The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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This easy vanilla buttercream frosting recipe is absolutely perfect! It’s a basic American buttercream made with butter and powdered sugar. The secret to this recipe is that is starts with cold butter which makes a fluffy homemade frosting that’s ideal for decorating cakes and cupcakes.

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

Today’s post is all about going back to the basics.  There’s nothing better than a classic American buttercream frosting. I’ve used this recipe as a base frosting for dozens of cakes, cupcakes and cookies you’ll find on my blog. It’s tried and true with hundreds of reviews, it’s been pinned millions of times on Pinterest, and it never fails!

I will share my secrets to making the most perfect whipped and fluffy frosting. This simple recipe can be paired with moist vanilla cupcakes or chocolate cupcakes, lemon or strawberry cupcakes, you name it. You can even use it for frosting sugar cookies.

What Makes this the Best frosting?

  • It’s quick and easy to make
  • It’s light & fluffy and incredibly stable
  • It’s the the best frosting for piping and decorating cupcakes, cakes and cookies
  • It holds color really well 
  • It’s can be made ahead of time or frozen to be reused 

Here’s my secret

My secret of all secrets? I use cold butter!  Yes,  I said cold butter. How many times have you forgotten to take butter out of the fridge? It’s the worst! Well not anymore.

Most frosting recipes call for softened butter or butter at room temperature. However I find that this often results in a weak frosting that doesn’t always hold it’s shape or requires too much powered sugar resulting in an overly sweet frosting. 

The difference between starting with cold butter versus softened is that the cold butter requires you to whip it longer in the beginning. The longer you whip it, the better it will be. Essentially you are letting the mixer do the work to soften the butter as opposed to allowing it to sit on the counter.

The other special ingredient to making a creamy and fluffy frosting is heavy whipping cream. Sure, you can substitute with milk instead but using heavy whipping cream cuts the sweetness and helps to produce the light and fluffy texture. 

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

What You’ll Need

You only need a few simple ingredients to make vanilla buttercream frosting.

  • Unsalted butter: either salted or unsalted butter will work fine, but if you use unsalted butter, it gives you the opportunity to control the flavor
  • Powdered (confectioners) Sugar: To be frank, I am too lazy to shift my powdered sugar, but if you find that you often have a grainy texture, then I would recommend sifting it, especially if it comes from a box (as opposed to bag)
  • Vanilla Extract – Be sure you are using a high quality pure vanilla extract, not the imitation stuff! 
  • Heavy Whipping Cream (or Milk) – Tones down the sweetness and helps to produce the light and fluffy texture
  • Salt (optional): Some prefer to add a pinch of salt to balance out the sweetness

Flavor variations: This can be made with virtually any type of extract including: almond, lemon, peppermint, mint, coconut etc. You can also add some fresh fruit zest such as lemon, orange or lime. 

A black measuring cup filled with powdered sugar

How to Make Vanilla BUTTERCREAM Frosting

This recipe comes together in about 10 minutes and only requires one bowl. 

  • Whip the butter. Cut the cold butter into 1 tablespoon size pieces and whip it with the paddle attachment for 5-7 minutes. Scrape down the sides of bowl occasionally. 
  • Add the powdered sugar & liquid ingredients.  Add the powdered sugar, 2 cups at a time and mix on low speed until incorporated. Then increase the speed to medium-high for a minute or two before adding additional powdered sugar. As your frosting thickens, you’ll want to add in the liquid ingredients to help thin it back out. Usually each time I add powdered sugar, I also add some of the liquid.
A hand holding a whisk of vanilla frosting above a metal mixing bowl
  • Beat it one last time: After all your ingredients have been added, beat the frosting for an additional minute or two to get that final light and fluffy texture 
an overhead shot of a bowl of mixing bowl filled with vanilla frosting

Ways to Use this frosting

This vanilla frosting is perfect for piping and decorating. You can add all sorts of fun colors to it, use it on cupcakes, on cakes, on sugar cookies – the possibilities are endless! Here are some ideas for you to try:

A single vanilla cupcake in a teal polka dot liner topped with beautifully pipped vanilla buttercream and sprinkles

Frequently Asked Questions

How much frosting does this recipe make?

This frosting recipe makes enough for at least 24 cupcakes that have a hefty amount of frosting. The second rule I live by when it comes to frosting, is never come up short. So I usually end up with more than enough frosting.

If you are only frosting 12 cupcakes, or a 9×13 inch cake, you can halve this recipe.

Can I make this in advance?

This recipe can be made in advance and kept at room temperature for 24 hours prior to frosting. Otherwise it can be stored in the fridge for up to 7 days before serving. Any longer than that and I would recommend freezing it. You will need to allow it to soften for a couple of hours before using it after it’s been in the fridge. I recommend re-whipping it after it has come back to room temperature. 

Can I Freeze Buttercream?

I like to fill a Ziploc bag with the frosting, then squeeze all the air out of the bag, seal it and freeze it for up to a month. You will need to allow it to soften for a couple of hours to room temperature. I recommend re-whipping it in the mixer to get the fluffy texture back.

A white spatula with buttercream on it

Do frosted cupcakes needs to be refrigerated?

If you live in a hot and humid environment then I would suggest that you refrigerate cupcakes that are frosted and allow them to come to room temperature before serving. Otherwise I store my cupcakes in a cool, dry place in an airtight container for up to 3 days once they are frosted.

Since this frosting is all butter based, it will melt in high temperatures or in humid environments. If you are serving this buttercream at an outdoor party, be sure to keep it out of the sun, especially if temperatures are hot that day. 

Can I make this 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.

You will likely need to spend even more time whipping the butter both in the beginning and throughout when adding the powdered sugar.

Can I use less powdered sugar?

You can, but it will effect the yield and texture. As a rule of thumb, I use 1 1/2-2 cups of powered sugar for every 1/2 cup of butter. Using less powdered sugar will result in a buttery texture as well. If you are looking to make it less sweet, you can add a little bit of salt and another teaspoon or two of heavy cream or milk. 

A large piping bag with Ateco 849 piping tip is piping a big swirl of frosting in a jar

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

The Best Vanilla Frosting

  • Author: Julianne
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1/2 Cups

Description

This Perfect Vanilla Frosting Recipe recipe is very versatile. It’s a basic vanilla buttercream using butter and powdered sugar. This is the perfect frosting for piping cupcakes and cake decorating. 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup (339 g) (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold.
  • 5 cups (650 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) heavy whipping cream (or milk)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cut the butter into pieces. Using the paddle attachment, whip the butter for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally, beating until the butter look light in color.
  2. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix on low speed until incorporated into the butter then add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Beat for about 60 seconds.
  3. Next, add an additional 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat on low speed until sugar is incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes.
  4. Add last 1 cup powdered sugar along with the heavy whipping cream and salt. Beat on low until the ingredients start to mix together. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 3-5 minutes to whip additional air into the frosting.

Notes

  • Storing this frosting: This frosting can be kept at room temperature if serving within 24 hours and it’s not too hot. It can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated for 7 days. Frosting must come back to room temperature before piping, and I suggest to rewhip it.
  • Freezing this frosting: This frosting can also be frozen in an airtight bag, be sure to squeeze all the extra air of out the bag. Thaw to room temperature and I suggest to rewhip prior to piping
  • Coloring this frosting: If you are coloring this frosting, I suggest using gel colors for the best color variation.
  • Flavor variations: This can be made with virtually any type of extract including: almond, lemon, peppermint, mint, coconut etc. You can also add some fresh fruit zest such as lemon, orange or lime.
  • How much does this frosting make? This makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes. For 12 cupcakes or a 9×13 cake, you can halve the recipe. For a layer cake, I suggest reviewing taking a look at my vanilla layer cake.
  • If your frosting is too sift: Add additional heavy cream 1-2 teaspoons at a time until desired consistency is reached. Also I recommend continuing to beat the frosting.
  • If your frosting is too thin: Add an additional 1/2 cup powdered sugar at a time and continue to beat the frosting until desired consistency is reached.
Nutrition Information:
1/2 cup
540
65.4g
6.1mg
31.3g
19.5g
66.7g
0
0
83.2mg
  • Category: Frosting
  • Method: Stand Mixer
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: Vanilla Frosting, Vanilla Buttercream

220 Responses
  1. María Jaquez

    I simply love this recipe. I have made it more than 5 times. It’s works great with cakes, cupcakes. My favorite one. Super easy to make. I highly recommend it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Linda Johnson

    Not on this page, but on the front Pinterest page it says this recipe has 4 ing. It does not mention butter. I’m glad I looked further because it’s a really easy and delicious frosting, but I wonder how many people have not looked further, thinking it has no butter in it.

  3. Mary

    Hello, I have made this frosting recipe twice yesterday. I am now a believer in cold butter. My question is can this be over whipped? I am struggling with getting it fluffy. Thanks.

    1. Kim

      I have made several different buttercream recipes in search of a keeper. None of them ever used cold butter so I was a little hesitant with this recipe. But I’m so glad I tried it. This is the best overall buttercream I’ve ever made. The texture was perfect and tasted amazing. I will only use cold butter from now on!

  4. Holly

    Hi! I have a few questions. I’ve been practicing decorating sugar cookies and have been searching for a great buttercream that’s not overly sweet but will pipe flowers and crust over so I can lightly stack the cookies after they are decorated. Does this recipe crust?

    Second question, if I have a recipe that I like the proportions of powdered sugar/butter can I just try using that same recipe but using the cold butter method from here to see if that will help improve my buttercream texture and consistency?

    Thanks so much! I do plan on trying it out as written sometime in the near future 🙂

    1. Beyond Frosting

      Hi Holly, this is the buttercream I use to decorate all my sugar cookies- you can see them on my blog, just search sugar cookies. While this does have a light crust, I still do not recommend stacking them. Regarding the other recipe, I am not sure, but worth giving it a try.

  5. Beth

    I didn’t realize there was another type of icing for decorating. I’ve been trying to learn cookie decorating with Royal icing. My outlining has improved but I still have trouble with filling or flooding a cookie. Do you do that with Buttercream?

    1. Beyond Frosting

      Hi Beth- So royal icing and buttercream and very different. For buttercream, you’ll want all the same consistency, and it’s pretty thick. There is no outlining and filling. If you’d like to see some cookies decorated with buttercream, you can take a look at this sugar cookie recipe

    2. Zoe

      Wonder if you’ve tried modulating the consistency of your royal icing with water. That’s how we did it when I worked as novelty cookie decorator at Christmas time. Pretty cool job to have in high school.

      I see it’s been awhile since you posted but I was reminded how fun it was. If I remember correctly we watered it down enough that it didn’t leave a nipple in order to spread it. We made the outline and then pushed icing towards it from the middle. Lots of pushing and pulling to get it to do what you wanted. Stiffer icing for different effects. 🙂

  6. Riley

    I’ve been struggling FOREVER to make a perfect buttercream and I’m so happy I have this recipe now! I’ve tried tons that all use room temperature butter and they always seem to come out too soft. This holds up really well!

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