Learning how to make a buttercream icing recipe 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-flavored cakes. Buttercream icing holds up a bit better than cream cheese frostings, so they're a better choice for decorated cakes.
That said, decorating enthusiasts should take note: A buttercream frosting recipe often has a pleasing, ever-so-light buttery-yellow hue (because…butter!). If you’re looking for a pure-white frosting, consider making a buttercream frosting with Crisco (or another brand of shortening). Strictly speaking, it’s not really a buttercream (because…no butter!), but it does offer a great “blank slate” for your cake decorating projects. Here’s a tried-and-true recipe for shortening buttercream frosting (which is known in our Test Kitchen simply as Creamy White Frosting).
Tip: If you’re wondering how to make buttercream flowers or how to make buttercream roses, check out our story on cake decorating. The secret is in using the right decorating tip!
Read on to learn how to make a classic buttercream frosting from scratch:
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.
A key step in making a recipe for buttercream frosting is to 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 buttercream 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 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.
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 section on “how to make buttercream frosting with different flavors”) to tint or flavor the buttercream.
What’s better than buttercream frosting? If you’re a chocolate lover, the answer is simple: chocolate buttercream frosting!
Here are two chocolate frosting recipes. If sweet’s your style, choose the Milk Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. For a not-too-sweet buttercream frosting, try the dark chocolate version.
Follow the steps above, with these variations:
• Milk Chocolate Buttercream Frosting: Melt 1 cup milk chocolate pieces; cool. Beat chocolate into the butter before adding the powdered sugar.
• Dark Chocolate Buttercream Frosting: Substitute 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar.
Tip: Find more chocolate frosting recipes in this best-ever collection of chocolate cakes.
Flavor up your homemade frosting recipe with one of these variations:
Almond Buttercream Frosting: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon almond extract for the vanilla. Garnish frosted cake or cupcakes with toasted sliced almonds.
Strawberry Buttercream Frosting: Beat 1/3 cup strawberry jam into the butter before adding the powdered sugar.
Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting: Beat 1/2 cup peanut butter into the butter before adding the powdered sugar. Garnish frosted cake or cupcakes with chopped peanuts.
Irish Cream Buttercream Frosting: Substitute Irish cream liqueur for the milk.
Peppermint Buttercream Frosting: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract for the vanilla; tint with red food coloring, if desired. Top garnished cake or cupcakes with peppermint candies.
Coffee Buttercream Frosting: Add 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or coffee crystals, or substitute brewed coffee for the milk.
Citrus Buttercream Frosting: 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.