How To Make Buttercream Frosting
Learn how to make buttercream frosting with this easy tutorial. This is the BEST recipe for homemade buttercream, it pipes perfectly, and makes a great base for other frosting flavors too!
Today we’re covering how to make buttercream frosting. Actually, we’re covering just how EASY it is to make your own frosting right at home. If you’ve been buying store-bought, you’ll want to ditch it after seeing just how easy it is to make your own.
I originally published this recipe in January of 2017, but decided it was finally time to update it with better instructions and more information. In today’s post, I’m breaking down everything you need to know about how to make the best buttercream frosting.
This recipe also makes a great base for so many different flavor variations. The possibilities are really endless, but I’ve included four different variations for you to try!
This easy buttercream frosting uses just 5 ingredients – butter, powdered sugar, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and salt. Here’s a simple overview of each ingredient:
- Butter: I use unsalted butter in all of my recipes because the amount of salt in salted butter can vary quite a bit between different brands. By using unsalted butter, you control the amount of salt in your recipe. Make sure to use actual butter too and not a butter substitute like margarine.
- Powdered Sugar: Also known as confectioners sugar or icing sugar, this helps to thicken and sweeten the frosting. It’s best to sift the powdered sugar beforehand, but if I’m being honest I usually skip the extra step.
- Heavy Cream: Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream work best in this recipe. You can replace it with milk, but keep in mind that the frosting won’t be quite as creamy.
- Vanilla Extract: This adds a little bit of flavor to the frosting. I recommend using pure vanilla extract for the best flavor. You can even use different extracts like mint, almond, lemon, etc.
- Salt: This helps to balance out the sweetness of the frosting. I stick with just a tiny pinch of table salt, you don’t need very much at all!
How To Make Buttercream Frosting
To start, set your butter out ahead of time so that it can soften. This will ensure that the frosting is smooth and creamy. You will need two sticks of unsalted butter, which is equal to 1 cup or 230 grams.
Beat the butter with a mixer for about 1 minute, just until it’s nice and smooth. You can either use a handheld mixer or stand mixer for this recipe, either one works fine!
Next, you’ll mix in the powdered sugar. I typically only use 3 cups of powdered sugar for a batch of this frosting. Some recipes call for quite a bit more powdered sugar, but I’ve found that 3 cups is all you really need. Feel free to sift the powdered sugar, but as I mentioned earlier, I usually skip this step.
Note: When you first start mixing the powdered sugar with the butter, mix it on low speed so you don’t end up throwing it all over the place. You may also mix the powdered sugar in 1 cup at a time to make it easier.
Once the butter and powdered sugar are mixed together, mix in the heavy cream, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. If needed, stop and scrape down the sides of your bowl and mix again to make sure everything is well combined.
Easy, right? At this point, you can go ahead and use this frosting to pipe onto cupcakes or decorate a cake. Or you can store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
The best thing about this recipe is that you can change it up to make different flavors of frosting. I’ve included 4 different variations below, but keep in mind that you can do so much more with this recipe.
- Vanilla: If I’m just making plain vanilla buttercream frosting to pipe on cupcakes or frost a cake, I like to add an additional teaspoon of vanilla extract to amp up the vanilla flavor.
- Chocolate: Sift 1/2 cup (40 grams) of unsweetened cocoa powder, then mix into the frosting base until well combined. Add 1 to 2 extra tablespoons of heavy cream if needed for a smoother, creamier frosting. If you prefer your frosting sweeter, mix in an additional 1/2 to 1 cup of powdered sugar.
- Caramel: Mix in 1/3 to 1/2 cup of homemade or store-bought caramel sauce. For a salted caramel frosting, you can use salted caramel and omit the salt in the recipe.
- Strawberry: Add a 1-ounce bag of freeze dried strawberries to a blender or food processor and process until the berries are crushed into a fine powder. Mix the freeze dried strawberry powder into the frosting until well combined.
Storage & Freezing Instructions
This frosting can be made 1 to 2 days in advance. While it’s not necessary to refrigerate it, I do recommend covering it tightly and storing it in the refrigerator so it stays fresh longer. When you are ready to use it, bring it to room temperature, and mix well before frosting cupcakes or a cake.
This will also freeze well for up to 3 months in a freezer bag. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature and mix well before using it.
- You can add food coloring to this recipe if you prefer. If using liquid food coloring, I recommend using just a few drops as it can thin out the frosting. For a darker color, gel food coloring is a great option!
- This recipe makes about 2 and 1/2 cups of frosting, which is enough to generously frost a batch of 12 to 14 cupcakes. If you prefer less frosting, you can cut the recipe in half. This recipe will also make enough to frost a 9×13 cake or lightly frost an 8 or 9-inch layer cake. If you prefer more frosting for decorating, then I recommend multiplying the recipe by 1.5.
- You can find my full tutorial for how to prepare your piping bag and frost cupcakes here.
Different Ways To Use This Frosting
Here are a few of my favorite cupcake recipes that you can use with this frosting:
How To Make Buttercream Frosting
- 1 cup (230 grams) unsalted butter (softened)
- 3 cups (360 grams) powdered sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons (30 to 45 ml) heavy cream or heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Tiny pinch of salt
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter until smooth.
- Add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed at first, then increase to medium speed and continue mixing for 1 to 2 minutes or until fully combined.
- Add the heavy cream (start with 2 tablespoons and add a little more if needed), vanilla extract, and salt and continue mixing on medium speed until everything is well combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Use the frosting to pipe onto cupcakes or frost a cake or cover tightly and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
- Vanilla: For a vanilla buttercream frosting, I like to add an additional teaspoon of vanilla extract to amp up the vanilla flavor.
- Chocolate: Sift 1/2 cup (40 grams) of unsweetened cocoa powder and mix it into the frosting base until well combined. Add 1 to 2 extra tablespoons of heavy cream if needed for a smoother, creamier frosting. For a sweeter frosting, mix in an additional 1/2 to 1 cup (60 to 120 grams) of powdered sugar.
- Caramel: Mix in 1/3 to 1/2 cup of homemade or store-bought caramel sauce. For a salted caramel frosting, you can use salted caramel and omit the salt in the recipe.
- Strawberry: Add a 1-ounce bag of freeze dried strawberries to a blender or food processor and process until the berries are crushed into a fine powder. Mix the freeze dried strawberry powder into the frosting base until well combined.
This is such a great tutorial, Danielle! Homemade frosting is so much better than store bought — there are so many preservatives in those! I agree that so many frostings have so much powdered sugar when they really don’t need much too. All of these flavors look amazing, but the caramel frosting is calling my name!
It really is better than anything you can buy at the store, Marcie!
Is this shelf stable? Also how long does it last?
If you’ve frosted the cupcakes/cake, they’ll be okay at room temperature for a day or so. I prefer to refrigerate the buttercream to keep it fresh though, it will keep in the refrigerator for several days. Just bring to room temperature on the counter before frosting cakes/cupcakes. You can also freeze it and thaw it in on the counter before using.
Love this recipe!!!!
Thank you, Sharon! So glad you liked the frosting!
Yes it is truly better than any store bought. Especially with the addition of the powdered dried strawberries. I found some organic dried berries to bus and it made the most amazing organic frosting I’ve ever tasted.
I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the frosting, Tara!
Can u please give me the recipe for a good strong flavored peanut butter buttercream ? I dont bake much but my 4 year old loves to watch cupcake wars and she always wants me to make her peanut butter buttercream. Thank you.
Hi, Candi! I have a recipe for peanut butter frosting in this post: http://www.livewellbakeoften.com/chocolate-cupcakes-peanut-butter-frosting/.
Can you use fresh strawberries in this recipe? I made the vanilla buttercream and love it and plan on making these for my brother in laws birthday.
I’ve tried fresh strawberries, but the frosting always ends up curdling. I would really suggest the freeze-dried strawberries, they add a nice color and the flavor is really great too!
I tried this last night and it is the best icing I have ever had. Never buy store bought again. So easy to make and so creamy.
So glad you liked the frosting, Pat!
Can you add food coloring to it??
Yes, you can add food coloring. The gel food coloring works best. You can use liquid food coloring, but just avoid using too much because it can thin out the frosting.
Is it possible to do a chocolate flavored, purple colored frosting?
I haven’t tried it before, so I’m not quite sure. I’m afraid that the chocolate might make it hard to get a good purple color like you could with vanilla frosting.
Thank you very much!!! I’m going to try a few things, maybe something will work! Lol also just made the cupcakes and frosting, they are huge hit in my house!!!
So happy to hear the cupcakes and frosting were a hit, Tessa!
FWIW, oyu can get chocolate flavouring oil; a miniscule amount goes a loooong way and won’t affect the base colour.
I found that if I let the butter and sugar cream together thoroughly and THEN add the cream, I get a stronger and airier consistency… let that butterfat fully surround all that sugar! 😀
The chocolate oil is a wonderful idea, Bella!
This is awesome. Super easy. No more store bought icing.
So glad you liked the buttercream, Cindy!
I wish I could just dive into that bowl of buttercream for breakfast haha! I’m not actually the biggest fan of frosting, but when it comes to the homemade kind, I’m all for it. Such a great tutorial, Danielle! I’m definitely going to remember these tips the next time I make cupcakes!
I was the same way until I started making my own, homemade is so much better! Thank you, Gayle!
This is a gorgeous post Danielle! And good buttercream can be hard to find so I love this tutorial. Your piping swirls are also AMAZING!
Thank you so much, Jess!
This buttercream is amazing I made this for my birthday and it was so good!
So glad you liked the buttercream, Mackenzie! Happy late birthday! 🙂
Can I use dulce de leche instead of caramel sauce ?
I think that would be fine! Just adjust the amount to your preference 🙂
Can you add food coloring to the strawberry icing?
Yes, that would work just fine!
Thank you so much for making this recipe seem so easy. I am trying to learn everything from the internet, I’m getting really into baking! I want to make this recipe but I’m making about 24 cupcakes tonight, how would the measurements go if I wanted to make enough icing to pipe on 24 cupcakes with the bigger circular piping tip.
PS: I noticed you used vanilla extract to give the icing flavor, if I wanted to add a vanilla bean to give the icing that cute pebble like texture, can I add in the whole vanilla bean instead of the extract? or do I do half vanilla extract, half vanilla bean? Thank you for your help in advance.
That’s wonderful, Jana! I taught myself to bake the same way and by reading cookbooks. You’ll catch on quick! 🙂
This frosting recipe does make quite a bit, so it may be enough to frost all 24 cupcakes (depending on how much you want to use). You could make the full batch and if it’s not enough make another half batch to use. You can also use a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract. 1 vanilla bean can be equal to about 1-3 teaspoons of extract (depending on the size), so I would say start with half of a vanilla bean and then add more as needed.
Hi thanks for the receipe . Can you pls tell me if it would hold its shape if you use to pipe flowers. We stay in hot region. How long will it hold on uf taken out. What should we do to make it hold its shape for longer time. Can we use the same frosting for as cake filling too.
Hi, Maria! I haven’t tried using it to pipe flowers yet, but I think it would hold it’s pretty shape well. If you feel like it’s a little too soft, you can always add a bit more powdered sugar to it. As far as leaving the cupcakes out, I’ve never had any issues with the frosting if they’re at room temperature. It always holds it’s shape well. Are you planning to have these outside while it’s hot? If so, shortening has a higher melting point than butter and I’ve heard it’s better for things like that. I haven’t ever used shortening in this recipe though because I prefer the taste of butter. And you can use this for cake filling or layering cakes if you like too.
Surprisingly I don’t have whipping cream In my my refrigerator, can low fat milk or sour cream be used as a substitute?
Hi, Nadine! It won’t be quite as creamy, but I’ve used low fat milk in this recipe before and it does work pretty well 🙂
When should the cakes with this frosting on be
Eaten by? I’m assuming as it has cream in it
They have to be eaten the day you make the
They will keep for a couple days. If I frost cakes/cupcakes ahead of time, I just refrigerate them and then let them come to room temperature before serving.
Amazing! I’ve made this so many times and love it so much! I am going on a diet, and wondered if this have to many carbs or sugars. ? Thanks,
So glad you enjoyed the recipe, Hannah! I’m unsure of how much sugar is in a serving, but My Fitness Pal has a great app/website where you can figure it based on the products/brands that you use 🙂
YUM! Can’ wait to give these a try. I always do store bought and so happy you have done all the hard work for us and put it all together so nicely here! The chocolate is calling my name!
The chocolate is one of my favorite frostings! Hope you enjoy the recipe, Dorene 🙂
Would this recipe be okay when adding food coloring? I need to decorate a Moana cake and it needs to be blue. Love this icing! I have just never used food coloring in it before. Thanks!
Hi, Kathleen! I’ve used a few drops of food coloring in this before and it works fine. Gel food coloring is best when it comes to adding color to frosting. If you do use liquid food coloring, just use it sparingly since too much can sometimes affect the overall texture. I hope that helps!
Try using powdered food coloring made from veggies & available at Whole Foods. Product name: ‘Real Food Colors’ by Color Kitchen.Not expensive. Liquid food dyes are carcegenic and have been banned in western Europe for years. To protect children & adults. (Think of candy)
Thank you for sharing, Kathleen! That sounds like a great alternative!
Do you have a tutorial somewhere on how to do the deciding design you have on these cupcakes?
Hi, Janelle! I don’t have a tutorial yet, but I do plan to add something soon. For the frosting on these cupcakes I used the Wilton 1M swirl piping tip. I hope that helps!
How can I thicken butter cream icing.
Hi, Judy. Are you asking about this recipe? If so, you can try using more powdered sugar to help thicken it.
This information is probably quite late for your purposes, but for future cakes: beat the butter and sugar a lot longer before adding any cream. Additionally, if the butter and sugar on its own are still not as stiff as you’d like, add another 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar BEFORE you add ANY liquid (and make sure the mixing bowl & attachments are completely dry before you start). Icing sugar is extremely hygroscopic, so the trick is to get each little cell of the powdered sugar wrapped in butter so it doesn’t get soggy. If you try to stiffen it with sugar AFTER you’ve added the liquid, you’ll end up using nearly triple the amount of sugar you’d want to.
Thank you for sharing, Bella!
Wonderful and easy steps Danielle. Well done. However, you didn’t mention use of shortening. Is there any reason why you skip that?
Hi, Freda! I actually don’t use any shortening in my frosting, I prefer the taste of butter in this recipe. You could probably use half butter/half shortening in the recipe if you like though.
Super easy and work as a base for so many flavors. Why can I never get my buttercream smooth? It always seems grainy to me.
It could be a few different things that cause the grainy texture. You want to make sure your butter is at room temperature and not cold. If the butter is too cold, the powdered sugar won’t incorporate as well. You could also try sifting your powdered sugar and mixing it in with the butter 1/2 – 1 cup at a time until each addition is well combined. Hopefully that helps!
Is this recipe enough for a 2 layer cake? Cannot wait to try this recipe!
Hi, Kayla! It kind of depends on how much you want and if you’re wanting to pipe some on the cake. If you’re frosting a two layer cake I would probably do 1.5x this recipe just so you have enough. Hope that helps!
Does anyone know if u can make this recipe with a hand mixer?
Yes, a hand mixer works great too!
Do you think I can use I can’t believe it’s not butter for this recipe?
Butter substitutes don’t work well or taste the same, I would suggest using real butter.
how do you make frosting, just enough for one cake. I have had to throw out a lot of frosting before.
Is it a single, double, or triple layer cake? Or a different size? If you don’t need all of the frosting, you can freeze the rest for later. I have instructions in the recipe notes for how to freeze it.
A triple layer cake. I didn’t see the freezing instructions earlier. I would prefer to use all of it at once, but I can also save the remainder- what kind of container do u recommend? Or would you leave it all in an uncut piping bag?
It will depend on how much frosting you like and if you’re wanting to use some to pipe decorations on the cake. I would probably double this recipe, but you could do 1.5x the recipe, then if you think you need more just make a little bit more. When I freeze it, I usually just use a freezer bag and squeeze any air out of it before sealing it.
Hi, i want too make it worth butterscotch essence. Can you tell me approximately how much butterscotch essence should i use.
I was wondering if this would go well for frosting and icing a 9″ chocolate cake (with chocolate ganache between the layers). I’m trying frosting for first time so need to be really sure.
I’ve never tried butterscotch essence, so I’m unsure. I would start with a small amount, taste, and add more as needed. If you’re using ganache between the layers this recipe may be enough to cover the tops and sides of a double layer cake. If you really love frosting or want more to pipe on your cake, I would probably do 1.5x the recipe though. If you have any leftover frosting, you can always freeze it to use later too. Hope that helps!
You can always just make one batch and if you feel you need more frosting, then make another half batch to use.
Some frostings have like a crunchy texture to it when you first bite into it. By using the double cream. Is hat what makes the crunch?
I’m not quite sure what you mean, Shantelle. Are you referring to a crusting buttercream, like one that is dry to the touch? If so, this recipe is not.
Hi this is probably a stupid question but I’m new to baking. Would it be easier for me to make cupcakes with the frosting and place in the fridge or place frosting in fridge and decorate on the day?
If you’re making the cupcakes the night before, you can go ahead and frost them, place them in the refrigerator overnight, and just bring them to room temperature before serving. You can refrigerate the frosting and decorate them the day you plan to serve them too, but the frosting will be firm from being in the fridge so you’ll need to let it come to room temperature before you can pipe it. Either way would work fine, it just depends on your preference!
Thank you for sharing, this was a wonderful and easy recipe! I cut the recipe in half and added homemade pumpkin spice mix. Yum! I had some left over, so I’m freezing it… Then, when it’s frozen, I’m gonna eat it with a spoon 🙂
Pumpkin spice mix sounds wonderful, Shannon! So glad you liked the buttercream 🙂
What is shortening and ‘heavy’ cream in England.
Hi, Joan! This recipe just calls for butter, so you don’t need any shortening. I believe that double cream is the same as or similar to heavy cream.
If I make this cake a day before do I have to refrigerate because of the buttercream icing? And if I do can I refrigerate the whole cake with the I thing on it?
If I make one the day before I do prefer to refrigerate it. You could make the cake layer(s) the day before and then just prepare the buttercream the day of and frost it then. Or you can prepare it all the night before and refrigerate it until the next day. Just keep in mind that the buttercream will firm up once it’s chilled, so you’ll need to allow some time for the cake to sit on the counter to come to room temperature.
I’m planning to make this frosting, tint it, freeze it, travel 6hrs with it in a cooler, thaw it, and decorate a cake by piping 1 million starts on it in a variety of colors to hopefully resemble Thomas the Train. Thoughts? Sound doable? Would I need to re-whip?
I think it would be okay to do that. Just keep in mind that the buttercream will need to come to room temperature again before you can pipe it. I would mix it again before frosting as well. It may not hurt to have some heavy cream and powdered sugar on hand in case you think it’s too thick/too thin, but I think it should be okay once you mix it up again.
This recipe was perfect! I made my friend’s baby’s smash cake for his first birthday, so I wanted it to look really good! This frosting was smooth, and perfectly stiff enough to hold up well. I had previously used a recipe that used 8 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup milk. It turned out lumpy and thin, so I did another recipe search and started over. So glad I found this one instead. Writing this one down, it will definitely be my go-to recipe for buttercream frosting from now on. Thank you!
So sweet of you to make a smash cake for your friend’s baby, Julia! I’m so glad the buttercream frosting worked great for you 🙂
This recipe looks so yummy.
I’m just wondering if I can use this frosting on my Christmas sugar cookies, instead of cream cheese?
Yes, absolutely! Just keep in mind that it won’t harden it will stay soft. If you’re looking for an easy icing that will harden, you can try this one in my sugar cookie post here: http://www.livewellbakeoften.com/soft-christmas-cut-sugar-cookies/
So…the recipe is simple and delicious. The only thing that was frustrating was the icing will not hold its form that long. After I used the piping method it began to melt within minutes. I let the cupcakes cool for 2 hrs. So I know that couldn’t be it. This is one of those recipes that you have to eat right after it’s made. Or refrigerate immediately which wasn’t hard to do because it taste amazing!
I’ve never had that problem with this frosting, it always holds it’s shape even at room temperature for several hours. Did you use actual butter? Or something else like margarine? I’m glad you liked the taste though!