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How to Make Buttercream Frosting

Looking for a luscious buttercream frosting recipe? Look no further! We'll show you how to make frosting from scratch, including flavor variations. Our crowd-pleasing buttercream frosting adds flavor, richness, and a fancy finish to cakes and cupcakes. Once you know how to make icing, try our luscious frosting recipes.

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Learning how to make frosting from scratch is worth the effort. Rich buttercream frosting adds a pretty finish and a buttery, sweet layer to your favorite cakes.

Buttercream frosting is made with butter -- hence the name -- which adds a milder flavor than cream cheese-based frostings. Cream cheese frosting is tangier than buttercream frosting, which makes it perfect for vegetable- or fruit-flavor cakes. Buttercream frostings hold up a bit better than cream cheese frostings, so they're a better choice for decorated cakes.

Here's how to make frosting from scratch:

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Step 1: Gather your ingredients

For a two-layer 8- or 9-inch round cake,* you'll need:

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 pounds sifted powdered sugar (about 8 cups)
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Milk
  • Food coloring (optional)

*Halve the recipe to frost the top of a 13x9x2-inch cake.

Step 2: Prep your ingredients

Soften the butter by bringing it to room temperature. Soft butter will ensure that it easily blends with the other ingredients, giving you a smooth frosting. Meanwhile, sift the powdered sugar.

Note: Never use melted butter when a recipe calls for softened butter. The frosting will not mix properly and the texture will thin out and act as more of a glaze than a thick, luscious frosting.

Step 3: Cream together ingredients

In a large mixing bowl beat the softened butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well. Slowly beat in 1/3 cup milk and the vanilla. Gradually beat in the remaining powdered sugar.

Step 4: Beat frosting to spreadable consistency

You want a frosting that will spread effortlessly. If the frosting is too thick, beat in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach a thick but spreadable consistency.

Make sure the milk is fully incorporated before adding the next teaspoon: Just a teaspoon or two is sometimes all you need to go from too stiff to the perfect texture. If your frosting gets a bit too soft, put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes or stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup more powdered sugar to firm it up.

If desired, add a few drops of food coloring or flavorings (see "How to Add Flavor to Frosting") to tint or flavor the frosting.

How to add flavor to frosting

Once you know how to make icing from scratch, try incorporate these flavorings for a spin on traditional vanilla buttercream frosting:

Almond: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon almond extract for the vanilla. Garnish frosted cake or cupcakes with toasted sliced almonds.

Milk Chocolate: Melt 1 cup milk chocolate pieces; cool. Beat chocolate into the butter before adding the powdered sugar.

Strawberry: Beat 1/3 cup strawberry jam into the butter before adding the powdered sugar.

Spice: Add 1 to 2 teaspoons apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice with the powdered sugar.

Peanut Butter: Beat 1/2 cup peanut butter into the butter before adding the powdered sugar. Garnish frosted cake or cupcakes with chopped peanuts.

Irish Cream: Substitute Irish cream liqueur for the milk.

Peppermint: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract for the vanilla; tint with red food coloring, if desired. Top garnished cake or cupcakes with peppermint candies.

Dark Chocolate: Substitute 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar.

Coffee: Add 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or coffee crystals, or substitute brewed coffee for the milk.

Citrus: Substitute lemon or orange juice for the milk; stir 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange peel into the finished frosting. Garnish frosted cake or cupcakes with thin strips of lemon or orange peel.

Homemade frosting recipes

Once you've mastered how to make icing from scratch, try these delicious frosting recipes. 

Fudge Frosting

Almond Frosting

Browned Butter Frosting

Orange Frosting

Meringue Frosting

Whipped Cream Frosting

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