringue is onot different in that it’s cooked over the heat with the sugar rather than mixed separately in a bowl and hot sugar syrup added x

  4. Hmmmmm you call this dairy-free Swiss butter cream yet you use ghee which is clarified butter & therefore a dairy product!

  5. Thanks for this, it confirmed what I was thinking about making a dairy free buttercream.

    Just wanted to clarify a couple things here. “French” meringue buttercream, is also known as Pate a Bombe buttercream, and the eggs are most definitely cooked. The sugar syrup that you use should be at 240 degrees F (soft ball sugar syrup), and when it is whipped in to the egg yolks, it pasteurizes the eggs. It is the most dense of all the meringue buttercreams, but it should be far less dense than American Buttercream, which is what you are referring to with powdered sugar, cream and butter.

    Swiss meringue buttercream needs only be cooked to 140 degrees F for it to be pasteurized, so you don’t quite have to go all the way up to 160 degrees F. The lower temperature should give you a more fluffy buttercream as well, because the proteins in the egg whites won’t seize up as much.

  6. Hi Kendra, thank you for this recipe. I was wondering if it’s possible to replace the shortening and the ghee with just butter?

    1. Hi Hima. I haven’t tried that substitute, so I can’t say for sure how it will work out. Sorry about that.

  7. can you tell me approximately how much this makes? I need to frost and decorate a 9×13″ cake. Thanks!

  8. There is an option to use shortening instead of ghee right in the recipe notes for a dairy-free option.

  9. It tasted really intensely of maple syrup. I think I’m going to try it again, should I use some part high fructose corn syrup so that it’s a bit less mapley?

  10. Can I use any other brand of shortening if I don’t have the spectrum brand or if my local grocery store doesn’t sell that brand?

  11. Wonderful recipe. I subbed the shortening for butter. Laughing! I was original looking for a dairy free but I didn’t want to use shortening and I can eat butter. You give a great option for dairy free. Joyful baking, folks! Hint: once you warm the whites and honey maple sugar and you start beating the whites, you’ll be whipping the mixture for about 5 mins.

  12. Hi Kendra!
    I’ve read through all the comments, and I’m wondering if you have experimented with any other shortening options since your last responses. I have palm shortening, but it’s pretty soft, so I’m not sure it will give me the final firmness I would like. Do you have any suggestions outside of vegetable shortening? Thanks in advance!!

  13. Hello. Is it actually 1 and 1/4 C of maple syrup? I added that and it never peaks…very runny. Whipped for over 15 min. I make swiss meringue frosting a lot and know the texture. I am not sure what I am doing wrong. 1 1/4 c of liquid with the egg seems like a lot of liquid.

    1. Yes, that’s what works for me. Maybe try reducing it to 1 cup or 3/4 cup for a less sweet frosting and see how that works?

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