Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

by Alice Currah on March 12, 2010. Updated March 20, 2014

When I used to bake and decorate wedding and birthday cakes, I would use different types of frosting depending on who was eating the cake.  Most wedding cakes were frosted in egg based recipes such as Italian or French meringue but for children’s cakes or cupcakes I usually frost cakes in American buttercream frosting.  Made with powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and milk, this is a basic, easy recipe for classic vanilla buttercream frosting.  This frosting works great for spreading on cakes, cupcakes, and/or for decorating.   Some frosting recipes will call for shortening.  Although you could easily substitute some of the butter for shortening, your frosting will taste greasy.  But if you must have a true bright white frosting or need to stabilize it, shortening and clear vanilla extract flavoring would work fine.  I prefer using all butter and occasionally substituting the vanilla extract for other flavors such as almond, coconut, milk, or lemon.  The color of the buttercream is slightly off white but the taste of whipped buttery frosting makes it entirely worth it.  Also, the frosting can be easily tinted with food paste gel or food coloring.

It’s important to note that when preparing a batch of frosting you  adjust the consistency of the buttercream for what you plan on using it for.  The easiest way to do this is by adjusting the amount of milk you use.  The less milk you pour in, the more stiff your frosting will be.  And if you pour in too much milk, you can always add more sifted powdered sugar to stiffen it right back up.  I for one prefer a medium (somewhat soft but slightly stiff) consistency when spreading on a cake.  But for piping and decorative work, I prefer a stiffer consistency so the different edges of my piping tips will show clearly.  The tip I used in the picture above is a #32.  As you can see, I piped it in 3 different styles using the same tip.

This recipe is very forgiving.  The amounts of milk and powdered sugar you use can be adjusted for what you need.  The only important suggestion I would recommend is to make sure you sift your powdered sugar before adding it to the butter.  This will insure your frosting is smooth and without small sugar clumps.

If you’re looking for a classic vanilla buttercream recipe, look no further. Enjoy!

**I am also soliciting cake tutorial requests – just leave them in the comment section below**

* Many of you have asked about how much frosting you need to make for cakes and cupcakes. Here’s an informative link from Baking 911 with a useful chart giving approximate frosting amounts depending the cake size.  Also, as far as cupcakes are concerned there is no standard answer.  Some people like to decorate with very little frosting on the cupcakes and others like to pipe them skyscraper high which would require way more frosting per cupcake.  For decorating cupcakes, the amount of frosting you need is according to how much frosting you would like to use.

**Someone emailed me wanting to know what tool I use to sift the powdered sugar.  I just buy a round metal mesh strainer available at any grocery store and use a spoon to stir the sugar against the metal mesh.  Hope this helps.**

*** Tips for success:  Use unsalted butter.  Different brands of butter have varied levels of salt content in salted butter.  Some people have commented that their buttercream was too salty.  This is due to the brand of butter you use.  Some brands will be vary salty and others not so much.  Therefore I have changed the recipe to reflect unsalted butter.

The texture of the butter makes a BIG difference.  If your buttercream is runny or thin, this is due to the texture of the butter which I’m assuming some of you may have microwaved to get it softened.  When you microwave butter like this, you run the risk of melting the butter which will make your frosting runny and grainy.  Ideally you want your butter to be soft enough to whip with a mixer or beater but not so soft it will melt.  The texture should be similar to ice cream, soft enough to scoop but firm enough to hold it’s shape.

Since many of you have asked about the chocolate version, here’s my Chocolate Buttercream recipe!

Related Savory Sweet Life post:  How to Frost a Cake



Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2.5 cups
Classic American Buttercream frosting. This recipe uses powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and milk. This is a great recipe for decorating and piping on cupcakes and cake.
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or ½ pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
  • 3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • up to 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
  1. Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.

Here’s a great short video tutorial I did for PBS on how to pipe these beautiful frosting flowers using this buttercream on cupcakes. If you enjoy the video, please like it so I’ll be able to do more!

My standard chocolate cupcake recipe, slightly adapted from the popular Hershey’s version.  In this PBS video tutorial you’ll see how I make my own chocolate cake mix too.  Just add water, oil, eggs, vanilla, and milk. That simple!

And here’s another short PBS video tutorial I did on how to make Cookie Monster Cupcakes.

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{ 1386 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen April 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Have you used coconut flakes in this recipe? Do you have another recipe for coconut frosting?


Christine June 7, 2014 at 8:38 pm

I use this recipe all the time to make coconut frosting. I’ve got so many compliments on my coconut cake frosting. A little tip is to keep the cake in the fridge and serve cold. It’s so yummy! Everyone loves it.


Marissa Floiran April 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Does this icing need to be refrigerated? If I make cupcakes with this buttercream can they sit out for 4 hours?


gabrielle April 19, 2014 at 12:43 am

Love this recipe! It always turns out perfect and I am always receiving compliments on how yummy it is! Thanks so much!


Erren April 29, 2014 at 11:22 am

I love your site! I have a question regarding food processors apposed to mixers. I have been mixing my frosting my hand because very time I try to make it in the food processor, it comes out too soft. My recipe for buttercream is quite similar to yours so I don’t think it’s the ingredients that’s causing the problem (plus when I mix it by hand, it comes out fine). I know food processors are more powerful than mixers (I don’t own a mixer), do you think it would help to start with cold butter or do you think the food processor will always heat the butter too much to make fluffy frosting?


annie May 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Either your butter was too soft, or you added to much milk.
Hope I helped!


Pam May 20, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Ok, I’m having the same problem. I don’t think my butter was too soft. I didn’t put it in the microwave. I used only about 1 1/2 tablespoons of milk. I needed a different color so added food coloring. I also added more powdered sugar. And still it gets too soft. I’m new to this. So any tips?


Chooky May 21, 2014 at 6:16 pm

You can add in some shortening to keep the icing from being too soft. It allows for a stiffer texture for decorating purposes. For this size recipe, try adding 3/4 cup shortening and see if it helps.


Pam May 21, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Thanks!….but what if you dislike shortening?

Sarah July 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

Coconut oil can be used in place of shortening. It remains solid, as long as your kitchen is not too warm. I have used it in cakes and frostings, with wonderful results. Costco and Vitacost brands have a lovely scent and flavor, while Jarrow has almost no taste or aroma, if you prefer that. Louanna brand from Walmart also does not have that coconut smell and taste, but it melts too easily. A mild coconut flavor makes a cake a bit more exotic. I have used it in various vanilla and chocolate cake recipes with good results. Coconut oil is much better for the body than shortening and tastes great, too! Good luck.

Alice Currah May 22, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Pam- is your kitchen warm? You may need to freeze the bowl first before making the frosting and put it into the fridge immediately after you’re done.


Rachael May 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I just wanted to comment and say how much I love this recipe. I actually started using it a few years back when I surprised my friend for her birthday and made her a cake. Her mom said she did not want anything with shortening in it. So I came across this one, it was a hit to say the least! I have been using this recipe ever since! I’ve used it for cakes, cupcakes and even to decorate cakelets. I love the versatileness of this recipe. I always get so many compliments when I use this! Thank you for this amazing recipe that I will forever follow!


Sherie May 6, 2014 at 10:09 am

Dear Alice. Hi. Had to let you know how happy you have made an old lady. Your recipe when made up, produces the most beautiful butter cream. Even mine was a success. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and know that it is well appreciated.I am sure now that I have found you, I will find something else you have taught me, and i would like to let you know. Bye for now


Susan May 9, 2014 at 11:42 pm

I made the recipe it’s quick and very delicious. Just a couple of questions…

How long can you keep this frosting? Should it be refrigerated? Can you freeze it?



Nicole May 11, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Just made this buttercream frosting using 3 C of sugar and only 2 TBSP of cream, it tastes so good and was very simple to make. Best frosting I’ve made…


Debra Gervais May 15, 2014 at 11:57 am

I found your site approx 5 minutes ago,
the buttercream recipe looks fabulous, cant wait to try it.
Could you please do a segment on a great tasting
recipe for a chocolate cupcake, and a vanilla cupcake.
Looking forward to reading more on your site, great work.
Thank you


Alexandra May 17, 2014 at 1:39 pm

This is an incredible icing recipe and I have made it for many different types of cakes.
Thank you for sharing it with everyone!


Christina Chan May 20, 2014 at 10:28 am

Can this buttercream leave on the cupcake at room temp for a 1 day without melting?


Alice Currah May 22, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Hi, you are better off lightly covering with plastic wrap and putting it in the fridge.


sheryl hamill May 26, 2014 at 1:59 pm

I have been making versions of Buttercream icing for many years. Some recipes turn out way too sweet, others too buttery. This is perfect and I will never use any other!


tessa June 1, 2014 at 12:17 pm

In regards to the lady using a food processor. Food processors cause friction which heats up quickly and warms the ingredients.
Btw… love this recipe. I did add 1/2 cup shortening for a thicker consistency. Also used half almond extract and half vanilla


chris June 16, 2014 at 4:59 pm

My mother has been using this recipe since the 1940′s. She could decorate a cake like pro. She iced the cake with this icing, then used a slightly damp knife and smoothed out the icing so it was flat all over. Then used her decorating gadget to make flowers, leaves, scrolls and hand written Happy Birthdays. She mad a recipe and a half and saved the half and added different colors . They were georgeous.


julie perona June 18, 2014 at 12:43 am

Is this a good buttercream frosting to use under marshmallow fondant?


Brittany June 28, 2014 at 5:33 pm

I loved the consistency of this icing! As a beginner baker (I mean, this is the first time I’ve ever made icing and I am TERRIBLE at making sweets), I really appreciated the ease of this recipe. I added red food coloring to make a beautiful pink icing on cupcakes for a baby shower. However, I added the recommended 1/4 teaspoonful of salt and it made my icing really salty. Took away the sweetness of it. Anyone else have this problem? This would have been a perfect recipe if I hadn’t added any salt. The girls at the party said they actually enjoyed the saltiness of the icing and the sweetness of the cupcake, but I would have just preferred all sweet! I will definitely use this recipe as my go-to icing recipe, but will omit the salt.


Grace July 4, 2014 at 7:27 am

Hi! I only have a hand mixer. Will it work like the paddle in your table top mixer? Thanks!


Sherri S. July 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I decorate cakes for my grandchildren every year for each of their birthdays. I have used your buttercream frosting for years now, since I found it on the internet looking for a better flavored frosting. It’s great! Thanks for the recipe and your tips.


Paul A. July 10, 2014 at 6:47 pm

I made this recipe today (half-recipe) and it came out perfectly. I was in a hurry and did not want to create a mess, so I blended the softened butter and confectioners sugar with a fork instead of a blender. That worked well for a half-recipe.


leslie July 14, 2014 at 5:47 pm

if u don’t have unsalted butter can i use regular butter and not add the 1/4 teaspoon of salt?


Louis XXXVIII July 18, 2014 at 12:50 am

I was looking for a classic butter cream recipe, and I’m glad that I found it. What is The French Version that you mentioned? Good luck to you, I very much like your work and your sharing.
Thank you,


Tanya July 27, 2014 at 1:19 am

I really love your Classic one-bowl Chocolate cupcake recipe and I was just wondering if you have a Classic one-bowl Vanilla cupcake recipe?!!! Thanks sooo much=) Also your Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting is amazing!!!! The Best I have ever tasted!!!!


Sara August 6, 2014 at 11:12 pm

I have used this wonderful recipe so many times, I nearly had a panic attack when it didn’t show up on the first page of my google search. I lost all my bookmarks and had to find this page again. I am so relieved you are still here. I can’t imagine having to try a new cake icing for my daughters first birthday. Such an important day requires this icing.


Shauna August 7, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Does this recipe do well thawing out and being used if I freeze it?
Also, how long can the iced cake sit out? Will the icing start getting too soft/melting at some point?
Can the butter cream be at room temp for a few hours in between icing the cake and decorating? Or should I put it in the fridge and it is okay to apply it somewhat cold still? Thanks!


Melinda D. August 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm

When measuring the powdered sugar, is it measured before or after sifting?


SE August 29, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Can I use different flavors instead of vanilla?


milen infante September 11, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I live in the tropics. The buttercream frosting I make always melts after half hour at room temperature. Is the frosted cake suppose to stay in the fridge until ready to serve? What am I suppose to do to avoid this happening?


Alice Currah September 15, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Hi Milen,
You will need to refrigerate your cupcakes if you live in warm weather places.


Arlene September 11, 2014 at 2:54 pm

This has become my “go to” recipe for cupcakes. It’s so light and pipes like a dream! I always get compliments when I bring cupcakes frosted with this. It’s just fabulous! Thank you for sharing!


Alice Currah September 15, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for sharing Arlene!


Amy September 28, 2014 at 11:41 am

Hi, I love this icing, but it has separated on me several times when I color it (Amerigel) or try to thin a day old batch with some milk. Do you know why it separates? Is that what you mean by melting?


Alisha Combs October 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Hey there! I just want to thank you for this recipe! I have been using it for a few years now and have made it with different flavorings and no matter what it always comes out. I get so many compliments on this!



Alice Currah October 15, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Thank you Alisha!


Dee Ramsey October 12, 2014 at 5:24 pm

I’ve always made pure buttercream frosting and you can’t go wrong! If adding food color, remember to use paste colors, not gels or liquid. Also, I beat the butter until it is almost white in color and the. I add in the vanilla or flavorings. It takes about 10 minutes in a Kitchenaid. If adding meringue powder for stabilization, I add this prior to adding the flavoring, milk or color.


Alice Currah October 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Spoken like a true cake decorator baker!


Sook Yee October 15, 2014 at 12:20 am

why is the powdered sugar in my buttercream frosting remains powdery, it didn’t melt into smooth texture & the buttercream became wet & lumpy.


Alice Currah October 15, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Hi Sook Yee,
Did you sift your sugar? Also, sometimes (and this has happen to me, too) you get a funky batch of powdered sugar that is more granular. I do not know why this happens. And if you frosting came out wet and lumpy, I wonder if you didn’t sift or add enough sugar, and your butter was too melted.


Sook Yee October 16, 2014 at 12:03 am

Thank you Alice, no I didn’t sift the sugar & used a ratio of 1:2 for butter : sugar because I didn’t want it too sweet. Probably thats the reason. Will try out with the correct proportion in your recipes. I love your website & recipes. I spent so much time viewing & reading. Good job & thank you for sharing Alice !


Francie Carlson November 10, 2014 at 9:11 pm

I will definitely use this recipe. I love buttercream frosting!


Lauren November 15, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I plan to use this for frosting 5 dozen cookies, would doubling the recipe work?


Alice Currah November 19, 2014 at 1:30 am

Hi Lauren,
It really depends on how much you use.


Bianca November 16, 2014 at 10:59 pm

Literally the best buttercream frosting recipe out there.
I’ve used it on its own, along with adding different extracts to it to make it flavoured, and without fail it is a hit!
I find that most recipes have too much icing sugar in it and make it taste too much like it, and this is just the right mix of everything.


Rachel - Reflective Mom November 21, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Thank you! I just used this to make an Elsa from “Frozen” layer cake! So easy, and I made three batches by the time it was done!


Alice Currah May 22, 2014 at 12:38 pm

You can add more sugar.


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