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Fundamentals: Buttercream Frosting

by Jamie on January 23, 2011

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One of the most common questions that I get from my readers is about buttercream frosting, so I figured this would be the perfect topic for my second Fundamentals post.

Although I have made several types of buttercream frosting recipes, the recipe I am going post is by far my favorite due to its flavor, simplicity, and smooth texture. Essentially, this buttercream recipe can be infused with many different flavors to accompany your dessert.

There are many variations of recipes for buttercream; however, I prefer using unsalted butter for the fat component because I find it to be less greasy than buttercream made with shortening. However, to each their own, if you’re a shortening fan, see the notes in the printable recipe box for this adaptation.

This frosting is extremely easy to pipe on and holds a shape very well. It will flow easily through a variety of piping tips. My favorite being the 1M from Wilton and the large round and large French tips from Bake It Pretty. With this basic buttercream recipe under your belt, you’ll be well on your way to creating cake and cupcake masterpieces.

Fundamental Information

Basic Buttercream- This buttercream is, fast, simple and what you see on most grocery store cakes. It’s essentially fat (butter, margarine, shortening), confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla extract whipped together.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream- This type of buttercream in made by cooking egg whites and sugar together in a bowl placed on a pot of boiling water. The mixture is continuously whisked while it reaches 140° F. The egg white and sugar mixture is then removed from the heat and whipped at high speed until it forms stiff peaks and has cooled.
Italian Buttercream- This buttercream is made by adding simple syrup, which is made by heating sugar and water (soft-ball stage) to the egg-whites and allowing the syrup to cook the egg whites and whipped to form stiff peaks.

Fundamental Gear

-big bowl
-electric mixer; if using a stand mixer I recommend the paddle attachment
-rubber spatula

Uses for Homemade Buttercream

-Frosting for cakes or cupcakes
-cupcake filling
-Sandwiched cookie filling
-Anything that has frosting on the top

Fundamental Additions

-citrus zest (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit)
-various extracts
-beautify your buttercream by adding a touch of gel dyes ( I prefer AmeriColor)
-Add in cocoa powder or melted chocolate
-garnish your buttercream with various sprinkles; just make sure you do this immediately after you frost your baked goods. Once the top layer of the buttercream crusts, nothing will stick

Save Recipe Print

Buttercream Frosting

January 23rd, 2011

Yield: enough buttercream to frost 24 cupcakes or one 9 inch layer cake

Ingredients:

4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
pinch of fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions:

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until fluffy add in salt. Slowly add in confectioners' sugar, and continue creaming until well blended.

2. Add salt, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk. Blend on low speed until moistened. Add an additional 1 to 3 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk until you reach the desired consistency. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

Notes:

- This recipe will make enough frosting to generously frost 24 cupcakes or one 9 inch layer cake.
- You can easily adjust the consistency of this recipe by simply adding in more heavy cream or milk.
- If you are a fan of shortening in your buttercream. simply omit one stick of butter and replace with 1/2 cup shortening.
- Clear vanilla extract is used in this recipe to keep the frosting nice and white. If you don’t mind a slight color change, feel free to use pure vanilla extract, but decrease the amount to 2 teaspoons.
- Covered and refrigerated frosting can be stored for up to three days. Simply bring it to room temperature and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. You may need to add a couple of teaspoons of heavy cream or milk to revive the consistency.
- If you choose to dye your frosting, go easy with the dye. Remember, you can always add more color, but you can’t remove it.


{ 116 comments… read them below or add one }

Sophie Morrell February 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Hey, I was just wondering what you, or anyone else would recommend to make my buttercream White? The butter always makes it yellow, and so it doesn’t quite work for the creme egg effect :( xx

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Jamie February 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Sophie-
I’d recommend testing out different butter. For instance, I find that Kroger brand unsalted butter is the whitest that I can find. Pair that with clear vanilla extract and you’ll end up with a pretty white frosting. Hope this helps.
-Jamie

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Teri G May 15, 2014 at 3:11 pm

After your butter cream is prepared. this is crazy but it really does whiten the buttercream – Paddle in the stand mixer – turn the mixer on low speed – and let it stir the frosting for a minimum of 10 minutes 20 is better. It incorporates a lot of air into the frosting and it lightens the color to a very pale off white.
hope that helps.

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Taylor June 16, 2014 at 9:31 am

You have to whip your buttercream for about 5-6 minutes on medium high speed once all the ingredients are it, and THEN it turns white because of the air whipped in the butter.
If you don’t, it turns into a really thick, yellow, sickeningly sweet cookie dough consistency. That happened to me the first time I made buttercream. TRUST ME, you don’t want to know. All butter is yellow…

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Michelle F. February 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

Great frosting! Just made it this weekend for my son’s bday cake. I did one batch with unsalted butter & one batch with salted butter (was out of unsalted). The salted butter batch came out less sweet (which we liked)!! This recipe is a keeper! Thanks!!

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Marissa February 15, 2012 at 12:11 am

I made this butter cream the other day and it came out wonderful! A suggestion… maybe add some where in your posting that butter cream has to stay cool in order to keep its form. I am a beginner when coming to making butter cream and mine had a very thin texture right after making it and once I put it in the fridge for an hour it had the perfect consistency. It easily frosted 24 cupcakes and after frosting half of my cupcakes I added cocoa powder to make a chocolate butter cream. Over all I love this recipe, just wish I had known in advance it neeed to be kept cool but after finding that out I feel like I am better prepared. I will definitely be making more!

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Sonja August 3, 2014 at 5:21 pm

If it was thin, you probably added too much of the cream. I always start with the minimum amount a recipe says, and add additional as needed (to get the consistency I want). You can always make it thinner, but it’s much harder to get it thick again. It shouldn’t need to be cooled.

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Missy March 16, 2012 at 8:47 pm

I made this but it seemed very runny? Not sure what I did wrong.

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Jamie March 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Missy-
Thanks for stopping by, if your frosting was runny, my best best guess would be that you added to much liquid (milk or heavy cream). I recommend adding the liquid very slowly. Hope this helps.
-Jamie

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Mackenzie April 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Seriously, these fundamental tutorials are AWESOME! I am new to cooking and baking, and I have made SO many mistakes that would have been solved if I knew a few of these tricks. Thank you for posting these for cooking newbies like me!

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w8n2xhl April 5, 2012 at 11:00 am

Thanks for this!! I’m about to make cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday to share with her softball team. I’ll need about that much frosting (if not more if I increase the amount of cupcakes by another dozen) Half will be chocolate (base to represent dirt) half will be dyed green for the grass. Then I’m making little cakeballs dipped in colored white chocolate for the softballs and if I’m so inspired, I’ll make softball gloves out of melted Tootsie Rolls that are shaped. A lot of work, I know, but cheaper than a party for her 18th, right?

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Beth April 6, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I just made this for some Easter cupcakes and it is AMAZING!!!!
This was my first time ever making homemade icing.
I am so excited for everyone to try their cupcakes with this absolutely incredible topping!
I had to stop myself from liking the spatula when I was finished.
I’m hoping refridger-ating for a day won’t take anything away from its deliciousness!
Thanks so much!!!!!

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Nancy April 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm

4 sticks of butter seems like an awful lot. Is that correct?

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Jamie April 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Nancy-
Yes, this is correct. The recipe makes a lot of frosting. Thanks for stopping by!
-Jamie

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Felicia April 26, 2012 at 1:14 am

How long would these be good if I served them a day after I’ve made the buttercream?

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Jamie May 18, 2012 at 11:51 am

Felicia,

Cupcakes will usually be good for 2-3 days after frosting so long as you keep them refrigerated in an air tight container.

Thanks for stopping by.

– Jamie

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Taneesha April 29, 2012 at 4:45 am

Used your fantastic buttercream on a batch of cupcakes tonight. Not sure if i got the measurements exact as out in Aus. we dont use sticks of butter but I was thrilled with the result all the same, and even more excited to have heaps left over!

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Hadley May 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm

This was a great recipe. Although, I followed your instructions on putting 1 tablespoon of vanilla in it and it tasted toooooooo much like vanilla.

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Jackie May 12, 2012 at 10:07 am

Gonna try this frosting, excited because I hate the taste of the buttercream made with shortening! I do have a question, if your going to use flavor in your buttercream like extracts do you still add the vanilla also?

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Jamie May 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Jackie-
I would recommend adding the extracts first – then give it a taste, if it needs a little vanilla, add some in until the flavor suites you! Have a great day.
-Jamie

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Sara May 25, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Hey, thanks for the recipe. I can’t tell you how many different recipes I’ve tried. After countless tossed bowls of icing, I swore I’d never try again! But, one more time can’t hurt. I was just wondering if this icing will harden, and remain hard at room temperature. :)

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Jamie May 26, 2012 at 11:48 am

Sara-
This is a crusting buttercream, so yes, the outside layer will “crust” up a bit. If you are looking for something that will not harden, try a Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I hope this helps.
-Jamie

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Loopy August 9, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Hey, thank you for this wonderful post! I am very excited to try this rendition of traditional American buttercream (I hope it won’t be too buttery—I like a subtle hint of it, not chock full!). I do have a question though—how many cups does this produce? I see it states it can cover 24 cupcakes, but I’m a novice :)

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tasha September 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Making cupcakes for my son’s birthday and needed a good buttercream frosting recipe. Sat down at the computer and found this – I love the internet, technology and bloggers!
This is delicious!
I made 1/2 the amount (kindergartners would just make a huge mess of all of it, right?!).
I read that 3 1/2 to 4 c. = 1 lb.
2 cups of powdered sugar worked fine for me to 1/2 the recipe. I frosted 26 cupcakes and I’m licking the bowl!
Thanks for sharing – delicious.
Tasha

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ZK September 29, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Hi there pounds makes how many cups or gms?

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z October 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

Hello! Thank you for this! I’ve always loved baking but I never *got* how to make buttercream frosting. I followed the recipe/s correctly but for some reason, the last buttercream frosting that I made melted and slid right off my banana cake just a few minutes after I piped it on the cake. I’m not sure if I have to refrigerate the frosting before I pipe it on the cake or something since NONE of the many recipes I’ve read mentioned it. I’m not sure if climate has something to do with it since I live in a tropical country where the normal temperature nearly all year round is 32 deg C. Any advice please?

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MBA November 12, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Hello-
I am sorry you had some issues with the recipe. Typically, refrigeration isn’t necessary, so you may first want to try adding the entire amount of powder sugar and then the heavy cream so you can judge the consistency. This allows you to adjust accordingly. Hope this was helpful! Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!
-Jamie

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Nikki October 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm

This frosting is fantastic! The notes were very helpful.

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Pamela January 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm

This is by far the most delicious buttercream recipe I have ever used. Delicious! Infinitely better than the Wilton recipe I had been using. I used high quality vanilla extract DOUBLE strength from Penzeys & I think that really added to the flavor as I still used 1 tablespoon. To my knowledge, clear vanilla extract is all imitation? Thanks so much for the recipe!

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JenM January 25, 2013 at 1:37 am

Thank you for this!! Your recipe told me why mine wasn’t allowing my grass to be … well, grassy. It was coming out too mushy. Added some more powdered sugar and that did the trick! Thank you for sharing your recipes!!! :)

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wendy February 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm

can you freeze the extra frosting?

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Jen June 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm

So I have never made my own buttercream before, but I just made 2 batches of this. One batch I added marshmallow extract and I am going to use it for both marshmallow crème filled and mallow cup filled cupcakes. The other batch I added peanut butter flavoring as well as real peanut butter and I am going to use it for the reese’s cup stuffed cupcakes. Both variations turned out great, can’t wait to see how my son’s birthday guests like them at his 5th birthday party this weekend! Thanks for the “how to.”

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Jamie August 12, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Jen,

You are so welcome! The flavors that you made sound amazing! Thank you so much for stopping back and sharing. Have a wonderful day and thank you for following MBA!

Jamie

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miranda September 5, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I was wondering if I use this recipe to frost and decorate my sons birthday cake then put it in the fridge overnight, will the icing be hard when i pull it out for the party the next day?

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Jamie September 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

Miranda,

The frosting will harden a little in the fridge overnight, but it should soften up if you let it come to room temp for an hour or two before serving. Thank you so much for stopping in and have a wonderful day!

Jamie

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Colleen October 17, 2013 at 9:02 am

I am baking cupcakes for a bridal shower held a few towns over from me. The party planners would like the cupcakes decorated at the location so that none of them get messed up in the drive. I won’t be able to remix the frosting when there and am wondering if it will pipe out ok if I refrigerate it at home in a bowl and scoop it into the pastry bags on site? I’m thinking that the icing will go to room temp in the drive over. Should it hold up or do you have any pointers on what to do? I want it to hold its consistency so that the piping is defined, not be soggy looking or to hard to pipe. Thanks!

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Jamie January 10, 2014 at 10:17 pm

Colleen, I would get cupcake boxes and inserts, and explain that you will be frosting them at home! These are what professional bakeries use to transport cupcakes, and they are plenty safe. My friend Amber used these to transport 300 cupcakes to her cousin’s wedding, and they were perfect. http://www.papermart.com/inserts-for-standard-cupcakes/id=32421#32421

If that really is not an option, I would put the frosting in tupperware containers and keep it in a cooler full of ice packs for your drive. It will have the added bonus of keeping the frosting cool while you decorate, since it will take a while.
– Jamie

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Amber October 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

This has just become one of my favorite blogs. I too have a baking addiction.

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Jamie October 21, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Amber-

Thank you so much! I’m glad you understand :). Have a wonderful day and thank you so much for following MBA!

-Jamie

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Marilou November 12, 2013 at 4:13 am

Hi, just wanted to know what is the substitute for sea salt in case its not available? Your blog is very informative especially to a newbie like me. Thanks for sharing! :)

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Jamie January 10, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Marilou, you can use kosher salt instead, which is widely available.
– Jamie

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Jessica November 30, 2013 at 3:38 pm

We made this today and it turned out absolutely perfect and delicious! We added cocoa powder to make it chocolate buttercream and it’s divine! Thanks so much!!!

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Jamie December 1, 2013 at 11:23 am

Jessica-

You’re so welcome! I’m happy that you enjoyed the recipe. Have a wonderful day and happy holidays!

-Jamie

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Linna December 30, 2013 at 3:46 am

Hi Jamie. I have a question.. tomorrow I will be making 500 cupcakes for the next day so I will also make this buttercream frosting recipe tomorrow as well. Will the frosting still be okay so put on the cupcakes the following day?? Thanks!! I am Age:13 and I LOVE LOVE LOVE to bake!! :)

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Jamie January 7, 2014 at 10:56 am

Linna-

That’s so great to hear! Sorry for the late response…the frosting will be fine, you’ll just need to stir it and let it come up to room temp before frosting. Have a great day!

Jamie

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Erika February 25, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Hi Jamie,

I love your website! I looked through the comments, but couldn’t find one that asked this question: how much cocoa would you add to this recipe to get chocolate buttercream icing? I know tastes vary, but how much do you use when you do it, and do you prefer cocoa or melted chocolate for the best flavor? Thanks so much for these wonderful recipes. I’ve tried several and my family thinks I’m the best baker ever ;-).

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Jamie August 14, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Erika-
Sometimes I use both – it just depends. I actually have a chocolate buttercream recipe coming soon to MBA. Thanks for stopping by!
-Jamie

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CJ March 20, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Does a cake frosted with this recipe need to be refrigerated after frosting it? There are several comments about needing to refrigerate the frosting in order to “set” it up. Thanks!

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Jamie March 20, 2014 at 10:59 pm

CJ-
Yes, I would recommend refrigerating the cake after it is frosted. Thanks for stopping by.
-Jamie

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CJ March 20, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Does anyone know of a way to avoid having to refrigerate a cake with buttercream frosting that doesn’t involve using shortening? I’m still a novice at this stuff:)

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laura@imnotatrophywife.com April 15, 2014 at 9:49 am

HI Jamie
I just gave a shout out to this recipe on my blog. I tweaked it because I notoriously can’t follow a recipe, but it worked! Thanks for the inspiration! laura

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Jessica May 31, 2014 at 3:17 pm

YUMMMM… So stinkin good! It even pipes! And doesn’t taste like plastic. Big big hit here at our house!

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Lydia June 24, 2014 at 7:40 am

4 sticks of butter? Isn’t that a kilogram? Or is a stick different to what I’m thinking? By the way I LOVE your website! It combines so many of my favourite things, namely, ice cream, cheesecake, caramel, nutella and oreos! I’m going to try out your rolo ice cream and nutella butercream tomorrow, and I’m really looking foward to it! But yeah, I need a bit of a hand on these quantities… Thanks!

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Jamie June 26, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Lydia, a stick of butter weighs approximately 113 grams. 4 sticks of butter (US) is a little less than half a kilo. I would suggest you try this site for further conversions: http://www.traditionaloven.com/conversions_of_measures/butter_converter.html
– Jamie

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Zaneblane July 10, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Girl, you are soooooo talented!! I am a subscriber to your YouTube and your blog–you are a blessing to us that want to learn and Iove that you find the time to answer us!!

So, I have always made Wilton bc, SMBC and ABC but I just failed “I am Baker’s ” ABC on the patriotic rose cake–disaster!! I had to add so much paste [wilton bcause I was out of Americolor] and still did not get the correct color! It started seperating! you could see the shortening in the icing, ugh! Jamie, any advice?

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Jamie August 12, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Sorry you had trouble with your icing. You might try mixing it a little longer to make sure it is all incorporated before piping.

-Jamie

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alex July 17, 2014 at 8:19 pm

hi, the buttercream I have made isn’t soft enough for piping roses. it pipes stars great and they hold their shape. But I find its too stiff to pipe a rose as it doesn’t flow out of the bag it just sits exactly where I put it. Am I not beating it for long enough?
Please help!

Alex

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Jamie August 24, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Alex-
I have never attempted to make buttercream roses with this recipe. I would recommend the Wilton Buttercream for perfectly set roses. Thanks for stopping by!
-Jamie

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