How to Make Frosting

5 from 33 votes

Learning how to make homemade frosting is easy to make and only needs 5 simple ingredients! Frost cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and more!

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Skip the storebought stuff and learn how to make frosting with this easy-to-follow guide and just 5 simple ingredients! This classic vanilla frosting is spreadable, can be piped, and has the best sweet flavor. Not only is this buttercream frosting better than storebought, but it’s also adaptable enough to match any cake flavor by adding in extracts and other additions with a smooth, velvety finish.

Hand frosting a cake with homemade frosting using a small angled cake spatula with a small dish of sprinkles nearby.
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What is Frosting?

Frosting is a whipped topping made from creaming butter and sugar together until light, smooth, and fluffy. It’s made for topping cakes and cupcakes and uses an offset spatula for spreading onto them or for filling a piping bag for adding decorative decorations.

There are 4 different types of frosting that are commonly used. The frosting recipe we’re learning today is an American buttercream.

  • American Buttercream: This is known as a “quick buttercream” that mixes together confectioners’ sugar, softened butter, and usually milk or heavy cream. The most common quick and easy frosting recipe that goes with cake, cupcakes, and topping cookies.
  • Cream Cheese Frosting: Room temperature butter and cream cheese are whipped together until smooth and creamy then adding powdered sugar for sweetening it. This type of frosting is common on cupcakes, spice cakes, carrot cakes, and banana bread.
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream: This egg white base frosting beats egg whites with sugar over a double boiler to cook the base before adding in the butter and sugar. A fantastic frosting for piping defined flowers and embellishments on cakes.
  • Whipped Cream Frosting: Heavy cream is whipped with powdered sugar until firm peaks form and is used on parfaits, cheesecakes, and ice cream. I love adding a dollop to pumpkin pancakes, too! It’s commonly less sweet than other frostings.

WHY learn to make frosting

If you love a good, solid frosting recipe that is versatile, easy to make and uses common ingredients, you’re going to love making frosting from scratch every time. Once I started making my own buttercream at home, I never turned back to using storebought again! It’s just TOO EASY to make yourself and I love that this base frosting recipe can be built on to create more flavors so I can decorate any cake just by adjusting a few ingredients.

  • Made with simple ingredients. This classic vanilla buttercream uses just 5 basic ingredients: unsalted butter, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, and milk with a pinch of salt.
  • It’s extremely versatile. This recipe is perfect as is for a smooth, fluffy frosting, but can also be the start of another frosting recipe. From switching up the vanilla for other extracts to adding chocolate or other flavors to match the recipe you’re making it for, you’ll find making this recipe from scratch has many options to work with.
  • It’s more rewarding than using storebought. Sure, you could buy the premade stuff, but there’s something about making cake and frosting from scratch that is very rewarding. Plus, it tastes better, too!
  • Smooth, velvety perfection. Whipped up until the consistency is fluffy, spreadable, and smooth which is great for spreading on with a cake spatula or used in a pipping bag for those added embellishments.

Ingredients to Make Frosting from Scratch

  • Unsalted butter: Using unsalted allows you to control the salt content and salted butter can vary largely by brand. If you like making your own butter, this could be a fun recipe to use it with.
  • Confectioner’s sugar: Also referred to as powdered sugar, this should be sifted before adding it to the butter for a smooth frosting.
  • Milk: This recipe uses whole milk but you could also use heavy cream or a non-dairy alternative such as coconut milk or nut milk.
  • Vanilla extract: Choose pure vanilla extract instead of imitation flavoring as it can sometimes have a bitter aftertaste. You could use other extracts such as lemon or almond.
  • Salt: a pinch of salt is just enough to balance the sweetness and enhances the flavor.
Ingredients for recipe in individual bowls, salt, milk, confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and 2 sticks of butter.

HOW TO MAKE Frosting

  1. Cream the butter using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until the color has lightened and is fluffy.
  2. Sift powdered sugar and add a cup at a time, scraping down the sides as needed until incorporated and smooth.
  3. Add the vanilla and milk.
  4. Continue mixing until the frosting is very light and fluffy.
4 image collage making recipe in bowl of stand mixer: 1- cream butter, 2- add sugar, 3- add vanilla and milk, and 4- creamy frosting.

TIPS FOR the Best Frosting

  1. Sift the sugar. Sometimes sifting feels like a lot of work, but in this case, I strongly suggest that you don’t skip it. This is what will ensure your frosting is light, fluffy, and smooth. 
  2. Use room temperature butter. This is very important when making frosting because room temperature butter can hold air and makes the final frosting more light and airy, whereas warm or melted butter will create a denser result. Learn how to soften butter four different ways.
  3. Scrape down the sides as you go. When creaming the butter, add the sugar, and towards the end, continue to scrape down the sides when needed to ensure that everything is well incorporated. This will give you a smooth and fluffy frosting.
  4. Create a smoother finish. Turn the mixer to low speed at the end for about 30 seconds to help remove any large air pockets for a smoother finish.

popular SUBSTITUTIONS & additions

  • Mix up the Flavors. Swap the vanilla extract for citrus zest, peppermint extract, or almond extract based on what you are using it for!
  • Add food coloring. I like to use natural food dyes and add a few drops depending on what the occasion is to transform the frosting color into something special.
  • Make a chocolate frosting. Add in a ½ cup of sifted unsweetened cocoa powder to the powdered sugar before adding it to the butter. You can adjust the milk if needed for the right consistency.
  • Try it dairy-free. Substitute the butter and milk for their dairy-free plant-based alternatives.
Bowl of frosting with cake spatula dipped in and cake on cooling rack next to it.

recipes to use with buttercream frosting

There are a few different ways to use buttercream frosting, cake and cupcakes are a must! But you can also try it on a few other sweets.

HOW TO STORE Homemade Frosting

Store buttercream covered in the fridge. To reuse, bring to room temperature and rewhip for the best consistency.

HOW LONG WILL Buttercream Frosting LAST IN THE FRIDGE?

Frosting can be stored in the fridge for 3 days but is best used fresh.

CAN I FREEZE Frosting?

You can store the frosting in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator the day before and bring to room temp before re-whipping and using.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How much does this frosting recipe make?

This buttercream makes enough to cover a 9 x 13 sheet cake, a two 9-inch round layer cake, or 24 cupcakes.

What’s the difference between frosting and icing?

The words frosting and icing are primarily interchangeable in terms of naming the recipe, and it is common to hear “frosting” be called “icing.” But in short, frosting is typically fluffy, thick, and spreadable compared to icing, which is thin and pourable. Icing combines powdered sugar and a liquid such as milk or cream.

Can I make this recipe ahead of time?

You can make frosting 2-3 days ahead of time and store it in the fridge, or freeze up to 3 months.

Can I make frosting with salted butter?

If it’s all you have, then frosting can be made with salted butter but results with vary. Each brand has different levels of salt in them, which is why unsalted is preferred.

Overhead shot of a frosted cake with sprinles around edge and a small bowl of sprinkles nearby.

This handy guide on making frosting at home is easy to follow, and you’ll be grateful to have an adaptable recipe in your collection to create more and more sweets. A simple buttercream frosting is perfect for decorating cakes and cupcakes but also delicious as a cookie sandwich filling! Try a few different cake and cookie recipes with this classic vanilla frosting.

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How to Make Buttercream

Learning how to make homemade frosting is easy to make and only needs 5 simple ingredients! Frost cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and more!
5 from 33 votes
Servings 16 servings
Course Tutorial
Calories 220
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
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Ingredients
  

Instructions

  • Add butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it starts to lighten up in color and turn fluffy.
  • Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add 1 cup confectioner’s sugar at a time until it has all been incorporated. Add milk, vanilla and salt and continue to mix until the mixture is very light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Use immediately, or store in the fridge, tightly wrapped for up to 3 days. Let come to room temperature and re-whip before using.

Notes

Frosting should cover a 9 x 13 sheet cake, a two 9-inch round layer cake, or 24 cupcakes.
Storage: Store buttercream covered in the fridge. To reuse, bring to room temperature and rewhip for the best consistency.
Sift the sugar. Sometimes sifting feels like a lot of work, but in this case, I strongly suggest that you don’t skip it. This is what will ensure your frosting is light, fluffy, and smooth. 
Use room temperature butter. This is very important when making frosting because room temperature butter can hold air and makes the final frosting more light and airy, whereas warm or melted butter will create a denser result.
Mix up the Flavors. Swap the vanilla extract for citrus zest, peppermint extract, or almond extract based on what you are using it for!
Add food coloring. I like to use natural food dyes and add a few drops depending on what the occasion is to transform the frosting color into something special.
Make a chocolate frosting. Add in a ½ cup of sifted unsweetened cocoa powder to the powdered sugar before adding it to the butter. You can adjust the milk if needed for the right consistency.
Try it dairy-free. Substitute the butter and milk for their dairy-free plant-based alternatives.

Nutrition

Calories: 220kcal, Carbohydrates: 30g, Protein: 0.2g, Fat: 12g, Saturated Fat: 7g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 0.5g, Cholesterol: 31mg, Sodium: 3mg, Potassium: 9mg, Sugar: 30g, Vitamin A: 358IU, Calcium: 7mg, Iron: 0.02mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.

Cuisine American
Course: Tutorial

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Comments

  1. Linda Powell says:

    The recipe doesn’t say how much of each ingredient to use

    1. Yumna J. says:

      Hi Linda, right above the comments you’ll find a recipe card complete with the full instructions as well as ingredient measurements. Hope that helps!

  2. Amira says:

    Would this work with salted butter if I omitted the pinch of salt?

    1. Yumna Jawad says:

      If it’s all you have, then frosting can be made with salted butter but results with vary. Each brand has different levels of salt in them, which is why unsalted is preferred.