For me, buttercream frosting is one of the little things that makes life worth living. Butter, sugar, cream, and vanilla extract combine to make something magical. It might sound ridiculous but this frosting is so tasty and so fun, and it really allows me to be creative in my baking endeavors. Although this recipe is for plain vanilla buttercream (incredible as is), there are infinite ways you can put your own special touch on this frosting. In the past I’ve flavored it with Oreos, Nutella, and peanut butter (photo below). You can also use flavored extracts to make it almost any other flavor you choose (some of my future plans include peppermint extract).
Another thing I love about this frosting is that it holds its shape really nicely, making it perfect for adventurous piping and decorating. You don’t even need to be a skilled baker to master this recipe, and once you do, just imagine all of the possibilities!
Canned frosting by Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Duncan Hines – they all pale in comparison to homemade buttercream frosting. The extra effort is SO worth it, and I know you’ll agree. Even if you pair it with a boxed cake mix, I strongly encourage you to ditch the canned frosting and wow your friends and family with homemade buttercream. Thank you, Food Network, for my first staple, go-to, can’t-live-without-it recipe.
Before we begin, a note on chocolate buttercream: I have never used this recipe as a base for chocolate buttercream, although I’m confident that it’s doable. Some chocolate buttercream recipes use cocoa powder, others use melted chocolate, and many include instant coffee or espresso powder, so you would have to figure out the best way to go about it. Instead, if I want chocolate buttercream I use this wonderful recipe from add a pinch (featured in my Chocolate Toasted Marshmallow Layer Cake post).
Although this recipe is really quick and simple, I wanted to go into as much detail as possible for this post since a good frosting is crucial to elevate your baking game! I hope my explanations and tips will help. First tip: although you could definitely make this recipe with a handheld mixer, I highly recommend using a stand mixer with whisk attachments. It will help you get the right consistency when whipping the butter and sugar, and also make this process a lot easier on your arms.
Begin with two sticks of softened butter. To get my butter at the exact right consistency, I like to leave it out of the fridge until it’s room temperature, and then microwave it on very low power for 10 seconds at a time. You want the butter to be soft enough that you can push through it easily with a soft spatula, but not at all melted. Stop microwaving right before you think it will start turning to liquid. In my experience, if the butter is too hard then the beaters will make small pieces of butter fly out of the bowl in all directions (not good for so many reasons). If the butter is too melty then the frosting will not be the right consistency. It takes practice to get this part right, but hopefully my tips will help.
Once the butter is softened, begin by mixing it with the sugar on low speed until combined. It will probably seem like there is way too much sugar to ever be fully incorporated with the butter, and it takes time. At first the butter and sugar will start to become powdery like snow, as seen in the picture below. This is good; continue mixing.
Soon, the powder will start to clump together and make larger pieces.
Once this happens you can turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for three minutes. Quickly it will become a recognizable frosting consistency, but continue beating for a full three minutes until it is whipped and very smooth.
At this point, add the vanilla and cream and continue beating on medium-high for one more minute. I start with one tablespoon of cream and I add more if I find the frosting is not smooth enough or easily spreadable. It also depends what you plan to use the frosting for. If you’re piping it then you do want it a little stiffer so that it holds the shape of your decorations. The consistency of the frosting is really up to personal preference and can be adjusted accordingly. If it’s too thin then you can beat in a few more tablespoons of sugar at a time to thicken it up.
Congratulations! Your vanilla buttercream frosting is complete. If you want to make it a different flavor, you can now add in your flavoring agent of choice and continue to adjust the amount of cream as necessary. It’s best to start by adding in less of the other ingredient than you think will be necessary, and then continue by adding in a little more at a time until the frosting has reached your desired flavor. It also helps to have taste testers on hand!
- Because of the vanilla extract, this frosting recipe makes a buttercream that is slightly off-white rather than stark white. If you want a stark white frosting, you can buy clear imitation vanilla extract.
- This recipe yields enough frosting to cover a 2-layer, 9 inch round cake (including the middle layer) or 24 cupcakes. If you add other ingredients to flavor it, it will obviously yield more frosting.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream or whipping cream
- In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine softened butter and sugar. Mix on low speed until combined and then increase speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes.
- Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium-high for 1 minute. Add more sugar or cream to adjust for desired consistency.
(recipe from Food Network)