Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

5 from 2 votes

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This sweet and simple vanilla buttercream frosting is easy to whip up and pipes beautifully. It’s the perfect frosting to top cakes and cupcakes.

Buttercream frosting in a bowl next to some frosted cupcakes

Homemade Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

This homemade vanilla buttercream frosting recipe has been used in our family for generations. It is also known as “American buttercream frosting”. I love this recipe because it is easy, tastes great, and can be used in so many different ways. It can be used for spreading, as a filler between cake layers, and it is perfect for piping. It’s a great all-around frosting that can be used for just about anything. In this post, we will share with you our favorite tips and tricks for mastering this recipe and using it for cupcakes, cakes, cookies, and more. 

Buttercream frosting being piped onto a cupcake

The Best Frosting for Piping

Buttercream frosting is our favorite to use for piping designs onto our favorite confections because it holds its shape so well. This frosting works great with almost all piping tips, from tiny plain tips for writing and outlines to giant star tips for frosting entire cupcakes. This frosting holds its shape without drying out or cracking but also doesn’t melt or sweat at room temperature. 

Buttercream Frosting Ingredients 

This buttercream recipe only uses a few easy ingredients that can easily be found at most grocery stores. I usually have all the ingredients on hand so I can whip up a batch in a pinch. Here’s what you need:

  • Shortening (or unsalted butter… or both) – I will explain the difference between the two below
  • Powdered sugar (aka confectioners’ sugar)
  • Clear vanilla extract – this is important for keeping colors bright and accurate
  • Milk or heavy cream
Powdered sugar, shortening, and vanilla

Butter vs. Shortening 

One of the great debates with buttercream frosting is what base (or fat) to use: butter or shortening? Bakers will often use shortening rather than butter because of the consistency but home cooks often prefer using butter because of the flavor. To be honest, I find myself using ALL shortening most of the time. If you can’t decide which one to use, you can always use half of each. It also really depends on what you are using the frosting for. Here is a simple break down of the pros and cons of each:


  • Better for piping
  • Holds shape better
  • Best for accurate colors with food coloring
  • The only option for true, bright white


  • Richer flavor, better taste
  • Great option for spreading

Flavor Variations:

It’s easy to switch up the flavor of your frosting by simply adding different extracts or mix-ins. Here are some common flavor add-ins:

  • Almond extract
  • Butter extract (a good one to use if you are using shortening but want the butter flavor)
  • Lemon extract (or zest)
  • Orange extract (or zest)
  • Melted and cooled chocolate
  • Cocoa powder or melted and cooled chocolate (for our chocolate buttercream frosting recipe, click HERE)
A bowl of Chocolate Buttercream Frosting with a spoonful scooped out

How To Store Buttercream Frosting

If you are not using it right away (within a day or two), buttercream frosting should be refrigerated until ready to use. You can store your frosting in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week or in the freezer for 3-4 months. When you are ready to use your frosting, bring it to room temperature and then whip or mix with a hand mixer or stand mixer to bring back the original texture.

Recipe Tips

Use a stand mixer with the whisk or paddle attachment (a hand mixer can also be used if necessary) to mix your frosting.

Use clear vanilla. Brown vanilla will make it difficult when using food coloring because it tints the frosting. Clear vanilla will allow for truer, bright colors. 

Sift the powdered sugar. If you want smooth, creamy frosting without clumps, then sift the sugar before adding to the bowl. It’s worth it to take a few extra seconds to do this.

Gel food coloring is the best for coloring frosting. Be sure to use the good kind from a craft store or a crafting department. Watery food colors are not the best because they mess with your consistency and they are tough for color matching. 

Go for consistency. This recipe can vary depending on your climate, humidity, air temperature… etc. so it is best to go for consistency of the frosting instead of recipe exactness. Add more powdered sugar a little at a time to thicken or a LITTLE milk (just about a teaspoon at a time) to thin. 

Scrape the bowl. Because sugar can get easily stuck on the sides of the bowl, it’s a good idea to scrape the sides of your bowl as you mix. This will help avoid getting clumps of dry sugar and inconsistencies throughout your frosting. 

A cupcake next to a bowl of buttercream frosting and a spoon with a scoop of frosting on it


Can buttercream frosting be made in advance?

Yes! However, if you want to make it more than 1-2 days in advance you will want to refrigerate it.

Can buttercream frosting be refrigerated?

Yes. First place your frosting in an airtight container. Then refrigerate up to a week. If you want to store for longer, then freezing might be a better option. (see notes above)

How much frosting for a 9×13 cake?

One batch of this frosting should cover a 9×13 cake and even give you a little left over for decorating. If you want to do a lot of decorations, then you may want to consider making 1 ½ times the recipe.

How much frosting for 24 cupcakes?

If you want to simply spread the frosting on the cupcakes, one batch will be plenty. If you want to use a star tip and put a lot of frosting on each one, then 2 batches should be used to make sure you have enough.

A piping bag with frosting, five cupcakes, and a bowl of frosting

Ways To Use Buttercream Frosting

Most of the time, we will use this frosting on cakes or cupcakes but it can be used for so many other things too! We have used it on cookies, brownies, cake pops, and even truffles. We love using the leftovers on graham crackers or saltines. Sometimes I will even put some in a little container and pack it in lunch boxes with some pretzel sticks for dipping. Here are some more recipes that can use this easy frosting:

A bowl of buttercream frosting next to some cupcakes

How To Make Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

5 from 2 votes
This sweet and simple vanilla buttercream frosting is easy to whip up and pipes beautifully. It's the perfect frosting to top cakes and cupcakes.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
0 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course Frosting
Cuisine American
Servings 48


  • stand mixer or hand mixer


  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter (use ALL shortening for pure white icing and stiffer consitency. I used all shortening in the pictures above to make it pure white. Read notes above.)
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar sifted (appx 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream


  • Cream shortening and butter in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment at medium speed.
    Shortening in a mixing bowl
  • Add vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar about a cup at a time and mix well. Scrape sides and bottom of the bowl often. Add milk or cream and beat until light and fluffy.
    Add more powdered sugar to thicken and milk or cream to thin.
    Powdered sugar being sifted into a bowl to make buttercream frosting
  • Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. Re-whip before using.
    Makes 3 cups.
    Shortening and powdered sugar being beaten together in a stand mixer to make frosting

Nutrition Information

Calories: 75kcalCarbohydrates: 10gProtein: 1gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 17mgPotassium: 1mgSugar: 10gVitamin A: 59IUCalcium: 1mgIron: 1mg

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About the author

Erica Walker

Erica lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband, Jared, an attorney, and her three beautiful girls. Beyond the world of recipes, she loves adventuring with everything from kayaking, to cruising, to snowboarding and taking the family along for the thrill ride.

More about Erica Walker

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  1. 5 stars
    This is great! A good buttercream can make or break a cake! This is so good & easy! Perfect for any occasion and so many types of cakes… and cookies!

  2. 5 stars
    This frosting was so light and airy, like a cloud, I took your idea and added a bit of orange zest, I loved the hint of citrus made for the BEST frosting!