Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

AmericanButtercream Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
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**

Buttercream Ingredients Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

powdered sugar sifted Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
buttercream frosting2 Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
buttercream frosting Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Buttercream frosting3 Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

* 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



4.7 from 283 reviews
Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Recipe type: Cake Decorating
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.

pin it button Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
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  1. Christie says

    Just made this recipe to frost cookies with my daughter and I almost wanted to eat the whole bowl of frosting by itself… Super Yummy!

  2. Sherrie says

    Hi Alice,
    I have a few questions, I could really use your help!
    1. I was wondering if this would be a good recipe for making flower decorations (stiff enough) and also can I make them a head of time say two weeks before I put them on the cake?
    2. I need to know if they will harden or if that is just fondant type of flowers?
    3. Also if I can make them that far in advance and if they harden how should I store them until I use them?
    4. I am wanting to be able to do it in steps before the day I need it instead of all in one, the day before or the day of, because I will busy.
    I was hoping to make flowers a week or two before and then frost it the day before and either put the flowers on one or two days before except the fondant one until last like the day of.
    I hope this makes sense. I could really use your advice!

    • Gabby says

      Buttercream is not going to harden as it sets. It is a soft icing. The type of icing that hardens is called Royal icing. You can find a pretty good recipe for that at The stiffness of the icing depends on how much powdered sugar you add – the more you add, the stiffer the consistency. I would not suggest making these in advance if you use this icing.

  3. joan says

    This recipe is fantastic!!! So glad my search for the perfect buttercream frosting is over!!! Just one question. Can I add sweetened flaked coconut to the recipe? Would I need to make any changes/ I think it would be a great coconut vanilla buttercream frosting!! Thanks.

  4. Ashley says

    I am making a 100 cupcakes. I am wanting to make this icing, but I am wanting to make it pink. If I was going to use food coloring would it change the consistency? What do you recommend I do to make it pink?

  5. Rachel says

    Hi. I have to make 100 cupcakes for Saturday. I was wondering if I could make this icing Friday and put it in the fridge til Saturday. I plan on adding things to the icing to make the cupcakes fancy on Saturday. Crush oreos and add them to the icing. Mix the icing with strawberry jam… will the plain vanilla butter cream icing hold well in the fridge or do I have to do it all Saturday?

    • Leah says

      You can refridgerate buttercream, but you’ll have to beat it with a mixer before using it again. Otherwise the condensation will change the consistency.

  6. sarah says

    ok so i am attempting to make my daughters cake for her first birthday in a few weeks and wanted a good buttercream for it. i tried this recipe today but it turned out runny and grainy and i did everything you said…is there a particular butter that is better to use than another? im sure i did something wrong i just dont know what!

    • says

      It’s hard to say. The nature of butter is creamy, which would have me suspect it’s the sugar. Sifting the sugar is also important.

    • Marsha says

      This recipe uses 2 sticks of butter. I’ve always used one stick.
      1 softened stick of butter
      1 tsp of vanilla (been adding 2 tsp, works good)
      4T milk, more if too thick.
      1 lb. of 10x sugar

      3 T of cocoa for chocolate, original recipe calls for 6 T. too strong for me.

      I don’t use any salt.
      Sift sugar if lumpy.
      Blend on low speed till the sugar and butter mix.
      You can change out flavorings.
      You can use whipping cream, yum.
      Put in cream cheese(softened)
      I use this decorate cakes also. Have to pipe the decorations quick. heat from hands can soften icing too much.
      I may try her recipe. If it doesn’t work I’ll just add more sugar to bring the ratio up to what I usually use.
      Your graininess may have been from the sugar. I always cream sugar and butter, with 1 T of fluid, or a little more, till it is fluffy before adding all the liquid.

      • Dpcx says

        creamcheese?? wow!! i never thought of that

        when i first made this frosting it was runny,, i just added another cup of sugar and it was fine

        • Kathy says

          Hi…I am interested in the cream cheese…do you omit anything and add the cream cheese? My mom used to make the best butter cream frosting. I can remember standing and helping her make it but for the life of me can’t remember what we put in it…lol! She is gone now, and I don’t have her recipe. Please feel free to email your answers. Thanks again.

  7. michela says

    I have to make 100 cupcakes and wanted to use this recipe, could you estimate for me how many batches of this recipe I would need? Thanks!!!

    • says

      This may be too late… but rule of thumb is that 2 sticks of butter or 1 stick and 1 block of cream cheese will yield enough frosting for 24 cupcakes. This has been my experience making lots of different buttercreams for my cupcakes.

  8. Cheryl says

    Finally!, a buttercream icing that doesn’t use shortening in it’s recipe! And thank you, now I know why sometimes my buttercrem icing is grainy….I will sift the confectioners sugar from now on. The tip about colored gel instead of food coloring is also helpful.

  9. Amanda says

    This recipe sounds great! I am looking for a recipe not using Shortening. I am really new to making cakes. I am making my daughters first birthday cake and most of the cake, I am using the star tips. Do you think this recipe will work using the star tips? I am making the cake a day before her party. Will the cake need to be refrigerated overnight? Thanks for your help!

    • Ann says

      This recipe should work fine with star tips. If you find its too soft add some extra sugar or cut back on the liquid. Since this is a butter cream recipe that has milk in it.It is recommended that you refrigerated. If you need to uses food coloring uses the gel, the liquid can change the consistency of it. You can buy the gel where ever they sell cake decorating items. At walmart its by the special occasions aisle for weddings and such rather than the food aisle.

  10. joyce says

    I am taking a cake decorating class. Can’t stand the taste of the Crisco icing. Thanks for this great recipe. Would 1 T of the Egg White Powder stiffen the icing for writing names and decorating? I like the medium consistency – if I add the powder – could I use medium instead of stiff? Great website – thank you!

  11. JoJo Binks says

    Just finished making this receipe … This was absolutely YUMMY. My son hates icicing which boiled over to hating birthday cakes. However this receipe hit a home run and I could not pry him away from the bowl. This is a keeper!!

  12. Leah says


    I’ve tried a thousand times to makes a good buttercream frosting but i don’t seem to get teh consistancy right for the decorating. It comes out lovely for the filling but i need to make it stiffer for the decorating. Am i using the wrong butter? I tend to use Stork. As i’m unsure of what unsalted to buy as most in my supermarkrt have some salt. Is there a brand you can recommmend.
    Also i find when i add food colourant it runs and goes very sloppy are the powders and pastes better.

  13. summer says

    I made this buttercream yesterady. OMG it tastes great, BUT it was horrible to work with… it got all greasy and slimy in my bag as i was putting it on my cake. and then it was sliding off and got all gooey. And looked like it had been coated on OIL

    • says

      Hi Yesi,
      This is a common question I get asked. I don’t have a clear answer because everyone frosts their cupcakes differently with varied amounts of frosting. Some like to pipe for thick and high swirls and some just like a thin coat. My honest answerr is, it just depends on how you like to frost them.

  14. Guzi says

    I followed your recipe step-by-step, however the my end result was nothing like yours. It wasn’t runny, but I wanted it more stiff – similar to yours. As a result, I ended up, adding about 3 more cups of icing sugar, although it helped a little it still wasn’t like yours! Any suggestions please?

  15. says

    Absolutely amazing! Just made a 1/2 batch to frost a dozen strawberry cookies… The best result I’ve had making a simple buttercream & did so with my hand mixer (vs. getting out my standing mixer). Yes, def. rest the butter at room temperature for a few hours and sift that sugar for optimal results. Thank you!! Now, what to do with my leftovers, other than spoon-feed it to myself! 😉

  16. heidi says

    I just made your buttercream recipe and wow, I’m trying not to eat the whole bowl!!! this is what I did…I have a boxed strawberry cake mix and I added frozen strawberries to the cake mix, then I used the leftover juice from the strawberries and used it in my buttercream frosting in place of milk. Oh my goodness!!!! It’s absolutely delicious! You don’t even need cake, just a spoon and the bowl of frosting lol!!! I also took the butter straight from the fridge and yes, I melted it a little, and I don’t have a stand mixer, I just used my hand mixer, but it still turned out wonderfully!!! So excited to see it on the cake 😀 thanks so much!!!

  17. Zee says

    I use the same recipe myself, thou i always use plain butter version, i can’t stand “shortening” (its kinda rare where i live aswell, its either butter or margarine).

    A trick if you want the icing to look more bright white and less yellowish is to add a tiny amount of blue food coloring (might have to mix a drop with a bit of milk first to prevent it from becoming to much and actually look blue)

  18. Kim says

    Just finished making this icing. Yes, it’s good, but it’s EXTREMELY sweet! Prepare for some cavities after eating cake with this icing! Definitely not what I had hoped for, but it’s okay. Doesn’t have much taste, unless SWEET is a flavor.

  19. Jennifer says

    How do you keep your buttercream frosting from getting a crust on it when decorating a cake with a star tip? After my cakes are decorated the frosting gets stiff and is “crunchy”.

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