Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

5 from 2 votes
2 Comments

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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.

Bowl of Vanilla Buttercream Frosting with vanilla cupcakes.
Featured with this recipe
  1. Buttercream Frosting Ingredients 
  2. The Best Frosting for Piping
  3. Butter vs. Shortening 
  4. Flavor Variations:
  5. How To Store Buttercream Frosting
  6. Recipe Tips
  7. FAQs
  8. Ways To Use Buttercream Frosting
  9. More Easy Frosting Recipes
  10. How to Make Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
  11. How To Make Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe

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. And it’s so easy to make, you will want to skip the store-bought frosting forever. 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 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)
  • Pure vanilla extract – I use clear vanilla extract; this is important for keeping colors bright and accurate.
  • Milk or heavy whipping cream – just a splash or two to get the desired consistency.
Ingredients to make Vanilla Buttercream Frosting including powdered sugar, butter, milk, shortening and clear vanilla.


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 perfect buttercream 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. It really is the best vanilla buttercream frosting ever!

Frosted Vanilla cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting.

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:

Shortening:

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

Butter:

  • Richer flavor, better taste, especially if using salted butter
  • Great option for spreading
Whisk attachment holding up Vanilla Buttercream Frosting.

Flavor Variations:

It’s easy to switch up the flavor or sweetness 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 delicious chocolate frosting which pairs perfectly with chocolate cake.
A bowl of chocolate buttercream frosting

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.

Bowl of Vanilla Buttercream Frosting next to a piping bag and vanilla cupcakes.

Recipe Tips

  • Use a stand mixer with the whisk or paddle attachment (an electric 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. 
Bowl of Vanilla Buttercream Frosting with a spoon. Vanilla cupcakes on the side.

FAQs

What’s the difference between vanilla frosting and buttercream?

Buttercream contains, butter, while frosting doesn’t have any butter at all. Instead it’s usually made with shortening or cream cheese.

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.

What’s the trick to buttercream?

Make sure to use real butter, salted or unsalted, and soften it to room temperature. Use sifted powdered sugar, and consider using heavy cream instead of milk for a creamier texture.

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.

READ MORE:33+ Easy Dessert Ideas

Ways To Use Buttercream Frosting

Most of the time, we will use this best buttercream 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:

More Easy Frosting Recipes

Dress up cakes and cupcakes with all sorts of flavors and textures with some of our favorite frosting recipes:

How to Make Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Bowl of Vanilla Buttercream Frosting with a spoon. Vanilla cupcakes on the side.

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 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
0 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Frosting
Cuisine American
Servings 48

Equipment

  • stand mixer or hand mixer

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • Cream shortening and butter in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment at medium speed.
    Mixing bowl of whipped butter and shortening with whisk attachment on the side.
  • 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.
    Mixing bowl with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting and spatula scraping sides of the bowl.
  • 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.
    Mixing bowl of Vanilla Buttercream Frosting.

Notes

  • Use a stand mixer with the whisk or paddle attachment (an electric 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. 

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.

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Comments

  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!