This smooth vanilla buttercream frosting is the easiest way to decorate your cupcakes, cakes or cookies!
You can prepare this delicious frosting in under fifteen minutes and with only four ingredients. It will make enough buttercream frosting to generously decorate 12 cupcakes or 1 two-layer (20 cm / 8 inch diameter) cake.
Ingredients in Vanilla Buttercream
- Unsalted butter: I prefer unsalted butter for a sweeter, richer flavour. It also allows you to control how much salt you add, if you desire.
- Using salted butter: you can use salted butter instead of unsalted butter if you like. It won't largely affect the overall taste.
- Icing sugar / powdered sugar: powdered sugar will dissolve easily into the butter mixture, giving you a super creamy, rich and stable vanilla buttercream.
- Can I use other types of sugar? I don't recommend using other types of sugar. This will make your buttercream grainy and may separate the frosting.
- Making powdered sugar at home: to make powdered sugar, blend regular granulated sugar in a high speed blender or NutriBullet until it reaches a fine powder stage.
- Whole milk: you can also use skim, dairy-free milks, or even water. Note that strongly flavoured plant-based milks (soy, almond etc.) may impact the overall taste of the buttercream.
- Vanilla essence OR vanilla extract: this gives your buttercream a much better depth of flavour. I recommend a high quality (not alcohol-based) vanilla essence or extract. Use a clear vanilla essence if you don't want visible vanilla seeds.
- Can I use other flavourings? Yes! You can use any liquid flavouring to change the taste of your buttercream. I like using strawberry, lime, coffee etc. Start with ½ teaspoon of flavouring and add more to taste.
- Food colouring: use a couple of drops of high-quality liquid or gel food colouring then beat well. Slowly add more, beating well inbetween, until you reach your desired colour.
How to Make Buttercream Frosting
This recipe couldn't be easier!
- Add all of your ingredients into the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
- Beat on low speed until somewhat combined.
- Increase speed to medium-high and beat until pale, fluffy and smooth.
And you're done! Use the finished buttercream to decorate your favourite sweets. The buttercream will set firm in the refrigerator.
Top Tips & FAQs
Will buttercream frosting harden?
- Yes, if you refrigerate it: The buttercream it will set firmly in the fridge. It may also eventually set firm at room temperature if you live in a reasonably cool environment.
Why did my buttercream split or curdle?
- Your butter is too hot or too cold: If your buttercream is split or curdled, it is due to your butter being too hot or too cold. Your butter should be soft to touch but not melted.
- Your environment is too hot or too cold: if the environment is so hot that the butter will melt at ambient temperature, then the buttercream will struggle to come together. The same goes for an environment which is too cold, and the butter won't incorporate into the sugar.
Why is my buttercream grainy?
- You haven't beat the buttercream for long enough: continue to beat the buttercream until the sugar has properly incorporated into the butter. This may take longer depending on the strength of your electric mixer or hand mixer.
- If you are using a hand mixer, sift the icing sugar / powdered sugar before using. This will ensure a lump-free buttercream even when mixed at a lower speed and power.
How do I fix split/curdled/grainy buttercream?
- If the buttercream is too liquidy: try refrigerating the entire bowl of frosting for 30 minutes, then continue to beat the mixture until it comes together.
- If the buttercream is grainy or split: add a little more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, beating very well in-between. This may help dissolve the grainy sugar.
- NOTE: if you are using a hand mixer, it is recommended to sift the icing sugar / powdered sugar before using.
Is this buttercream for piping or spreading?
- Both! This buttercream is very versatile and can be used for piping or spreading. You may want to adjust the thickness of the frosting by adding more or less milk depending on what you are using the frosting for.
Can buttercream frosting be frozen?
- Yes! Place the finished buttercream in a freezer bag/zip-loc bag or airtight container and keep frozen for up to three months. Thaw for six hours or overnight at room temperature. Beat for 3-5 minutes at medium-high speed then use as normal.
Can I leave the buttercream out at room temperature?
- Yes, but it may not last as long: buttercream will only last 2 days at room temperature, compared to 4 days in the refrigerator.
- Make sure your environment is not too hot: if you are leaving your buttercream out at room temperature in a very hot environment, it may sweat or melt. Ideally, make sure the ambient temperature is 25°C / 77°F or lower.
Does buttercream frosting go off?
- Yes, eventually: the buttercream is best kept for a maximum of 4 days in the refrigerator or 2 days at room temperature.
- 250 g (9 oz / 1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 cups (420 g) icing sugar / powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoon (40 mL) milk, plus more as needed
- ¼ teaspoon (1 g) food colouring, optional.
- Add butter, sugar, vanilla, milk and food colouring (if using) to the large bowl of an electric mixer (or using a hand mixer).
- Beat on low speed for 1 minute, or until the ingredients are somewhat combined.
- Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes, scraping down as needed, until very pale, light and fluffy. If the frosting is too stiff, beat in 1 teaspoon of milk at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
- Use to frost cupcakes, cakes or cookies. The buttercream will set firm in the refrigerator.
- Please note that my recipes are measured in metric cups and spoons which are larger than US cups and spoons. Most recipes will be fine if measured in US cups and spoons, but please use the weight (grams) measurement for the most accurate result.
- The buttercream will last 1 week after being used to frost cakes/cupcakes.
- To make ahead of time: prepare the buttercream then cover the bowl tightly with clingwrap. Keep refrigerated for up to 4 days. Allow to come to room temperature for 4 hours then beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes to keep the frosting fluffy. Use as normal.
Substitutions & Tips
- Salted butter: you can use salted butter if you like. I prefer unsalted for a sweeter taste.
- To make your own icing sugar / powdered sugar: blend white sugar in a powerful blender or Nutribullet until it becomes a fine powder.
- Vanilla essence / extract: you can replace vanilla essence / extract with ½ teaspoon of your favourite concentrated flavouring (e.g. strawberry, coffee, etc.). I don't recommend leaving out flavouring altogether as the buttercream tastes very bland.
- Milk: you can use an equal amount dairy-free milk or water if you wish.
Nutrition Information:Serving Size: 1/12th of Recipe
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 282Total Fat: 17.1gSaturated Fat: 11.3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 3.8mgCarbohydrates: 32.2gFiber: 0gSugar: 32.2gProtein: 0.1g