For this buttercream frosting recipe, we are making a traditional American vanilla buttercream frosting. It’s an all butter frosting recipe flavored with vanilla extract. If you need to learn how to make buttercream frosting, this is the perfect post for you.
How do you make vanilla buttercream frosting? This is a question I get asked more than you can imagine. So I have written approximately 2000 words all about how to make buttercream frosting, the different type of frosting recipes and I am answering all your questions about buttercream.
You can scroll through to the question you are looking for, or you can join me on this adventure and my obsessions with frosting. Okay let’s go!
There are a few types of vanilla buttercream frosting that you can make. One is a traditional American buttercream, made with all butter. I would recommend starting with my recipe for Perfect Vanilla Frosting. This recipe has RAVE reviews from readers who have made it.
You can also make vanilla buttercream with a recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This method heats egg white and sugar together, which are whipped into a meringue. Then you add softened butter to create the most silky, smooth buttercream ever.
Swiss meringue buttercream is much less sweet than traditional buttercream. If you’ve never made it before, don’t worry! There’s a whole tutorial included.
Another vanilla buttercream is called decorators buttercream. I don’t use this method very often, but it is the recipe that I learned when I took the Wilton cake decorating classes. It combines butter with shortening, powdered sugar and vanilla extract.
Decorators buttercream tends to be the most stable due to the shortening because it requires a very high temperature to melt. To make decorators buttercream, use half butter and half shortening.
For all my frosting recipes, I use unsalted butter. This allows me to control the amount of salt in my recipes. If you only have salted butter, you’ll be fine. But you might notice your frosting has a most salty finish.
The only frosting I am going to tell you that you absolutely cannot use salted butter for, is Swiss Meringue buttercream, but you can read more about that on that recipe, which I linked to above.
How to make vanilla buttercream frosting
- For my perfect vanilla buttercream, we are starting with COLD butter. Starting with cold butter allows you control the stiffness of the buttercream. I cut the cold butter into 1 tablespoon size pieces and then whip it using the paddle attachment for 3-5 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally.
- Then I add my powdered sugar 2 cups at a time. Each time I add powdered sugar, I be sure to whip the buttercream until it’s nice and smooth before adding more.
- As you start to add more powdered sugar, your frosting will become much thicker. This is when you need to start alternating in your wet ingredients such as extracts and milk or heavy cream. Milk or heavy cream not only helps cut the sweetness, but it helps add to the overall texture and smooth finish on your tongue.
- The rule of thumb for most of my frosting recipe is that you should use 2 cups of powdered sugar for every stick of butter (1/2 cup). If you need to make your frosting stiffer or thinner, you can find the answers to those questions below.
- The last thing you can do it cut the sweetness is to add a pinch of salt but adding little by little is key. Too much salt cannot be fixed. If you happen to already be using salted butter, then do not add more salt.
- Once all my ingredients are added, I whip my frosting with the paddle attachment for another few minutes to incorporate extra air into the frosting.
Lastly, if you’re looking for more information about how to bake cupcakes, I highly recommend checking out my post about all the different size cupcake pans you can use.
How do I make chocolate buttercream frosting?
Chocolate buttercream is my husband’s favorite!! But I can never seem to add enough cocoa powder for him. I have several chocolate frosting recipes on my site including my 3 basic recipes:
The Best Chocolate Frosting– a traditional American buttercream with powdered sugar and cocoa powder with a more whipped consistency.
Chocolate Fudge Frosting– an American buttercream with melted chocolate, cocoa powder and powdered sugar. A more intense chocolate flavor with a stiff consistency.
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting– a cream cheese frosting recipe made with butter and cream cheese, cocoa powder and powdered sugar.
For any chocolate frosting, I always add the cocoa powder first, before adding any powdered sugar. I like to sift my cocoa powder through a fine sieve to break up any clumps, especially if I am making large batches. Then be sure to scrape bowl your bowl before adding any powdered sugar to ensure you get all the cocoa powder well incorporated.
There are a few different types of cocoa powder you can use for chocolate buttercream. I use all of these in my kitchen, but nothing beats a high-quality cocoa powder.
My 3 favorites are: Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Sweetened cocoa powder: milder taste (less bitter), dark color. Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: 100% cacoa, naturally unsweetened and Rodelle Baking Cocoa: European Dutch processed, contains one of the highest levels of cocoa butter on the market.
As you would with vanilla buttercream, I suggest adding heavy whipping cream or milk to your frosting and a pinch of salt to cut sweetness and to help give the frosting that smooth and silky texture.
Can I prepare the frosting in advance?
This recipe can be made in advance and kept in an airtight container or in the fridge for two days before serving. Any longer than that and I would recommend freezing it.
You’ll need to allow it to soften for a couple of hours before using. If you’re planning to freeze it, I might recommend re-whipping it. I prefer to make all my frosting recipes fresh, so I can’t speak very much how to freeze buttercream.
Your frosting is best for piping when it’s fresh. The longer it sits, the frosting will lose some of the air that you whipped into it. Therefore, it might appear stiffer. You can always rewhip it for a few minutes.
What’s the best icing for cupcakes?
This is entirely up to your personal tastes. You should also take into consideration what climate you’re living in.
Hot and humid climates are not great for Swiss Meringue Buttercream, cream cheese frosting or anything that is whipped cream-based frosting because they will not hold up. It is possible to serve a whipped cream icing, but you’ll need to keep these refrigerated until right before serving.
If you need a very basic vanilla frosting recipe, I suggest starting with my Perfect Vanilla buttercream or even trying a decorator’s buttercream which using half butter and half shortening. As I mentioned above, it’s the most stable.
How many cups of frosting do you need for 12 cupcakes?
This entirely depends on how much frosting you like on your cupcakes. For a basic chocolate or vanilla frosting, if you’re using a large piping tip, you’ll need at least 3 cups of frosting.
I HATE running out of frosting, especially when I am making chocolate or any colored frosting recipes because it’s so hard to match color. So, I always make more than I need in case I make mistakes when I am piping.
For a frosting recipe for 12 cupcakes, generally you’ll need ¾ cups of butter and 2-3 cups of powdered sugar.
How many cups of frosting do you need for 24 cupcakes?
Again, depending on how much frosting you like on your cupcakes will depend on how much frosting you’ll need, but about 5 cupcakes of frosting is enough for 24 cupcakes.
As previously mentioned, I hate running out of frosting, so I always make more than I need. For 24 cupcakes, my recipes use 3-4 sticks (1 1/2 -2 cups) of butter (I use unsalted) and 7-8 cups of powdered sugar.
How many cups of frosting do you need for a 3-layer cake?
This can be very difficult to judge because it really depends on how much frosting you are putting between each layer, on the sides and on the top. It really also depends on the type of frosting you’re making. The size of the cake you are making have an effect on the amount of frosting needed.
Again, I always make more than I need; running out of frosting in the middle of making a 3 layers cake is the worst.
For a 3 layer, 8-inch cake, I usually use 2 ½ cups of butter (6 sticks) and 10+ cups of powdered sugar. This is about 1.5 times more than you need for 24 cupcakes.
This will allow you to generously frost between in layer and generously frost the outside of the cake. Plus, you have enough to add decorations to the top and bottom of your cake as well.
How do you make stiff buttercream icing for cupcakes?
You can control how stiff or how thin you make your buttercream. If you want to make a stiff buttercream, start with COLD butter! I know that sounds crazy and it’s against everything you ever thought for frosting, but this is how I make my perfect vanilla buttercream.
Starting with cold butter allows you control the stiffness of the buttercream. I cut the cold butter into 1 tablespoon size pieces and then whip it using the paddle attachment for several minutes.
Use powdered sugar to make your buttercream thicker, but you need to consider what you’re doing with the buttercream. Stiff frosting can be difficult for piping cupcakes. As you continue to add powdered sugar, your frosting will be sweeter. Consider adding a pinch of salt to cut the sweetness.
You can use liquid like milk or heavy whipping cream to thin out your buttercream. I add about 1 tablespoon at a time.
The longer you whip the buttercream, the lighter and airier it will be. However, you can still have a stiff whipped buttercream. I prefer to whip my buttercream at the various stages, in the beginning, once half the powdered sugar has been added and again at the end. I whip it at a high speed to add more air into the frosting.
How do you make light, fluffy or whipped buttercream frosting?
The key to making fluffy buttercream is by whipping your frosting, a lot! I think fluffy buttercream is best produced when you start with cold butter. As mentioned above, cold butter allows you to control the consistency of your frosting.
Think about it, if you start with softened butter, it will take more powdered sugar to get a stiffer frosting, but if you start with cold butter, then you have more control over how long you can whip the buttercream.
Be sure to whip your butter for a good 3-5 minutes before adding any liquid or powdered sugar. The butter will grow in volume and look very light in color.
Then you’ll whip the buttercream for 1-2 minutes at a time after adding each cup of powdered sugar and again at the end for a couple of minutes. If you feel the frosting is too thin, you can add additional powdered sugar.
As previously mentioned, I also like to use heavy whipping cream. The heavy cream not only cuts the sweetness, but it adds to the whipped texture of the frosting.
How to color buttercream frosting
There are several options for you to dye your buttercream different colors. I always recommend using gel colors as opposed to traditional food coloring. The gels are much more concentrated and therefore they do not thin out your frosting the way traditional food coloring does.
A little goes a long way with the gel colors. Start small and add additional drops to get your colors to be darker. You have several options for gel colors including the Wilton Recipe Right color system and Americolor which are my two favorite.
I love the Wilton Recipe Right color system because it comes with 8 colors, but gives you a guide to make dozen and dozens of colors, shades and tints. It’s a great starter kit. They also sell individual colors.
I love the Americolor system because they offer such a wide variety of colors and shades. They are most often found at cake decorating stores, but Amazon has starter kits as well as some single color options.
Can I make frosting with a handheld mixer?
You will likely need to spend even more time whipping the butter both in the beginning and throughout when adding the powdered sugar.
I hope I have answered all your burning questions about buttercream frosting. There are so many resources available here for you, but if you have any questions, please leave a comment below!
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If you love no-bake recipes, be sure to check out my cookbook, No-Bake Treats!
For this buttercream frosting recipe, we are making a traditional American vanilla buttercream frosting. It’s an all butter frosting recipe flavored with vanilla extract.
Frosting for 12 cupcakes
- 3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold.
- 2–3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Frosting for 24 cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold.
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Frosting for 3 layer, 8-inch cake
- 2 1/2 cups (5 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
- 8–10 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3–4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- Pinch of salt
- Cut butter into pieces. Using the paddle attachment, whip the butter for 3-5 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Beat until the butter looks light in color and has increased in volume.
- Add 2 cups of powdered sugar at a time and mix on low speed until incorporated into butter then continuing adding additional powdered sugar, alternating with the vanilla extract and heavy cream. After each additional of 2 cups of powdered sugar, beat for about 60 seconds on medium-high or until the powdered sugar is well combined.
- Increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 3-5 minutes to whip additional air into the frosting.
Basic Cupcake Recipes: