Buttercream Frosting – How to make buttercream that is light, creamy, and fluffy using this homemade frosting recipe. This is the BEST Buttercream frosting recipe for cakes and cupcakes. It’s the perfect buttercream icing for decorative piping. You’ll love this EASY vanilla buttercream frosting recipe!
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
Most people I know (including me) always have a tub of frosting on hand in case they ever need it. Store-bought frosting and buttercream frosting are on opposite ends of the spectrum in every way in flavor, texture, sweetness, spreadability, and versatility. But, if you would like to know how to make frosting, you’ve come to the right place! In fact, this buttercream frosting recipe is the only icing you need for any recipe calling for frosting.
To make this homemade buttercream frosting, you will need:
- powdered sugar (also called confectioners sugar)
- a tiny but of salt
- heavy cream
The buttercream frosting is made by creaming butter with powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and a little bit of heavy cream, then whipping it into the perfect buttercream frosting. The frosting should taste light, airy, and like sweetened whipped butter. This is why it’s called buttercream frosting. It should definitely not taste greasy, artificial, or overly sweet. The best buttercream frosting is the one that works with you for whatever you need it to do versus being limited by what it can do (cough.. cough… frosting in a plastic tub). If you don’t believe me, try piping frosting on a cupcake using frosting in a tub. It’s just too soft. You should not attempt to stiffen store-bought frosting.
As a former professional wedding cake decorator, I’ve been using this buttercream recipe for over 25 years. Trust me when I say you want to have a go-to reliable best buttercream frosting recipe you can always count on. Whether you’re frosting cupcakes for a child’s class party, need the best birthday cake frosting for icing, or want a stiff enough buttercream frosting to handle your decorative piping work for cake decorating, this buttercream recipe will do everything you need for your cake and cupcake frosting needs.
Frankly, it’s the best buttercream frosting recipe because it is so versatile, adaptable, and easy to make. With so many buttercream icing recipes to choose from, this truly is the best frosting.
Keep in mind, not all frosting recipes are alike. Most wedding cake frosting recipes are egg-based such as Italian, Swiss, or French. These frostings are slightly less sweet but require you to cook sugar into a syrup while whipping eggs and butter at a high speed as it magically whips into the most luxurious buttercream – which is why it is the best wedding cake frosting of choice for brides. However, for all other occasion cakes including birthdays, This classic vanilla buttercream frosting recipe is the gold standard. Most boutique cupcake shops use a base buttercream frosting like this one and add different flavors to it to create endless buttercream recipe combinations– much like how most ice cream flavors start with a vanilla ice cream base. Cool, right?
Is Homemade Frosting the Same as Grocery Store Bakery Frosting?
When you walk pass the bakery section at your local store you often see beautiful decorated cakes in bakery case. The bright white frosting they use is often not made with real butter and instead is made from shortening which allows cakes to be left out for long periods of time.
Stabilizing the frosting is often the primary reason why white buttercream frosting recipes call for shortening or a mixture of shortening and butter. Although you could easily substitute some of the butter for shortening, your frosting will have a greasy mouthfeel and taste to it. However, there are times when using shortening is appropriate. For instance, if you need to stabilize the cake frosting because your cake will be sitting outdoors in sweltering weather (like for a wedding) or you have to have a true bright white cake frosting, shortening can be used in combination with clear vanilla extract flavoring. Real homemade frosting made with only butter will always have a barely off white color to it from the butter and vanilla extract. Keep in mind, when whipping the buttercream using shortening or butter, it will lighten as you whip air into it.
The truth is, most grocery baking departments use pre-made shortening based buttercream frostings unless the bakery is in a high-end store like Whole Foods. They use all butter frostings. The same is true for cupcake frosting. Those brightly airbrushed colored frostings you see on cupcakes are made with all shortening or a non-dairy whipped topping that needs no refrigeration and never goes bad. Another reason to make your own frosting at home. My personal preference is always make buttercream with only butter. It just tastes so good!
I don’t want vanilla buttercream. Can I change the flavor? Can I change the color?
As mentioned before, this buttercream frosting recipe is very adaptable. You can substitute the vanilla extract for other extract flavors such as almond, coconut, maple, orange, or lemon. Sometimes I’ll even mix in a few tablespoons of fruit jam to make strawberry frosting or raspberry buttercream. Whipping in a couple tablespoons of fresh lemon curd to the buttercream makes the best lemon frosting filling between layers of cake, especially if you also add fresh raspberries! You can also mix in homemade or store-bought caramel sauce for a nice caramel frosting – perfect for banana cake. The frosting can be easily tinted with food paste gel or food coloring for all your cake decorating needs.
How can I change the stiffness of the buttercream frosting?
It’s worth noting when preparing a batch of frosting you should 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 cream you use. The less cream you pour in, the stiffer your frosting will be. And if you pour in too much cream, you can always add more sifted powdered sugar to stiffen it right back up.
For frosting and spreading on a cake, I prefer a medium (somewhat soft but slightly stiff) consistency. For piping and decorative work, I always go with a stiffer consistency, so the detailed edges of my piping tips 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 buttercream frosting recipe is the best because it’s so flexible and very forgiving. Changing the amounts of heavy cream and powdered sugar makes it very easy to make the frosting how you want it. The only important suggestion I recommend is to make sure you sift your powdered sugar before adding it to the butter. This will ensure your frosting is smooth without small sugar clumps.
How much frosting do I need for cake? What about frosting cupcakes?
Many of you have asked about how much cake frosting you need for layered cakes and cupcakes. The truth is, there is no straight standard answer because how much you need entirely depends on how you plan on using it. Will you need just enough frosting for the exterior of the cake? Or cake plus layers? Do you plan on doing any decorative piping? If you plan on frosting a not so tall 2 layer 8-inch round cake, you’ll have enough frosting to fill, frost, and get a tiny bit of piping in. Assuming you are spreading the frosting thin.
For frosting cupcakes, do you only plan on a light, thin layer or do you plan on piping a swirl skyscraper high? I can’t give you an honest answer about how much cupcake frosting you’ll need without knowing more of your project. However, this frosting recipe makes enough to spread an average amount of frosting for 24 cupcakes. If you plan on piping swirls of frosting, this recipe is enough to swirl frosting for 15 cupcakes.
Here’s a cake and buttercream frosting chart from Wilton which gives approximate estimates on how much buttercream icing you’ll need based on cake sizes. I suggest using this guide and plan to make more frosting if necessary. You’ll feel frustrated if you don’t have enough and you’ll feel relieved if you have extra – which can be saved in the refrigerator or freezer for future baking projects.
What you need to know about butter!
I recommend using unsalted butter because different brands of salted butter have varying levels of salt concentration. Some people have commented their buttercream frosting was too salty. This is due to the brand of butter you use. Some brands are very 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 icing is too runny or thin, this is likely due to the texture of the butter pre-whipping, which I’m assuming some of you microwaved to soften. When you microwave butter like this, you run the risk of partially melting the butter in spots (which is not good) making your frosting runny and grainy… imagine making buttercream frosting with vegetable oil. Ideally, you want your butter to be soft enough to whip with a mixer but not liquidy, even partially. The texture should be similar to soft serve ice cream, soft enough to scoop but firm enough to hold its shape.
What you need to know about sifting sugar!
Do not, under any circumstances, use unsifted powdered sugar to make frosting. Sifting the powdered sugar breaks up any larger clumps that will otherwise not break down in the whipping process. In fact, you’ll have varying degrees of tiny clumps which is ugly to look at when spreading this buttercream frosting on a cake. Unsifted sugar also contributes to a grainy mouthfeel.
-Tools of the trade-
A few people have asked in the comments section which tool I use to sift powdered sugar. I use a rounded kitchen mesh strainer found in nearly all grocery stores’ baking aisle. These Cuisinart CTG-00-3MS Set of 3 Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers are a great deal. Nearly half-off the retail listed price, having a set of three in various sizes will serve you well, especially the small mini one. I use that one to dust small plated desserts or a pan of brownies ALL THE TIME.
This homemade frosting recipe requires you to beat it with a mixer until the texture of the butter and sugar turns light and fluffy-just like the picture. This step is crucial as it whips air into the frosting. If you own a Kitchenaid stand mixer and bake regularly, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the beater attachment with the silicon edge scraper. I’ve owned two of these beaters because it saves me a step from having to stop the mixer to scrape the bowl down. Truth moment – scraping the bowl down is a pain in the butt. I haven’t used the medal attachment for years since discovering the scraper attachment. I hate having to scrape the bowl down when making frosting or mixing batter. This attachment makes for a better workflow for me. At nearly half off the listed price, I recommend this KitchenAid KFE5T Flex Edge Beater for Tilt-Head Stand Mixers.
I feel like I’ve covered all there is to know about buttercream frosting. If you have any additional frosting questions, feel free to leave them down below in the comment section. – Alice
HERE’S A SHORT VIDEO ON HOW TO MAKE THIS CAKE FROSTING.
BUTTERCREAM FROSTING RECIPE
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or ½ pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like soft serve ice cream.
- 3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Up to 4 tablespoons heavy cream, half and
half, or milk **heavy cream is best
- Beat the softened butter for
a minuteswith a mixer using the paddle attachment on medium speed.
- Turn off the mixer and add the 3 cups of sifted 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. The mixture will look clumpy – don’t worry,
- Increase mixer speed to medium and add the vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of cream and beat for 2-3 minutes until it is whipped, fluffy, and creamy in appearance.
- If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining cream 1 tablespoons at a time.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Since many of you have asked about my chocolate frosting, here’s my Chocolate Buttercream recipe!
When buttercream will not do…… The BEST Cream Cheese Frosting
Here’s a great straightforward photo tutorial on How to Frost a Cake .
And for you visual learners, here’s my PBS video on how to make this buttercream frosting. Don’t let the video title “How to Ice Cupcakes“ fool you. The first part of the video shows you exactly how to make frosting and the second half shows you how to pipe these beautiful buttercream flowers using this frosting recipe. Can I just add, piping these frosting flowers is super super easy! Once you see how easy it is you’ll feel so accomplished!
Updated: May 4, 2018
Alice Currah says
This is a very interesting concept – even the tiniest amount of purple mixed with yellow…. I don’t see how it would turn white. Maybe it helps make the yellow less pale? But in terms of butter, different brands are lighter or more yellow than others. I can’t remember off hand how light Land O’Lakes is – I usually buy my butter from Costco and it’s very yellow. Personally, I like the slightly off white color real butter adds. But cutting butter with shortening or 100% shortening is the best way to go if color is more important than flavor. But next time I whip a batch up I want to try your purple trick. Are you using gel paste for this?
Alice,I love this recipe !
But for your readers,if you don’t mind,there’s a way you CAN whiten up pure buttercream frosting WITHOUT going the shortening route.
First off,butters come in all shades of yellow,so buy the lightest yellow,unsalted, pure cream butter you can,(which often is also the cheapest,so,yay there,lol)I myself use Land O’ Lakes which is one of the lightest yellows I can find here by me ( MA,USA)
On this recipe,end of step #3, once you add/incorporate the last ingredients & start whipping again on med, add the TINIEST bit of purple gel coloring,it offsets the yellow & whitens it right up.
It’s like if you’re doing makeup & need to cover skin w/ yellowish tints or a fading bruise…you add a little mauve coloring to your moisturizer or concealer before applying your foundation & voila !
When doing this I can’t stress enough that I do mean TINY ! For the recipe above,dip just the very tip of a toothpick(skewer,ECT)into the jar of purple gel coloring while whipping & watch the magic happen as your butter yellow buttercream turns actual white.Plus,add a few extra minutes to your whipping time,that helps to lighten your color too.
Like anything else,you can always add a teensy bit more,if needed,but you can never remove it,so add too much at once & your frosting will be lavender,lol.
If you’re making a special occasion cake,I’d make a small practice batch beforehand to get the technique down-pat first so you’re not out of butter & panicking, wondering if the bride will notice her wedding cake is now shades of violet*snicker*
Sherri McMahan says
I’ve used this recipe for years but with milk rather than heavy cream. Heavy whipping cream?
Alice Currah says
Alice Currah says
You can freeze the frosting but it won’t be the same consistency when set out at room temp. But it will last 2 weeks in the refrigerator. With that said, I always have frozen buttercream on hand when I need to frosting for pastries.
Alice Currah says
To get a pure white, you pretty much need to stick with all pure white ingredients, hence shortening and powdered sugar. Adding white gel paste will whiten the frosting but you can’t get pure white.
I think to make buttercream frosting white color you just can add white americolor or any other brand food gel color and better probably oil color . Am I right Alice ?
Usually butter cream we always made in different colors then for wedding cakes to make white buttercream frosting you just add white color .
How long can the buttercream frosting be stored in the fridge? Can it also be stored in the freezer until needed? if so, how long can it be stored in freezer?
I made this yesterday for a birthday cake and it turned out beautifully! Thanks so much for sharing!
Alice Currah says
CAN I USE A HAND MIXER? BECAUSE I DONT HAVE PADDLE ONE
Alice Currah says
The recipes I use are from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. It is the gold standard in cakes and frostings. Her Mousseline Buttercream is very good and if you do a quick search on the internet you could probably find the recipe. If you would like, I can also send you a photocopy of the recipe and email it to you.
Sandra Ellefson says
HI Alice, can you provide me with the recipe for the frosting you described in your post?
My brother is getting married on 06/30/18 and I am making their wedding cake, I really need help.
Your post: Wedding cake frosting recipes are egg-based such as Italian, Swiss, or French. These frostings are slightly less sweet but require you to cook sugar into a syrup while whipping eggs and butter at a high speed as it magically whips into the most luxurious buttercream – which is why it is the best wedding cake frosting of choice for brides.
Alice Currah says
I believe Americolor gels are gf friendly. I buy mine at a local cake supply shop but I’ll bet you can easily find them on Amazon or online. The icing will keep up to two weeks in the fridge. Hope this helps!
Great article- two questions- how long can you keep this icing in the fridge before using? Also, any suggestions for “gluten free” and “nut free” coloring tips? Unfortunately, all the Wilton icing dyes are now made in the same factory as wheat and nut products…. Thanks!
Alice Currah says
It will depend on how warm it is in your house. If you set it out for 30 minutes, normal room temp, you should be able to just give it a good stir and you’re good to go. If your house is really warm, it might only take 15 minutes. Also, you can also frost your cake ahead of time and keep it refrigerated until you need it! Hope this helps!
‘I just made a double batch for my son’s birthday cake and cupcakes for this weekend. It was so easy! I am refrigerating the frosting until I decorate the cakes on Friday and was wondering how long should I leave it out before frosting.
Alice Currah says
Hi Sandra, The frosting will lighten up and should be slightly off white. It will not be completely white because the butter is yellow to begin with. If you need white frosting, you have to omit the butter and use shortening. I wrote a little bit about this in the post.
Hai there,why my butter is still yellow even if i beat it for long?
Alice Currah says
The easiest way to make coffee buttercream is to use instant coffee granules, like Starbucks Via or any one you like. Dissolve the granules 2 tablespoons of the powder with tablespoons of the the heavy cream called for in the recipe—— but the heavy cream should be heated up very hot to help the granules dissolve.If you know you are going to want to make coffee buttercream, start by heating up 2 tablespoons of heavy cream in the microwave for 25 seconds. Dissolve the coffee granules and set aside and put the cream in the refrigerator to help it cool down. You’ll need the cream cooled before adding it in towards the end of making the frosting. Hope this helps.
Do you have a recipe for coffee buttercream? That would be great!
My daughter loves cakes. Especially like the beautiful decorations like this. Me and my daughter will do it.