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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 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

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 to 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.

How to Make this Ahead of Time

This recipe can be stored in an airtight container and kept at room temperature for 24 hours prior to frosting. If the frosting is stiff, just re-whip it in the mixer for a couple of minutes until it’s fluffy again.

Otherwise, it can be stored in the fridge for up to 7 days in an airtight container. Any longer than that and I would recommend freezing it. If you are refrigerating it, I recommend allowing it to soften for a couple of hours before using it after it’s been in the fridge. I also recommend re-whipping it after it has come back to room temperature. 

Can I Freeze Buttercream?

Yes! 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

Frequently Asked Questions

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 affect the yield and texture. As a rule of thumb, I use 1 1/2-2 cups of powdered 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 Dell
  • 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

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Recipe rating

298 Responses
  1. Laya

    Hi….! I’m about to make the cupcakes and frosting for new year’s and have a question…

    I don’t have a pro mixer (you know.. with the palets and all)… just the basic mixer. Will that work?

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Laya, it will work but you won’t have the same powder as a stand mixer and therefore I suggest to only make a half batch at a time. Also be sure to cut your butter into 1 tablespoons size squares and expect to beat for extra time to account for less power in your mixer. Enjoy!

  2. jeanna alimonti

    I’m trying the cold butter but it’s is just clumping up on the paddle. Am I the only one this happened too?

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Jenna, this will happen because the butter is firm. It helps if you slice the butter into about 1 tablespoon size cubes prior to mixing. and you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle attachment several times. If you are able to mix it at a high speed, it will help to prevent some of the clumping in the mixer.

      1. jeanna alimonti

        Thanks for answering. I actually cut the butter into a little smaller than dice sized pieces to start. I just kept at it for a long time and eventually it softened. Frosting turned out great in the end. Although a little sweet for me so I just decreased the sugar on the next batch.

  3. Jenna

    Thank you for this recipe!
    I added a bit of homemade vanilla extract and almond extract for flavor.
    The cold butter did a number on my stand mixer, but I am pleased with the fluffiness and texture and heavy weight of this frosting! Just sweet enough and perfect!

    Thanks!

  4. Emma

    This recipe sounds amazing!
    Would it be possible to make it dairy free? I can’t have dairy but I’m dying to try these! At my local supermarket they have nutriwhip which is dairy free, can I use that instead of heavy whipping cream?

    Thanks!

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Emma, what would you substitute for the butter? You can use Almond Milk or coconut milk in place of the heavy cream, that’s no problem. Even a non dairy creamer would be fine.

  5. Mandy

    Sounds so Yummy! If I want use 3 sticks of butter with 3 cup of sugar, how do I adjust for the other ingredients ( vanilla extract and heavy whipping cream)? Thank you so much!

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Mandy, you frosting will not be very thick at all, and it would be pretty buttery. I would try reducing to 2 stick of butter if you only want to use 3 cups of sugar. And I would add the liquid 1 teaspoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Yes of course! It tends to be a stiff frosting, so for a cake you might consider reducing by 1 cup of powdered sugar

  6. Laura

    Made the whipped buttercream icing tonight and it was amazing! I can’t wait to take the cupcakes to work, but my son and daughter in law loved the icing with chocolate cupcakes. She said it was like eating fried ice cream. I did not have heavy cream so I took some flavored cream ( frosted sugar cookie) that I use in my coffee and substituted it. It came out great. thank you I will use this recipe again!

  7. Tanya

    Thank you for the recipe! It turns out great! I cut back the sugar to be only 3 cups though as we are not a fan of overly sweet frosting. Then only added 1 TBS milk. And sub 1/2 cup of cisco. It will definitely be my go to buttercream now!

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