Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Classic Vanilla Buttercream

Every good cake needs a good frosting! While I've already said that I'm not a frosting person, I'm not so crazy as to think that cake doesn't need any frosting. After all, there's a reason perks are often referred to as 'the frosting on the cake'! ;)

There are many different kinds of frostings, ranging from icing to glaze to ganache to buttercream. Of these, buttercream is probably the most popular and widely-accessible, and is my personal favorite. Even within the category of buttercream, though, there is a huge variety: American buttercream, or simple buttercream, and European buttercreams, or cooked buttercreams. All European buttercreams involve egg, and in my opinion they're much fancier. While I think there are definitely great projects that involve European buttercreams (my all-time favorite is Italian buttercream, by the way), many times when I'm making a cake I'd rather whip up a basic American buttercream and spread that on instead. Sweet, light, and familiar; you can't go wrong with an American buttercream!

American buttercream is simple. Composed mostly of butter and sugar, the key component is the ratio. Every 1 stick of butter gets 2 cups of confectioner's sugar. And because you're creaming the butter and sugar together, you don't have to sift the sugar! (Though you can if you want.)

Finally, it is essential that your butter is room temperature and pliable. If your butter is slightly too cold, you can beat it for longer to bring it to the right consistency. However, there is not too much leeway. You are trying to combine the sugar and butter into one blended mixture, and if the butter is too cold, it will not incorporate evenly with the sugar. Likewise, if it is warm that it is soft or even beginning to melt, it will be hard for it to incorporate enough air to hold the emulsion together.

Begin by beating your butter, until it is creamy. I use a stand mixer, but you can do this in a large bowl with a handheld mixer too.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in your sugar, anywhere between 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time. If you add too much at once, it will fly right back out and all over you and your kitchen. Let the sugar begin to incorporate before adding the next bit, and beat until fully incorporated. The buttercream may be a pale yellow, but will be thick and spreadable.

Add the vanilla (or any other flavoring extracts you'd like to use), and incorporate fully. Finally, if you are using color, add this last and continue to beat until fully mixed throughout. Ta-da! Delicious simple buttercream.

Spread that bad boy on a cake, or pipe it onto a batch of cupcakes. Delicious!

Simple Vanilla Buttercream


  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) butter, room temp
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp milk - as needed


  1. (Beforehand: ) Leave butter out for a few hours to warm to room temperature.
  2. Place butter in bowl of stand mixer or electric mixer.
  3. Beat butter until soft and creamy.
  4. Add sugar, 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time, to avoid splatter. Beat until incorporated.
  5. Add vanilla extract and beat until incorporated.
  6. If frosting is too gritty or stiff, add milk 1 tsp at a time until incorporated.
  7. If using color, add and beat until incorporated.

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