Learn how to make buttercream frosting and you’ll always have a fancy finish to cakes, cupcakes, and other sweet treats. Here’s how to make buttercream icing from scratch, plus a few expert tips from our Test Kitchen.

By Wini Moranville
Updated April 22, 2021
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Whether you bake cakes at every opportunity or only when you have to, a lush, beautiful buttercream icing from scratch is a treat anyone can pull off. The basic recipe blends butter, powdered sugar, a liquid (such as cream or milk), and usually a flavoring (frequently vanilla), but the sum of these everyday ingredients results in something out of this world: a creamy, sweet, buttery icing that truly melts in your mouth. The variations you can make to buttercream are seemingly endless—flavor it with cherries, chocolate, peanut butter, or Irish cream, just to name a few. We’ll show you how to make buttercream icing and point the way to some splendid twists.

spreading buttercream with kahlua
Credit: Kritsada Panichgul

How to Make Buttercream Frosting

Get the Buttercream Recipe

To learn how to make butter frosting from scratch, start with a great buttercream recipe: Here’s our best Buttercream Frosting, which has been tested and perfected in our Test Kitchen.

While the recipe is incredibly straightforward, the following tips will show you exactly how to make homemade buttercream frosting that turns out perfectly the first time and every time:

  • Use Softened Butter: Be sure to bring your butter to room temperature. This will ensure that it easily blends with the other ingredients, giving you a smooth and fluffy frosting. By the way, 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 buttercream frosting.
  • Correctly Measure and Sift the Powdered Sugar: If you bake at all, you probably have a sifter ($15, Sur la Table). But if not, don’t let that keep you from learning how to make buttercream for cake! Here’s our hack for the sifter-less baker: Simply set a fine-mesh strainer ($13, Amazon) over a mixing bowl. Spoon the powdered sugar into the strainer. Hold the strainer in one hand while shaking it over the bowl and tapping it with your other hand until the powdered sugar moves through the sifter.
  • Mix to a Spreadable Consistency: You want a buttercream 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. P.S.: Icing a cake is much easier when you use an offset spatula ($5, Bed Bath & Beyond).
Double-Layer White Chocolate Cake
Credit: Kritsada Panichgul

More Tips for the Perfect Buttercream Icing from Scratch

If you’re learning how to make homemade buttercream with no prior experience, you might be looking for a little more know-how. We’re here to help.

How to Flavor Buttercream: Our basic recipe shows you how to make vanilla buttercream. However, the variations are practically endless. For all kinds of ideas, check out the variations like almond, strawberry jam, peppermint, and peanut butter, which you will find at the end of our basic recipe for Buttercream Frosting.

How to Make Buttercream Thicker: If your buttercream is too thin, simply beat in more powdered sugar, little by little, until it spreads easily. Add the powdered sugar in small increments—about ¼ cup at a time; otherwise, you’ll get stuck on repeat in a too-thick, too-thin loop, where you’re adding milk to thin it, followed by more powdered sugar to thicken it.

How to Make Buttercream Less Sweet: If you find a classic buttercream too sweet for your tastes, try using a tart ingredient in place of the milk. A buttercream made with lemon or lime juice adds an irresistibly tingly angle to the sweetness. Another option is to simply make a frosting that isn’t as sweet as buttercream. Sour Cream Frosting might be more your style.

How to Make Chocolate Buttercream Frosting: A little unsweetened cocoa powder is all you need to turn vanilla buttercream frosting into the chocolate buttercream frosting of your dreams! Check out the variation for the Chocolate Buttercream Recipe beneath our master recipe for Buttercream Frosting.

How to Make Buttercream Roses: Making fanciful shapes, including flowers, is as easy as nabbing a decorating bag ($10, Michaels) and the right cake-decorating tip ($16, Michaels). Check out our cake decorating ideas for more pointers, including how to decorate buttercream-frosted cakes with sprinkles, sugar, candy, fruits, and more.

How to Make Buttercream Icing from Scratch Like Your Grandmother: If you’re wondering why your buttercream doesn’t taste exactly like your mother’s or grandmother’s buttercream, it may be because older recipes for the frosting sometimes called on raw egg yolks for extra richness and buttery color. So, how do you make buttercream with raw egg yolks? We don’t advise it because consuming raw eggs is a food-safety no-no. Besides, most cake-lovers will find today’s buttercream frosting has just the right richness.

Now that you know how to make butter frosting from scratch, get baking! Buttercream is a fabulous way to top just about any cake or cupcakes. From a classic two-layer cake, such as a White Cake, Yellow Cake, Chocolate Cake or Spice Cake, to a specialty cake, such as a Chiffon Cake, Jelly Roll, or Birthday Cake, it’s hard to go wrong with a buttercream. Or make a cake from a mix—a great buttercream frosting is one of the best ways around to add homemade goodness to a boxed-mix cake. Also, try buttercream on cookies—such as classic Sugar Cookies—when you want to add an extra touch of awesome to an everyday treat. What about cinnamon rolls? Why not? Once you’ve tapped into the buttercream basics, you’ll find all kinds of ways to use this luscious icing.

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