How to Make Buttercream Frosting

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Learn how to make buttercream frosting with this easy tutorial. I’ve been making this homemade buttercream frosting recipe for years! It’s perfect for piping on cupcakes, decorating cakes and is a simple starting point for other buttercream frosting flavors.

A side view of a layer cake with white frosting and colorful buttercream flowers

Homemade Buttercream Frosting

One of the questions I get asked the most is how to make a buttercream frosting that doesn’t wilt or get too soft.  

In this tutorial I’m answering all your questions about making homemade buttercream that you can use for everything from decorating cupcakes to frosting cakes! 

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!

A small jar of piped vanilla buttercream with a full piping bag sitting next to it

What is Buttercream Frosting?

Butter cream frosting is made using a combination of butter and powdered sugar, this is often referred to as American buttercream and it used for frosting cakes and cupcakes. It’s usually flavored with vanilla or other flavors of extracts.

Here is my my recipe for Perfect Vanilla Frosting– a traditional American buttercream. This recipe has RAVE reviews from readers who have made it.

I have so many tips to share with you and reasons why I call it “perfect”.

4 ingredients for Homemade Frosting

  • Unsalted butter: This allows you to control how much salt you want to add to the frosting. This is especially important when making large batches. You CAN use salted butter but the taste is not the same and I don’t recommend adding any additional salt.
  • Powdered (confectionary) sugar: My general rule of thumb is for every ½ cup of butter, I use 2 cups powdered sugar.
  • Pure vanilla (or another flavor) extract: The better the vanilla, the better the taste. I use a generous amount of vanilla extract.
  • Heavy whipping cream: Is used to make the frosting light and fluffy, and cut down the sweetness. If you don’t have heavy cream, you can use any type of milk.
  • A pinch of salt is optional and used to help control sweetness

A hand holding a whisk of vanilla frosting above a metal mixing bowl

How to Make Buttercream Frosting

What makes my recipe different is the fact that I start with COLD butter. Starting with cold butter allows you control the stiffness of the buttercream.

  • Whip the butter: 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 until it’s super light and fluffy

A mixing bowl full of whipped butter

  • Add Powdered (confectioners) sugar: Add the powdered sugar 2 cups at a time until it’s all be added. Each time I add powdered sugar, I be sure to whip the buttercream until it’s nice and fluffy again before adding more.

A black measuring cup filled with powdered sugar

  • Add liquid ingredients (vanilla and heavy cream): 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, add as needed.
  • Add a pinch of salt (optional): You can add a pinch of salt to help cut the sweetness. Add slowly, as too much salt cannot be fixed. If you happen be using salted butter, then you may not want to add more salt.
  • Whip the frosting: Once all the ingredients are added, whip the frosting with the paddle attachment for another few minutes to get it nice and fluffy.

an overhead shot of a bowl of mixing bowl filled with vanilla frosting

How Much Powdered Sugar Do I Need to Make Buttercream Frosting?

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.

How Much Frosting Do I Need for 12 Cupcakes?

This entirely depends on how much frosting you like on your cupcakes. If you’re using a large piping tip, you’ll need at least 3 cups of frosting.

For a frosting recipe for 12 cupcakes, generally you’ll need ¾ cups of butter and 2-3 cups of powdered sugar.

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.

A close up shot of a moist vanilla cupcake with pretty teal sprinkles. There's a piping bag in the background.

How Much Frosting Do I 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 I Need for a 3 Layer Cake?

This can be very difficult to judge because it really depends The size of the cake you are making and how much frosting you are putting between each layer, on the sides and on the top to decorate.

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.

A close up show of a slice of vanilla cake on a white plate

More helpful buttercream tutorials

  • How to decorate cupcakes with frosting: Learn all about my favorite piping tips and how to decorate cupcakes with each different tip
  • How to Color Buttercream Frosting: Follow these step-by-step instructions 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. You have several options for gel colors including the Wilton Recipe Right color system and Americolor which are my two favorite.
  • How to Use a Piping Bag: Once you have your frosting ready, it’s time to start decorating. Learn my tips for using and filling piping bags.
  • How to use Piping Tips: Along with the piping bag, you’ll want to learn all about the different types of piping tips, how and where to use them. I also discuss how to work with couplers to make your life easier.

6 piping bags filled with Ateco jumbo piping tips

Buttercream Frosting Variation Ideas

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to make homemade buttercream frosting, let’s explore some ways to add more flavors and colors! 

How to Make Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

I have several chocolate frosting recipes on my site including my 3 basic recipes, each recipe goes into further detail about how it’s made. 

  • 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.

A spatula filled chocolate chocolate frosting sitting overtop of a glass mixing bowl

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:

Other variations of buttercream frostings you might like:

  • Swiss meringue buttercream: is much less sweet than traditional buttercream. . This method heats egg white and sugar together. If you’ve never made it before, don’t worry! There’s a whole tutorial included.
  • Decorators buttercream:  Uses either all shortening or a combination of butter with shortening, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. It tends to be the most stable, especially in high temperature due to the shortening which has a higher melting temperature. 

These vanilla cupcakes are frosted with a purple colored frosting and colorful sprinkles

Homemade Buttercream FAQs

Can Buttercream Frosting Be Made 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.

Prior to using, you’ll need to allow it to soften to room temperature for a couple of hours and you may even want to rewhip it. If you’re planning to freeze it, you’ll need to do the same thing.

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 will be stiffer and harder to work with, which is is why I recommend you always rewhip it for a few minutes prior to use. 

A close up view of a cake decorate with buttercream flowers and buttercream roses

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!  See my instructions above for How to Make Buttercream which explain why I start with cold butter.

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, the frosting will be sweeter.

You can use liquid like milk or heavy whipping cream to thin out your buttercream, adding one tablespoons at a time as needed.

The longer you whip the buttercream, the lighter and airier it will be. However, you can still have a stiff whipped buttercream that is perfect for piping.

A big swirl of vanilla frosting piped onto a crumpled piece of brown parchment paper

How do you make light, fluffy or whipped buttercream frosting?

The key to making fluffy buttercream is by whipping your frosting, a lot. If you follow my method for starting with cold butter and whipping it through the various stages, you should get a nice, fluffy frosting.

  • Whip the 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.
  • 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.
  • I also recommend using heavy whipping cream. The heavy cream not only cuts the sweetness, but it adds to the whipped texture of the frosting.

A white spatula with buttercream on it

Can I make buttercream frosting with a handheld mixer?

The short answer is yes, anything is possible. However, it will be difficult for you to make large batches of frosting, simply because the powder of a handheld mixer is not the same as a stand mixer.

I usually recommend slightly softening the butter if you plan to use 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 in order to achieve the same consistency. 

A vintage baking tray filled with beautifully decorated cupcakes

I hope I have answered all your questions about buttercream frosting. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below!

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A trip of vanilla cupcakes topped with vanilla buttercream. The cupcakes have teal polka dot liners and pink, white and teal sprinkles.

How to make buttercream frosting

  • Author: Beyond Frosting
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 3-8 cups

Description

Learn how to make buttercream frosting with this easy tutorial. I’ve been making this homemade American buttercream frosting recipe for years! It’s perfect for piping on cupcakes, decorating cakes and is a simple starting point for other buttercream frosting flavors.

Ingredients

Frosting for 12 cupcakes

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold.
  • 23 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream (or milk)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Frosting for 24 cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cold.
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (or milk)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Frosting for 3 layer, 8-inch cake 

  • 2 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cold
  • 810 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 34 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (or milk)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cut the 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 3-5 minutes to whip additional air into the frosting.

Notes

  • Make ahead and storage options: 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. Bring to room temperature prior to using, rewhip in the mixer as needed
Nutrition Information:
1/4 cup
202
24.5g
2.3mg
11.7g
7.3g
25g
0g
.1g
31.2g
  • Category: Frosting
  • Method: Mixer
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: how to make buttercream frosting, vanilla buttercream frosting, chocolate buttercream frosting, buttercream frosting recipe, best buttercream frosting

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49 Responses
    1. Beyond Frosting

      As long as the margarine is firm, like a stick of butter instead of the spreadable kind. You can also make it with Crisco shortening.

  1. Brenda

    Hi. I’m going to make a 1/4 cake and for the first time and I was wondering what type of frosting would work and also to decorate with.

    1. Beyond Frosting

      Hi Brenda, that would depend on what you like. This buttercream recipe is great for cakes and also works well for decorating.

  2. priscilla

    The BEST buttercream recipe! My whole family loves it. Thanks for all the tips and an easy to follow recipe.

  3. Roz | La Bella Vita Cucina

    I used to have a woman bake my kids’ birthday cakes when they were growing up in AZ. The buttercream frosting was out of this world and unforgettable! I’ve been searching for the buttercream frosting recipe she used on those cakes ever since. I’ve never found the recipe and am hoping that this is the ONE!!! Thank you for sharing your recipe!
    Ciao,
    Roz

  4. Pie

    Hi, Miss Juliana! Can you please tell me what brand of light or heavy whipping cream do you use? I’m so confused, I really don’t know the difference between the ordinary cream and heavy cream. I’m sorry for my question, I’m just a beginner. Thanks in advance! 🙂 <3

    1. Beyond Frosting

      The products are similar and both contain similar amounts of milk fat. Heavy cream will whip better and hold its shape longer

  5. Nova

    I wanted to ask why you cannot use salted butter when making Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I’ve been making a Swiss buttercream for many years and on occasions when I haven’t had unsalted butter I’ve used salted and I haven’t found it made that much of a difference except perhaps in the sweetness but tbh it wasn’t that big of a difference. The texture, the taste, the appearance remained the same. I got my recipe from a professional baker who actually said you can use salted butter if you didn’t have unsalted available.

    1. Beyond Frosting

      Hi Nova, you can certainly make any frosting with salted buttercream. The reason I don’t make American buttercream with salted butter is because I like to control the salt content. By using unsalted butter, I can add as much or as little as I want. With salted butter, you don’t have that same control. In regards to Swiss Meringue Buttercream, personally I don’t recommend it for the same reasons. I made the mistake once and my frosting was WAY to salty,

      1. Nova

        I suppose it comes down to taste but I actually find the salt regulates the sugar and takes away that over sweetness that buttercream can be known for. I don’t find my buttercream salty at all but then I also use an amount of vegetable shortening the Spectrum brand which is far healthier, so the buttercream is more stable. I live in Australia where the heat is quite intense in summer so perhaps that also regulates the saltiness.
        I was just curious so thank you for your reply.

        1. Beyond Frosting

          You are totally correct. I often add a pinch of salt to offset the sweetness. Vegetable shortening is a great alternative for warm weather climates!

  6. Cristel

    Thank you very much, Julianne for sharing your passion for baking and for the awesome tutorials! I am super excited to make your buttercream frosting recipe as I usually make a cream cheese frosting. ??

  7. Nicol

    This is perfect for my daughters unicorn cake. Added a few from of orange oil to it. Made it into orange-dreaminess unicorn frosting. Thank you for sharing your recipies.

  8. Jonne Millar

    Hi, I have only used one buttercream recipe for years but I’m now finding it a bit too sweet so I’m trying yours. Are you able to tell me how much in grams is a stick of butter? Thank you.

  9. Terri Blackburn

    I made this frosting for a baby shower bee hive cake and it was fantastic . Today I am going to make it for a birthday cake and I can’t wait to decorate with this icing. Going to try chocolate

    1. Beyond Frosting

      Hi Gloria, yes. You’ll need to mix it for longer, and I probably would put the butter in the microwave for 10-12 seconds to make it a little bit softer and easier to work with

  10. Tiffany Curtis

    My daughter loves this- any recommendations to this without using milk? I bake specifically for allergy related cases, Most allergies I’ve come to find are egg & dairy, my daughter being the egg… I would love to know of a substitute for this whipping cream. Thank you! Ps. Taste Great!

  11. Kia

    Thanks for sharing your recipe. I will be trying this recipe soon! Which tip did you use for the white cupcakes with the teal liners and white polka dots? The frosting is piped beautifully and looks like flower petals. Thank you!

  12. Linda Daniels

    I am new to baking, even though I am 70, I am a home cook and always been afraid of baking knowing how precise the recipes and measurements are,however, I have been trying to bake for the first time. I’ve been reading many “how to” posts and found your website very informative and the most helpful and easy to follow. I appreciate your advice and tips. Thank you for the help.

  13. Rita

    This recipe is very similar to my regular go-to Buttercream recipe – my biggest concern is how to get those really brilliant/rich colors without completely altering the delicious taste of my Vanilla Buttercream? I have seen the “all 100% natural” food colorings derived from pure vegetable juices and spices – but I haven’t tried these. Does anyone know if these are less likely to alter the taste of the Vanilla Buttercream? Thanks in advance for any comments! <3

    1. Beyond Frosting

      HI Rita, thanks for sharing. I’ve never tried the natural food coloring myself. I like the food gels which are more concentrated than liquid food color.

    1. Beyond Frosting

      I am not a health professional, so I would recommend doing more research if you’re concerned. If you live in a hot and humid environment, I would definitely recommend refrigerating and butter frosting recipe. Personally I don’t like in a hot and humid climate so I store it in an airtight container.

  14. Peggie

    OMG this is the best buttercream frosting ever. I made it for the first time yesterday and my family raved. We used to get our birthday cakes from a bakery and my grandson said the frosting tasted just like theirs I agree. You cannot go wrong with this recipe. Thank you for publishing it.

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