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
Author: 
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.
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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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{ 1373 comments… read them below or add one }

Kremy September 12, 2012 at 11:57 am

I used 2,5 cups of sugar,it was enough. For the right consistency and flavour too.
And I added lime juice to the mixture,it tasted like heaven! I mean really,I made 24 cupcakes and in 30 minutes it was all gone.
Thanks!

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Karen September 13, 2012 at 11:45 pm

This recipe was the best ever! I didn’t have vanilla (it disappeared, somehow!) so I used a little bit of almond extract. LOVE IT!!! Thanks!

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Michelle September 14, 2012 at 11:45 am

So good, I licked the bowl clean! Question: Can you make ahead and refrigerate before ready to use? If so, should you let it soften for a while and/or whip again?

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alice September 26, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Yes, you can. Just bring it to room temperature first.

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Justine September 17, 2012 at 9:59 am

Does this frosting crust? Can it be smoothed flat with paper, or do I have to use shortening?

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alice September 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Hi Justine,
Yes it will but not as quickly as the shortneing based frostings.

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Jennifer September 17, 2012 at 10:14 am

Hi,
I want to be able to decorate a cake with a frosting that holds its shape, doesn’t look melted, but without using shortening. I have tried several times making a buttercream frosting with just butter, but when I decorate my cake I can only decorate a for a little while before my hands warm the bag and the frosting gets too soft. I try putting the bag in the fridge for awhile, but then I run the risk of it getting too hard, and it seems to get warm again quickly. Since I am just a beginner, I am usually decorating my cake with continuous fill-in stars. So, it takes a long time time to decorate. Any suggestions.

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Gail B September 24, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Why not try a plastic piping syringe instead of a bag? Temperature of your hands won’t affect the frosting then! :)

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alice September 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Hi Jennifer,
Warm hands is a common problem with cake decorating. What I usually do is to use a little frosting at a time to pipe so the frosting doesn’t warm up too quickly. You could use a canister like Gail suggested but I personally do not like using them because I find I get more control with a piping bag.

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riza September 19, 2012 at 9:50 am

Can you add color to this frosting?

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alice September 26, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Hi Riza,
Yes, I would use food grade colored gel, available at cake supply stores or craft stores like Michaels in the cake decorating section.

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Jenny September 21, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I normally use Wilton’s buttercream recipe, but was never happy with the texture or the greasy shortening aftertaste. I decided to use this recipe on a devil’s food cake I made for my husband to celebrate his recent promotion at work. It tasted wonderful and performed perfectly. I used 5 cups powdered sugar, and was able to use it to spread over the cake and pipe on decorations. It does come out a slightly off-white color, but it wasn’t noticable at all next to the other colors that I tinted the frosting. This is my frosting recipe from now on!

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Gretchen September 23, 2012 at 1:28 pm

My neice and I use this recipe every time we make a cake or cupcakes. I LOVE this recipe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Iza September 23, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Hi can I use white regular sugar? I do not have confectioners. Thanks and I really wanna try this recipe. Do u have a recipe that can hold a shape? Thank u and godbless

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alice September 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hi Iza,
No, you must use confectioners sugar for this recipe. There are some recipes which you can use regular sugar which is cooked with water to disolve the sugar crystals but this isn’t one of them.

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Ashling October 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Is confectionary sugar the same as icing sugar? I am from Ireland and I wasn’t sure wether confectionary sugar is an American thing or not. I’m going to make a wedding cake so I want the icing to be perfect! Thanks, your recipe sounds SAVAGE!!! Ashling:)

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Ayuni Adnan October 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Hi Ashling,
Yes, confectionery sugar is the same as icing sugar. I had that same question once a while ago and I did a little research and yes! It’s the same thing! :D
Good luck on the wedding cake! Cheers!

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valerie September 26, 2012 at 6:19 am

how can you get other flavors made other than vanilla? like strawberry, cherry, chocolate and so on. thank you!

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alice September 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Hi Valerie,
The best way I have found to make other flavors is to add jam. For instance, add a few tablespoons of strawberry or cherry jam when whipping it up. It is super good! You can also sift in some unsweetened cocoa powder like Hersheys for chocolate.

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Corinne September 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I am going to attempt to male the cake for my son’s first birthday! This recipe sounds perfect! One question: do I measure 3-4 cups of powdered sugar and THEN sift it? Or do I sift it into the measuring cup? Thanks!! Can’t wait to eat some while I’m filling the cake!

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Corinne September 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Also, can I make this the day before or do I need to make it right before I’m ready to frost?

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alice September 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Hi Corinne,
I find it’s best to make right before you plan on using it. You can frost the cake the day before as well, if it makes it easier.

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Jenna September 26, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Would this be considered medium consitency or stiff? I’m doing roses so was sure if I should cut back on the milk. Thanks!

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Tyler September 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I USED THIS RECIPE TO DECORATE MY CAKE AND IT ALL MELTED WHAT DO I DO WHEN YHAY HAPPENS

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ysquared September 29, 2012 at 1:30 am

did you let the cake cool completely first?

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Jan September 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm

I wanted to use this recipe to frost the cake that I will be putting fondant on. Will it go on smooth enough to put fondant on top of it? Thank you!

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Nellie September 28, 2012 at 6:25 pm

I will definitely have to try this out. Thank you for the tips! :)

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Bryce Corbitt September 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I love this recipe and use it all the time for all of my cakes and cupcakes I make. Thank you!

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Sandra September 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Love the receipe. Just right for my peach cupcakes.

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Jennifer September 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm

I feel like a baking dummy – I have had buttercream and/or cream cheese frosting break on me twice!! What am I doing? I don’t feel like I am doing anything differently than when it doesn’t break….

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Wendy September 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Regarding the question asked by Iza I have found through many years of baking that if you do not have enough icing sugar then you can use regular sugar that you have first put in a blender and spun down into tiny granuals. It is time consuming but it does work in a pinch. And also what was the answer for Corrine re sifted sugar – do you measure it before or after sifting. Thank you – this is a great site I have just discovered but feel I will be back to many many times. Thanks.

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Susy September 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I’ve made this buttercream icing twice and both times I measured before. I don’t think it matters though as long as you put enough sugar to get the right consistency.

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Kendra September 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Why did my frosting turn out kinda grainy? I did it according to the directions, did I just add too much powdered sugar to stiffen it up?

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Sabrina September 30, 2012 at 9:19 am

Hi

I’m getting myself confused with the measurements!!! :-s
When you say cups is any cups or measuring cups? I weigh everything in oz’s,
I really want to try your American style buttercream…. Help

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Natalie September 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make a tutorial on the modern MUG BROWNIE. i would appreciate it so much!!!

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Emma October 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Is it possible to use a vegetable oil spread (such as country crock) in place of the unsalted butter??

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Lora October 17, 2012 at 9:06 am

No, you must use real butter.

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Heather October 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Can I use this recipe to frost under fondant? Thanks!

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KC October 3, 2012 at 9:20 am

I’ve never made frosting before. Can I use this on cupcakes with edible cupcake toppers on top? Will this frosting hold them enough?

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Catherine October 3, 2012 at 11:36 am

Can this recipe be used for an ice cream cake?

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Priya October 3, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Hi,
Thanks for the recipe. Could you please tell me how many cakes or cupcakes can be frosted with the above recipe?

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Emma October 5, 2012 at 1:32 am

Priya,
I got 24 standard sized cupcakes out of it :)

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priya October 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Thanks for the quick response! :)

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Alanna October 3, 2012 at 8:29 pm

So I’m planning on trying out this recipe, but I don’t have a paddle attachment. What should I use instead?

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Anna Bell October 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

Hi,
Should cakes, decorated with this recipie, not all be finished!!!!, is is ok to store them at room temperature, or because of the milk/butter content, do they need to be kept in the fridge?
Thanks, Anna

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Aileen Bell October 4, 2012 at 9:54 pm

I just want to say thank you for amazingness. I added a little lemon juice to go with a strawberry cake. Love!!!!!!

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Emma October 5, 2012 at 1:30 am

Perfect Recipe thankyou! I have had lots of trouble trying to learn how to pipe properly and this recipe was just great. I just added cream until i got the perfect consistency. I split two bags trying to do it but at least now I know :)

Thanks Again. Thats my buttercream recipe found.

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Maria October 7, 2012 at 5:30 am

I have used this many times and I love it I will always use this when I need to decorate my cakes or cupcakes. I have even shared this receipe with my sister. She always paid for her frostings now I showed her how to make it so she can save some money and homemade always taste better than store bought. Thank you so much for this

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Patricia October 8, 2012 at 8:22 am

Looks great! will try it today for a friend’s birthday cake.

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A_Flama October 8, 2012 at 10:23 am

Great Recipe!!! Finally I have a frosting!!! :)

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Margarita October 9, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Can I use this recipe to frost under fondant? Thanks!

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nazia October 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Thanks, I’m about to make elmo cupcakes for my nephew’s montessori school…should be red. I mean fun :)

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Jessica Fitzgerald October 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

I don’t have a stand mixer. Do you have any suggestions for how to mix this without

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Elsa October 13, 2012 at 10:18 am

How many cupcakes is this frosting for if I’m going to do classic swirls?

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Jennifer October 14, 2012 at 3:26 am

Amazing! Just perfect. I doubled the recipe and made 48 cupcakes. I ended up using 6 cups of the powdered sugar. Just right! Will be my go to frosting from now on. Merci!

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Ollie October 15, 2012 at 4:16 am

Do you have any thoughts on how to make the frosting blue or will I have to use food coloring?
Thanks!

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Shannon October 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm

This is officially my go-to recipe for frosting now! Thanks so much for sharing!!
-Shan
http://www.ikneadtobake.blogspot.com

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Sarah October 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm

How much frosting does it make? Would it be enough for 4 dozen cupcakes?

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Teaira October 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I plan on trying this out this weekend. I was wondering are there any tips to keep it from coming out grainy? Should I whip it for a long period of time? I have used the wilton frosting and I don’t like the after taste of the shortning.

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marimaya October 18, 2012 at 4:22 am

good day..just want to ask if i can substitute a margarine
(whip type) instead of butter?thanks

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Alma October 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Hi! Oh my god you have saved my life I’m getting married in a few days and I decided to make my own cupcakes so far the bread tastes great but I needed a good buttercream to go on top, & yours sounds great! But I have a question to mix the ingredients can I use a regular mixer or does it have to be like the one you used on your pictures ?

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Faith October 18, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Perfect! Yummy, not salty and it didn’t melt. I only wanted enough to frost 8 cup cakes so I made half of the batch using: 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 stick of butter, 1/8 tspn of salt, 1/2 tblspn of vanilla extract, and 1 tblspn of heavy whipping cream. I first measured out 1 cup of powdered sugar. I then ran it through my (hand held) mesh strainer and used the back of a spoon to make it come out. I then re-measured 1 cup. I slowly added it to butter.
Thanks, it was great!

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Osamede October 19, 2012 at 12:37 am

I have a problem with cup measurement is a cup equal to 250 grammes?

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Tom Taintor October 19, 2012 at 11:12 am

According to a web site I found (http://convert-to.com/332/icing-sugar.html), 1 cup of icing sugar is equivalent to 125 grams.

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yanais October 19, 2012 at 4:26 pm

i was wondering instead of milk or heavy cream can i use buttermilk???

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Tashena October 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Does this need to be refrigerated?

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