Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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This Vanilla Buttercream Frosting is creamy, sweet and easy to customize! It’s perfect for piping onto cakes, cupcakes and more.

Vanilla frosting in a glass jar and on cupcakes

Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

So this post has actually been on my site for more than 5 years now and today I’m giving it an update. I get SO many questions about buttercream and direct people here often. I feel like the information that was here wasn’t as helpful as it needed to be, so today that changes.

Plus, in the last 5 years I’ve made SO MUCH BUTTERCREAM and my opinions have changed slightly, so I feel like those things are worth sharing. All that said, my recipe is still the same. But hopefully you’ll find everything else included with it even more helpful than before.

Let’s get started!

A vanilla cupcake topped with a tall layer of buttercream frosting

Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

The ingredients used in a classic vanilla buttercream often vary only a little. Here is what I use when I make buttercream frosting:

Butter

Naturally this is the most important since we are making BUTTERcream.

In the past, I’ve said that I like to use a mix of salted and unsalted butter (or salted butter and shortening – see next ingredient), but this is one thing that has changed a little lately.

Now I recommend using all unsalted butter and then adding salt to taste. You most definitely don’t want to use all salted butter – it gives the buttercream a very strong salty butter flavor and you really don’t want that. So – you’ll need room temperature unsalted butter.

Shortening

This is one ingredient that often leads to questions.

“Can I substitute it for more butter?” Yes.

“Why do you use it? It’s gross.” Well, that’s a longer answer.

Let’s talk about it a bit. One reason I often use some shortening is for consistency purposes. When a cake doesn’t need to be refrigerated because of a filling or something, I like to leave my cakes at room temperature. I just prefer their texture that way. When an all-butter buttercream is left at room temperature for a full day or overnight, I find that it kind of releases moisture that I don’t care for.

By contrast, when I use some shortening, that doesn’t happen.Another thing about shortening is that if you live in a warm climate or are making cakes that will be outdoors, shortening can be really helpful because it’s not as susceptible to heat, like butter.And then the original reason that I started using some shortening was that I always found the buttery taste of an all-butter buttercream to be too much. But of course, this is another area where my opinion has changed a bit. Butter has grown on me. Lately I find myself enjoying an all-butter buttercream. Just be sure to use unsalted butter, like I said before.

Powdered Sugar

Also something I get a lot of questions about. This recipe uses a full 4 cups of powdered sugar to 1 cup of butter/shortening. The high amount of powdered sugar make this buttercream stable and pipe-able. This recipe covers roughly 12 cupcakes for me when frosting them quite generously, which I do. So when I frost cakes, which I also do quite generously, I double and sometimes even triple this recipe. That means anywhere from 8-12 cups of powdered sugar. A lot? Yes. But if you reduce it, you totally change the consistency of the frosting, which is super important – especially when frosting cakes and cupcakes. To read more about frosting consistency, check out this post.

Vanilla Extract

Naturally, this adds flavor. But the great thing about this buttercream is that it’s so adaptable. Swap out this extract for another and you’ve got another flavor. Score!

Heavy Cream or Water

I tend to use water, but cream also works well. Again, I like to leave my cakes at room temperature when I can, so I usually just go with water. That said, the high amount of fat in buttercream should keep buttercream that uses heavy cream fine at room temperature for a day or two.

Salt

Since unsalted butter is recommended, you’ll want to add salt to taste. I think this is really a big personal preference with this recipe. The salt can help cut back on the sweetness a bit. Too much though and it gets quite salty.

A stand mixer with frosting inside

How To Make Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

This buttercream is super quick and easy to make!

  1. First, add your butter (and shortening, if using) to your mixer and beat until smooth and creamy. Again, be sure it’s all at room temperature.
  2. Next, you’ll add about half of the powdered sugar. It doesn’t have to be exact.
  3. Then add your extract and some water or cream. Basically, we want to add some liquid to keep the buttercream from getting super thick as we continue to add the powdered sugar. I usually add one tablespoon of liquid, plus the extract at this point.
  4. Add the rest of the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
  5. At this point, you’ll want to add additional liquid as needed. How much you’ll add may depend a little on what you’re using your buttercream frosting for, but generally 2-4 tablespoons is plenty. Again, you can refer to my post on frosting consistency for a little more help on when to add more liquid and how much is too much.
  6. Finally, add a little salt. Start with a pinch and go from there.

A vanilla cupcake frosted with sprinkles around it

How to Decorate Cakes and Cupcakes with Buttercream

If you’re looking for help decorating your cakes and cupcakes, I’ve got tutorials for both. My How to Frost a Smooth Cake tutorial is so well loved and an all time most viewed post. The video has more than a million views on YouTube. I really get into the details of how to actually frost your cake, so check it out. My tutorial for How to Frost Cupcakes is wonderful too. I show you 9 ways to frost cupcakes with 6 different piping tips. You can find links to all the tools I use in those posts, but here are some of my favorite piping tips.

  • Ateco tip 844 – A go-to for piping onto cupcakes and for borders around cakes.
  • Ateco tip 808 – A wonderful large round piping tip.
  • Ateco tip 847 and Ateco tip 849 – Similar to the 844, but larger. I used the 847 tip on the cupcakes in these photos.
  • Sprinkles – Not exactly a piping tip, but who doesn’t love them?
  • Piping bags – Because you need these too.

Can I make buttercream ahead?

Absolutely! Make it and leave it on the counter overnight, or refrigerate it for up to a month.You can even freeze it for up to 3 months.

Why is my buttercream grainy?

If this happens, most likely this has to do with your powdered sugar. There’s no other ingredient that would be grainy. If you do experience this, you’ll want to try sifting your powdered sugar. I’ve never needed to do that, but if you don’t use your powdered sugar much and it’s been sitting for some time or you live in a humid environment, it may get kind of clumpy and then you’ll want to sift it.

Can I reduce the amount of powdered sugar?

Yes and no. Sure you can reduce it. Who’s to stop you? You’ll end up with a buttercream frosting (technically). But this question is really one of consistency.

I’ve been asked before if it was ok to reduce 8 cups of powdered sugar to 2 cups. If we talk about ratios here, then there’s 2 cups of butter for those 8 cups of powdered sugar. So if you reduce the powdered sugar to 2 cups without also adjusting the butter, it’ll be like eating straight butter with a touch of powdered sugar. Can you do it? Sure. Would I ever recommend it? Absolutely not. Not only would that taste bad (in my opinion), but the consistency would be totally off and it might not stay well on the cake it’s meant to go on. Not to mention that you couldn’t pipe it.

So I go back to recommending you check out my post on buttercream frosting consistency. Whether or not you can (or should) reduce it depends on how you want to use your frosting (and how you want it to taste).

And if you truly aren’t a fan of using much powdered sugar, then I might suggest checking out another kind of buttercream. This is an American Buttercream which gets it volume and stability from powdered sugar, so it’s hard to avoid. Swiss Meringue Buttercream gets its volume from egg whites that are cooked, so maybe check that out. I don’t currently have a recipe to recommend, but am working on it.

So there it is! Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. Super easy and totally delicious. I hope this updated post helps! As always, if you have questions, leave them below and I’ll do my best to help.


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Recipe

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • Author: Lindsay
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: about 2 1/2 cups 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: No Bake
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This Vanilla Buttercream Frosting is creamy, sweet and easily adjustable! It’s a must-have recipe that’s super easy to make and pipes perfectly onto cakes and cupcakes!


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (95g) shortening (or additional butter)
  • 4 cups (460g) powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 23 tbsp (30-45ml) water or heavy cream
  • Salt, to taste*

Instructions

  1. Combine the butter and shortening in a large mixer bowl and beat until smooth and creamy.
  2. Add about half of the powdered sugar and mix until smooth and well combined.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of water or cream and mix until smooth and well combined.
  4. Add the remaining powdered sugar and mix until smooth and well combined.
  5. Add more water or cream until desired consistency is reached, then add salt to taste.

Notes

For the salt, start by adding a pinch or two and add more to your taste. I wouldn’t suggest adding more than 1/8 tsp.

You can add different extracts to change up the flavor. You can also add 1/4-1/2 cup of cocoa and a little more liquid to get a chocolate icing. For a peanut butter icing, add 3/4 cup of peanut butter.

Keywords: Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, how to make buttercream frosting, best, easy, cupcakes frosting, frosting for cake

Enjoy!

Pinterest image Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

You might also like these frosting recipes:

Homemade Strawberry Frosting – 2 Ways
Cream Cheese Frosting
Fudgy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Stabilized Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Easy Strawberry Whipped Cream – 2 Ways
Chocolate Ganache

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Recipe rating

277 Comments
  1. Jocelyn+(Grandbaby+cakes)

    Oh I love this frosting! I am now dubbing you the queen of amazing cakes! Your talent is seriously unreal.

  2. Janara

    I have been looking for a buttercream icing recipe for ages! Thank you for posting it. I have a wedding cake to make for next weekend and whereas the other wedding cakes i’ve made they have just wanted chocolate ganache, this couple want the traditional fondant icing with a non traditional decorating. Does your buttercream set hard? Im needing a recipe for the crumb coating.

    1. Amy Williams

      Hi. I’m really looking forward to making this sheet cake and butter cream frosting recipe, but the sweetness of all that sugar kills me. However, I do want the consistency which you mention isn’t possible without all that sugar. My question is could some of the sugar be replaced with cornstarch?

  3. Julia @ Sprinkled With Jules

    I took the Wilton classes too, and learned so much! Our teacher had us just buy the tub of pre-made wilton decorating icing. This was before I started making all mine from scratch as well. Shortening does add a whole new element to the frosting! I like to add a little in my mostly-butter frosting as well.

  4. Wendy

    I grew up with (gasp!) canned frosting, so it was a revelation to me when I first learned to make buttercream frosting (with all butter). As I happily licked buttercream off a spatula the other day, I did wonder if sprinkling powdered sugar on a stick of butter and taking a bite might not taste the same. 🙂 Though I am quite happy with all butter frosting, I am open to experimentation, and your cakes and cupcakes are ALWAYS gorgeous. I am curious to give your recipe a try. Now, if you can just figure out a recipe for your talent in applying that frosting, I will be set! 😉

  5. funsize wife

    I took a cake decorating class many years ago that was taught by a woman who had a successful cake busiess. She taught that the full shortening icing was for making roses because the stiffer texture would help the structure of the flower. Think about the last time you had a rose off a bakery cake.

    It is evident that your version of buttercream works and it is gorgeous! What size tip do you use to frost the cupcakes?
    Now, can you help me find a non-goopy version of cream cheese frosting?

      1. Abosede Abigail Owolabi

        Please ma, am from Nigeria I have a lot of questions to ask you about butter icing…. And I don’t know how to contact you..
        Which kind of social network are you… Please send your usernames for Facebook to my mail (abosedeabigailowolabi@gmail.com)
        Thank you so much I really enjoyed your tutorials..

  6. Jaren+(Diary+of+a+Recipe+Collector)

    I’m so glad you did this post!! I too did the Wilton class several years ago, and I’ve been disappointed with the icing. I also tried the all butter variations and thought it was like eating butter. So just this past weekend, my sister had me make cupcakes for my nephew’s birthday party, and I decided to do a combo of the two, and it totally worked! I love that your post confirms what I tried!!

  7. Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom

    Lindsay, I am absolutely making this vanilla buttercream when I get home!!! I have to try this!!! It’s been so fun meeting you and hanging out with you this weekend! you already know how much I love your blog and now I love it even more! 🙂

  8. Mir

    Your pics look like you’ve been decorating cakes your whole life, not just 4 years! That is really inspiring.
    I love the combo of shortening/butter. Shortening does help the icing stand firmer, but yeah, it’s missing a little something. And it does have that oily finish. Yours is so much better!

    1. Melissa Dilbar

      Hi how long can this icing be left for? Can it also go in the freezer and reqhipped when needed? Does it even need to be frozen or can it just stay in the fridge ?

      1. Lindsay

        It should be fine on the counter for a couple days or so, fine in the fridge for about 2 weeks and fine frozen for about a month. I hope that helps!

      2. bernadette hall

        Hi,
        Recently have been learning about shortening. Found Hi ratio shortening is better to use than crisco and its preferred if piping using Russian decorating tips. Have you tried the hi ratio shortening in your recipes?

      3. Lindsay

        I haven’t tried it. I just haven’t really tried to find it to test it. But I’m sure it would work just fine.

Lindsay
About Lindsay

I'm a wife and mom to twin boys, a baby girl and a sweet black lab with a serious sweets addiction! Bring on the sugar!

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“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12