Lemon chiffon cake with blueberry coriander buttercream

This Flower-Strewn, Jam-Dolloped Cake Is the Queen of Summer

Sasha Piligian’s Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, laced with seasonal fruit, takes the cake.
By Josh Miller
June 10, 2021

In a field dominated by precision, pastry chef Sasha Piligian bakes like a cook. "I have a candy thermometer, but I don't use it," she says from her home kitchen in Los Angeles, where her oven runs around the clock to fill pastry boxes for her side hustle-turned-full-time gig, May Provisions. You'd never know from her flower-strewn, jam-dolloped cakes that this inspired baker hasn't spent one day in pastry school. Piligian's talent was honed through years in restaurant kitchens; that's where she discovered the secret to buttercream success: Swiss meringue. This simple mixture of egg whites and sugar (basically homemade marshmallow creme) not only lightens buttercream but also stabilizes it. Heating and whisking the egg whites unravels their proteins, which then tighten back up, trapping tiny air bubbles with an assist from the just-melted sugar. Fluffy and sweet, the meringue loosens the thick butter, yielding a deliciously versatile frosting. "It's so light, airy, and malleable," Piligian says. "It has such a great pillowy consistency, but it's very stable. I can manipulate it in endless ways, folding in curd, tahini, jam-the possibilities are endless."

At the beginning of her process, Piligian whisks egg whites and sugar in a double boiler until the mixture feels smooth between her fingers. "To me, it's easier to bake by feel," she says. After the beaten meringue is glossy and it's time to start adding the butter bit by bit, she again depends on her sense of touch. "I place my hands on the side of the bowl," she says. "When it's no longer warm enough to melt butter, you're ready to go."

We've compiled all the times and temperatures here so you can bake with confidence. But take a cue from Piligian and stop to touch as you go-you'll find out just how fun and free baking can be.-Josh Miller

1. Heat and Whisk Egg whites

whisking egg whites over double boiler
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

Whisk egg whites and sugar by hand in bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until sugar is dissolved, 4 to 6 minutes.

2. Whip Egg Whites

whipped egg whites
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

In a stand mixer, whip egg whites on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form and mixture cools to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Add Butter Gradually

adding butter to mixer with whisk attachment
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

With mixer running on medium speed, gradually add butter, mixing well after each addition, until light and fluffy.

4. Stream in Jam

pouring jam into mixer with buttercream frosting
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

Scrape down sides of bowl. With mixer running on medium speed, gradually add strained jam and salt.

5. Whip Until Smooth

jam whipping into buttercream frosting
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

Beat mixture until jam is fully combined and frosting is smooth, about 1 minute.

6. Assemble and Frost Cake

two cake layers with butter cream between
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

Spread frosting on cooled cake layers, or store in refrigerator as directed.

cake with blueberry coriander buttercream frosting
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis
Lemon chiffon cake with blueberry coriander buttercream
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis