Making a quick buttercream frosting from scratch is worth the effort. Rich buttercream frosting adds a pretty finish and a buttery, sweet layer to your favorite cake desserts.
Buttercream frosting is made with butter?hence the name?which adds a more mild 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 fabulous buttercream frosting:
For a two-layer 8- or 9-inch round cake,* you'll need:
*Halve the recipe to frost the top of a 13x9x2-inch cake.
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 used 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.
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.
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," below) to tint or flavor the frosting.
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.
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.