How to Make Frosting

We take the guesswork out of homemade butter frosting for cakes and cupcakes.
Frosting a cake

Sometimes the best part of the cake is the frosting! It adds flavor, richness, and a fanciful finish to your cake. Frosting also helps keep the cake from drying out. Here's how to make fabulous frosting from scratch.

Step 1: Gather ingredients

To frost the tops and sides of a two-layer 8- or 9-inch round cake, you'll need the following (halve the recipe to frost the top of a 13x9x2-inch cake):

3/4 cup butter

2 pounds sifted powdered sugar (about 8 cups)

1/3 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla


Food coloring (optional)

Step 2: Start with room-temperature butter

Softened Butter

Bring the butter to room temperature. This will make it spreadable so it blends easily with the other ingredients. Meanwhile, sift the powdered sugar.

Note: Never used melted butter when softened butter is called for -- the frosting will not mix properly and the texture will be off.

Step 3: Beat butter and sugar

Beating butter

In a large mixing bowl beat the 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 remaining powdered sugar.

Step 4: Beat frosting to spreading consistency

Spreadable frosting

Beat in additional milk, little by little, to reach spreading consistency.

You want frosting that spreads effortlessly. If your frosting is too thick, beat in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time. 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 perfect.

If desired, beat in a few drops of food coloring to tint the frosting.

How to Add Flavor to Frosting

Spice up your cake or cupcakes by starting with the frosting recipe above and incorporating these flavorings:

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; if desired, tint with red food coloring. 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.