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Basic buttercream icing recipe

Basic buttercream icing recipe

  • Recipes
  • Dish type
  • Cake
  • Cake decorating
  • Icing

Incredibly smooth and creamy icing for layered cakes, eclairs, cupcakes and other pastries. The secret to perfect texture is to beat it with a fork and only use the hand mixer at the very end.

9 people made this

IngredientsMakes: 500 g

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 180ml cold milk
  • 125ml milk
  • 200g butter, softened at room temperature
  • vanilla extract or sugar to taste (optional)

MethodPrep:20min ›Cook:5min ›Extra time:30min cooling › Ready in:55min

  1. Mix egg yolks with sugar. Sift 2 tablespoons flour into egg yolk mixture and mix well. Pour in the cold milk and mix again.
  2. In a saucepan slowly heat 125ml milk (do not bring to the boil). Very gradually start adding egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Cook on low heat until mixture thickens slightly. Take off heat and cool to room temperature.
  3. Mix softened butter with a fork and gradually add the cooled egg mixture, starting with 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. Then increase to 3 to 4 tablespons at a time and keep beating with fork. When an even, fluffy consistency is reached, beat with hand mixer to incorporate more air and add volume.
  4. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or more sugar at the very end, for added flavour.

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Reviews & ratingsAverage global rating:(15)


Classic American Buttercream Icing

I have had a lot of people ask me in the past how I make my icing. Usually it’s because American buttercream has a bad rep of being too sweet. Sometimes it’s the consistency they are asking me about and how I achieve such a silky, smooth texture. Sometimes people want to know how to get the icing color white without having to use any gel coloring or they simply want to tell me how amazing it tastes. Read my tips at the bottom of the post to learn how I achieve all of these and get so many compliments on my buttercream icing recipe!

The secret to a good buttercream is technique. It works best if you have a stand mixer, but a hand mixer will do just fine!

Here is a walk-through on how I make my American buttercream

1. Sift your powdered sugar

The first thing you’re going to do is sift your powdered sugar. By sifting it, you get all the clumps out which will get in your way later on while decorating. Honestly, if I am just using the icing for the outside of a cake or something simple, I will just use a whisk and whisk the confectioners’ sugar really well. If you are going to be using the icing in a piping bag this step is crucial! If there are clumps in the frosting, they will clog the piping tip. Check out my post if you would like to learn How To Use A Piping Bag And Tip!

2. Whip the butter

Once your butter is room temperature you can whip it in your mixer. If your butter is not soft enough you will get lumps of butter in your final product, and if your butter is too soft, it will be harder to get the right consistency of icing. I like to poke my finger in the stick of butter to see if my finger will press into the butter, while the stick still “holds its shape”. If you poke the stick of butter and the whole bottom of the stick pushes away then its too soft. Does that make sense? You are going to whip the butter on medium-high speed. In my kitchen-aid I use between 6 and 8. Once you’ve mixed for a few minutes you will see the butter start to lighten up and turn white. This is important to getting a white colored icing as an end result and it will also result in a silky, smooth buttercream! This step usually takes about 3 minutes, give or take.

3. Add the sugar

Next, add in your confectioners’ sugar one scoop at a time. I usually just use my rubber spatula and slowly but consistently add in all the sugar. As you add in more powdered sugar it will become very stiff and your mixer will really have to start working. This is okay. If you are too afraid of breaking your mixer, you can add in the vanilla extract before all the sugar is in the bowl.

4. Time for the vanilla and salt

Once all the confectioners’ sugar is in your mixing bowl, add in your vanilla extract (if you haven’t already) and the salt. The salt is your best friend if you are looking for a less sweet buttercream. A lot of people complain that American buttercream is too sweet. If you add in salt, it will cut the sweetness.

5. Scrape your bowl

Once your ingredients are well incorporated, stop and scrape the bowl. You will most likely find sugar on the bottom of the bowl that wasn’t incorporated while the mixer was on.

6. Add in heavy cream

Turn your mixer back on slow speed and add in your heavy cream. You can also use milk, or half & half. Whatever you have on hand will work fine! I always start with 2 Tablespoons. If I am making the buttercream for filling and icing the outside of a cake, I will add in an additional tablespoon. If I am going to be using the icing for piping, I won’t add in anymore cream.

7. Whip it good!

After all of the ingredients are in the mixing bowl you are ready to whip it up! This step is SO important. You will want to put your mixer between speeds 6 and 8 again and whip for about 5 minutes. I know that will seem like a long time, but you will see why this step is the most important. The icing will become so soft and silky, and turn into the whitest color you will naturally get with icing. Have you ever had American buttercream that tasted good but was too thick and pasty? That is because it wasn’t whipped long enough at the end. (I have heard of people taking store bought frosting in a tub and whipping it in a mixer for a few minutes and it transforms into smoother consistency and adds volume.)

Check out this cake I made using this buttercream recipe

Note: Once you make this recipe a few times, it will be easier for you to whip up a batch and alter the ingredients and time depending on what you will be using it for.

Another side note: If you use high quality ingredients, you will get a better tasting buttercream, especially using a good brand of butter and vanilla.


Bring your butter to room temperature so that it is softened, then using either a hand or electric mixer beat together the butter adding in the icing sugar gradually until fully incorporated.

Add in the vanilla and continue to beat until the buttercream is light and fluffy. This might take a few minutes, the longer that you beat your buttercream for the light in texture it will be. If your buttercream is quite stiff, add half a table spoon of milk and whisk until it loosens.

Once the buttercream is ready, fill a piping bag fitted with a nozzle with the buttercream to pipe decorations on your cupcakes or alternatively, use a pallet knife to smooth your buttercream inside or over your cake.


How to make American Buttercream

This American buttercream consists of four simple ingredients — butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and cream. I’m convinced that there are a few key things you can do to make sure your buttercream is nice and smooth with as little grit as possible.

  1. The first step is to really whip the butter, on its own, before adding any powdered sugar.
  2. Sift your powdered sugar! This is a bit of a pain, but really helps to break out those clumps
  3. Add your powdered sugar slowly — 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time to the buttercream and whip well in between additions.
  4. Once all the sugar is added, give it a good whip for at least 3 mins, more if needed.
  5. Add only as much cream as needed to reach the consistency that you want and whip some more until completely smooth.

Now, I’m not convinced this is the exact same vanilla buttercream that was on our cake (it still felt a little gritty when I made it, not as gritty others before), but it was delicious. I am super happy with the end result and will definitely be making this buttercream again!


How to Make The Best Buttercream Frosting

First step is to measure the powdered sugar. I use my food scale. (If you don’t have a food scale the equivalent would be 4 cups.) You can sift the powdered sugar if it is really lumpy. I do not always do this. Instead I will mix the powdered sugar on low for 30 seconds to break up any large lumps.

Add 1 cup (2 sticks) of softened butter. I only ever use real butter, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Although I think margarine changes the taste, your buttercream frosting made with margarine will still better than canned frosting.

Add 2-3 teaspoons of vanilla. My family loves vanilla so I am a little heavy handed with it. I’ll start with 2 teaspoons and then add more at the end.

Mix the butter and the vanilla on low.

Add the powdered sugar to the mixer. Start your mixer (or beaters) on the lowest setting. I usually put a clean dishtowel around my mixer to keep the sugar from flying out. Keep on low until the butter and sugar are incorporated and then kick your mixer up to medium high.

Once fully incorporated at the milk and continue mixing.

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS taste your frosting. My husband is the best frosting taster. He will always tell me if the consistency is wrong, if it needs more vanilla or more milk. If you are adding food coloring now is the time to do it. Make sure the food coloring gets fully incorporated. (Most of the time I do this part by hand.)

How much frosting will you need? That always depends on how thick or thin you apply the frosting or how much decorating you do but here are a couple of guidelines. Our recipe should make enough Best Buttercream Frosting to cover a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake or a two-layer 8″ cake. If you are making cupcakes, you should be able to frost 24 cupcakes if you apply the frosting with a knife. If you swirl on the frosting with a pastry bag like we have done here, you should be able to frost 15-18 cupcakes depending on the size of the swirl.

The Best Buttercream Frosting is truly THE BEST! We promise you will get compliments on whatever you put this frosting on.


Butter - Salted or unsalted. Bring it to room temperature before use as soft butter makes buttercream comes out nice and fluffy.

Icing Sugar - Also called powdered sugar or confectioners sugar. Caster or granulated sugar will not work for this recipe unless made into powdered sugar first.

Flavoring - You can use vanilla extract, lemon, strawberry extract or any flavoring of your choice.

Milk or heavy cream (optional) - Either of the two works fine. When I am not using heavy cream, I like to use whole milk.


Basic Buttercream Icing Recipe

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Buttercream frosting is one of those things that you either love it or you hate it. I haven’t found many people without strong feelings one way or the other towards it. I am a buttercream lover. I mean seriously, I could do without the cake and just eat a bowl of it. I could also do without the stomachache afterwards… But enough about me, lets get some of this glorious frosting into your hands and then you can let me know – are you for or against loads of buttercream frosting?

You’ll need 2 cups (4 sticks) of butter, room temperature, 2 lbs of powdered sugar, up to 1/4 cup of milk, and 1 tbsp of the flavoring* of your choice. Optional – food coloring.

*A note about flavorings. For white buttercream, vanilla is the standard, however if you want pure white icing, you’ll want to steer clear of pure vanilla extract (which is brown) and opt for an alcohol-based synthetic clear flavoring instead. These are commonly found at craft and/or baking stores. Other flavors to try are almond (my favorite!), lemon, butter, banana, champagne…the list goes on and on!

I highly suggest a stand mixer for this – though a hand mixer works well too. If you’ve only got a whisk in your arsenal, you’re about to have Popeye’s forearms as well – may the odds be ever in your favor, my friend.

Begin by creaming together your softened, but not melted butter with your flavoring of choice. They should come together into a creamy, pale yellow mixture.

Begin adding your sugar through a sifter into the butter. Add 1-2 cups at a time, mixing on slow so as not to *poof* sugar dust into the area!

I know that sifting your powdered sugar is a tedious, messy task. And a couple of years ago my dear friend had to beg me to sift my powdered sugar when we baked together, but alas, she was right. It’s worth it in texture, trust me!

Continue adding 1-2 cups of sifted sugar at a time, until all the sugar has been added. At this point, your icing should have a thick, stiff texture, and all the sugar should be well mixed in.

Adding 1-2 tablespoons at a time, slowly pour in milk and mix thoroughly on medium speed. You’re looking for a smooth, peanut butter-like consistency. Once you’ve reached consistency, stop adding milk. Do not feel obligated to add the entire 1/4 of a cup. The amount needed will depend on many factors, and can vary from one day to the next.

At this point, you may notice that your icing has an off-white or yellowish tinge to it. You can opt to add white food coloring if you desire a crisp, bright-white finish. Usually, I do not dye my icing white as I don’t mind the off color, however since I was going to be using this in a recipe that contrasts against a pink cake, I went ahead and dyed it bright white.

Another option is to swap 50-100% of your butter for vegetable shortening, which will produce a crisp white icing that is a little more stable in warm temperatures. The shortening sometimes has a waxy mouth-feel, however, and I think most people prefer a butter based frosting instead.

And there you have it – you’ve got a nice big bowl of sweet, tantalizing frosting! Now the only question remains, what are you going to do with it? (Hint, you can use it to cover a semi-homemade cake).

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I use Brill Brand buttercream… Decent taste… I often struggle with foamy icing and need something magical for piping roses and other flowers… Would LOVE you help and advise…

Hi Lisa! I’m not familiar with the Buttercream you mention, I only use Basic Buttercream in my work. I find it perfect for Flowers, as well as icing and filling cakes. You can see how its made here: http://www.vivalabuttercream.com/making-basic-buttercream/ ,and you can see how to pipe roses here: http://www.vivalabuttercream.com/piping-a-buttercream-rose/

Hi, juat wondering if you use salted or unsalted butter or if it makes a difference.?Also if i use the recipe for basic buttercream do the cakes need to be refrigerated or just kept at room temp, from a food safety standpoint.
Love your work by the way ?

I use unsalted Butter, although you can use regular or slightly salted, which will cut the sweetness of the sugar. You can keep Basic Buttercream, prepared as above, at 20-23 degrees celsius for up to 1 week. If it is warm, or if you add milk or cream to the mix, you need to store it in the fridge.

Do you recommend any recipes for pipeable cream cheese httercream/frosting?

Honestly, the Cream Cheese recipes that I have come across have been REALLY sticky. If I was going to pipe Cream Cheese Frosting, I would make Basic Buttercream, and flavour it with something like Lorann oil. I know its cheating, but that’s a tough recipe to get right. Also, cream cheese frosting needs to be stored in the fridge, whereas flavoured Basic Buttercream could sit at room temperature. That’s a plus too!

[…] Basic Buttercream – The Recipe! […]

Is your recipe by measure or weight? For instance, is the 9 oz by weight or it is just over a cup? thank you so much for this guidance!

Its by weight, but honestly, its 2 parts sugar, to one part butter, so however you measure the ingredients, as long as you measure them the same way, it will turn out ok ?

I have tried several buttercream recipes, and today I tried this recipe. Wow. I am not a fan of gritty buttercream, this recipe solves that problem for me, it is lovely and smooth and made some pretty flowers, most importantly it did not melt away in my warm hands

Hi Kerrie, I love your work. Amazing to see your beautiful creations! Regarding the buttercream could you substitute butter for shortening (like for like) I work with kiddies with allergies so avoid dairy.Many Thanks,
Lisa

You absolutely can. Yo can also use a non dairy spread like Nuttelex, but I believe you need to add a bit more sugar to get a good consistency.

Hi KerriganLove your buttercream looks so silky and smooth. I made the buttercream but still I can’t get it smooth, still left with little bit gritty buttercream. Should I wiped more ?
Thank you

Basic Buttercream is a crusting buttercream, so it ill never be completely smooth, but adding your sugar a little at a time, and letting it mix in completely before adding more will help.

Thank youYou are the best

Tried your buttercream recipe for my first attempt at piping frosting. The frosting was not only delicious but was very easy to work with. I still need a lot of practice but at least I’ve got good buttercream to work with. Thank you!

That’s fantastic LeAnn! I would love to see what you make!

Hi Kerrie,This recipe sound terrific. I am in Qld and the weather is starting to heat up. I am making a choc mud fondant covered cake for a baby shower. Would this buttercream be suitable under fondant as a filing? The request has been made for as much chocolate as possible! Thanks Kerrie

Yes, absolutely! If you are having serious heat when the shower comes around, consider adding some ganache, or melted chocolate to the buttercream, which will help stabilise it, and pump up the chocolate factor too!

Thank you so much Kerrie. Love what you do ?

Please tel me what I’m doing wrong. I have made two wedding cakes, nothing spectacular, but I’ve had the same issue with both. My buttercream is so thick! The first cake I’ll take as a learning experience. However, the second, has proven I didn’t learn anything. The butter cream was fantastic! The cake was delicious, but there was so much icing! I tried to smooth the middle layer like you showed in a video, not happening with this buttercream. It was almost the consistency of plaster, lol. I’m sure I could have added milk but I wanted my rosettes to stay formed. Oh my, I’m a baking mess! Please, Any words of wisdom for me would be greatly appreciated!

Oh Heather, sounds like you have had some fun! Basic Buttercream prepared as directed in the recipe is perfect for flowers, and can still be used for filling and icing, although depending on your climate, you may want to add a little fluid to thin it out. I usually use water, primarily so it can stay at room temperature (if you add milk it will need to be refrigerated). I would suggest adding water in teaspoon amounts (for a single batch), until you are happy with the consistency. You can usually go softer for rosettes than you would flowers, but maybe test pipe a couple and see how they go. Its also a good idea not to ice your cake too heavily if you plan to add rosettes, so the weight of them doesn’t pull the buttercream off your cake! Hope this helps!

Kerrie what is the difference between korean buttercream. As I trying to Google to see the different it’s shown up that this buttercream have been pattern trademark and who ever attended the classes must sign a paper to keep for themself. Your flower looks like what korean buttercream. Is there any differents? Is there any chance to reduce the sweetness if this kind of buttercream? Thanks so much and u are legends. Please come to Perth!!

From what I can discover, it seems that Korean Buttercream is generally made with bean paste, although I don’t have a recipe. You can make Buttercream flowers with any kind of Buttercream, but the structure of Korean Buttercream allows you to pipe thinner layers than most Buttercreams.

Could i use this buttercream to.smooth as a finished cake and crumbs coat to.cake thank you

Yes! I use Basic Buttercream for everything! While you need it very firm (as directed above) for flowers, you can thin it for icing a cake, as depending on your climate, it might be too hard to spread it otherwise!

Hi when i crumb coat my cake then i put it in the fridge then when i want to coat the cake to make it look nice it doesnt work i cant get it smooth i really need your help thank you

I’m assuming you add the vanilla and water (if needed) after all the sugar has been incorporated. Correct?

Depends, if its really cold, you may need to add the water (and make it warm water) if its the middle of winter and you’re having trouble mixing it. Conversely, if its summer, wait till you have it mixed, as it may not need water at all.

Hi Kerry, I would really like to try your buttercream. I always struggle with the consistency, due to my uncertainty of room temperature. Either it’s too soft or then too hard if I put it in the fridge. What temperature should the butter or buttercream be, when you refer to room temp? And also would it work for russian tips? Thank you!

Room temperature is about 22 degrees C (71F), and it works great for Russian piping tips, as long as you don’t let it get too hot!

Hi Kerrie doing a ombre cake 4layers of cake and the cake needs to be outside in the day with the butter will it melted when I. Leave it out. ?. And I. Could never get my bettercream smooth . Could this buttercream be put in the fridge then leave it out the next day before the party starts.Thank you

Am going to try your recipe as I am having trouble smoothing my frosting on the cakes. Thanks

That’s great Sandy! I would suggest if you are having trouble getting a smooth finish, thin the "cosmetic" layer a little, so it spreads easily, but keep the first layer thicker, so its nice and strong. Check out "Frosting a Cake" on my blog to see it step by step.

Hi, I usually cover my cakes in ganache and fondant, but my daughter’s first birthday is in January and am thinking with the Queensland heat buttercream might be the better way to go. Will your recipe hold up in the heat? We’ll be having her party at a park, so won’t be refrigerated, but I was going to attempt to put it an esky of some sort.
I’ve never really used buttercream so any advice would be fantastic!
Thanks

There’s really no icing that will survive heat, though you will have better stability with buttercream made with shortening, or with some ganache mixed in. I know there’s no way around it (that’s why I recommend cakes stay inside!), but if I had to, I would go with ganache in buttercream, not quite as strong as shortening, but 1000 times tastier!

Thanks so much for your quick response. Ganache is definitely tastier, I will do a few test runs and see what quantities work.


    • 6 egg whites
    • 1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
    • 2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
    • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
    1. Using a hand whisk, whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the clean bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water. The egg white mixture will be gloppy and thick, but as the mixture begins to warm up, it will become more fluid. Continue to gently whisk the mixture until it is very hot to the touch (130°F on a candy thermometer).
    2. Move the bowl to the stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment, whip the whites on medium-high speed until they have tripled in volume and are thick and glossy and hold stiff peaks (like meringue), 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the mixer down to medium-low speed until the mixing bowl is just cool to the touch, 1 to 2 minutes. Kick the mixer back up to medium-high speed and add the butter one piece at a time, adding the next piece just as the previous one has been incorporated. Stop the mixer every so often to scrape down the escaping buttercream from the sides of the bowl. At some point, the buttercream will take on a curdled appearance don't worry, this is normal. Just keep on mixing until it comes together. Once all the butter is incorporated and the frosting is fluffy and creamy, blend in the vanilla and salt until fully combined.
    3. Covered with plastic wrap, buttercream will last 2 days at room temperature or 7 days in the refrigerator. If refrigerated, the buttercream must be brought to room temperature before you use it. Either way, the buttercream must be rewhipped-either by hand if kept at room temperature or with a mixer if refrigerated-before you frost a cake with it.
    1. Mash and strain 4 cups (10 ounces) of raspberries, fresh or frozen, through a fine mesh sieve to catch the seeds. (If using frozen berries, measure them before thawing.) Discard the seeds and set aside the puree while you follow the method for making Basic Buttercream. Add the berry puree at the end of the recipe, with the vanilla and the salt.

    Reprinted with permission from Vintage Cakes: Timeless Recipes for Cupcakes, Flips, Rolls, Layer, Angel, Bundt, Chiffon, and Icebox Cakes for Today's Sweet Tooth by Julie Richardson. Copyright © 2012 by Julie Richardson photographs copyright © 2012 by Erin Kunkel. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

    Julie Richardson is the owner and head baker of Baker & Spice, a small-batch bakery and café in Portland, Oregon. She is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and the coauthor of Rustic Fruit Desserts. Her sweet tooth led her to open her first bakery, Good Earth, in Ketchum, Idaho. Upon moving to Portland, she fell in love with the farms and fruits of the Pacific Northwest and launched Baker & Spice from a stall at the farmers' market in 1999. Julie spends most days baking cakes, croissants, and pies or teaching classes at SweetWares, her retail bakeware shop. When Julie is not baking, she can be found digging in her garden. She lives in Portland with her husband, Matt, and their many four-legged friends.