The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting {For Cookies + Cakes}

The best and easiest vanilla buttercream frosting, this is my go-to for cookies, cupcakes, and cakes. Light and creamy, it is fluffy and deliciously perfect.

The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

I’ve made a lot of vanilla frosting over the years.

I’m actually a little bit of a frosting snob, if I’m telling the truth.

Given the choice, I’d take cake or cookies (Valentine’s sugar cookies, I’m so ready for you) over frosting any day, but since they’re almost always paired together, my frosting has to be perfect.

Greasy, tasteless, shortening-based frosting? Ick. Creamy, butter, fluffy frosting? Oh, baby.

The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

I’ve referenced frosting many times over the years in specific recipes, but until today, classic vanilla buttercream frosting hasn’t had it’s own spot here. A real home, if you will.

This frosting is the one I turn to 99% of the time when I’m making cakes (you can see some of the cakes I’ve made my kids over the years on Instagram with the hashtag #melmakesherkidscakes) or frosting cookies or cupcakes.

I’m an amateur, but it’s been fun (read: lots of late nights) trying new things with my self-taught cake decorating skills.

Another favorite frosting recipe I’ve talked about before is this quick vanilla buttercream – it’s delicious with a slight cream cheese flavor.

That’s certainly not a bad thing, but often, we love the buttery, creamy flavor of today’s fluffy, delicious vanilla buttercream frosting.

The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

You can see by glancing at the recipe, it’s not rocket science.

In fact, the ingredient lineup is a pretty popular and oft-used ratio for frosting: 1 cup butter to about 4 cups powdered sugar with enough heavy cream or milk to get just the right consistency.

And of course, vanilla.

It’s the method that makes the magic for this vanilla frosting.

The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Whipping the butter until light and creamy in the first step is key. So don’t skip or skimp on that part, pretty please.

After adding the sugar, the frosting is creamed again for several minutes creating the lightest, fluffiest frosting you’ll ever met.

Let’s talk mixers for a second.

When it comes to mixers, I’ve made this vanilla buttercream frosting using my trusty handheld electric mixer, and it works great as long as you can stick with mixing it for several minutes and handle a bit of powdered sugar poof. I’ve had that hand mixer for years and it is a workhorse.

I’ve also waxed poetic about my Bosch mixer over the years…it is unparalleled for making breads and cookie dough and many other things, but frosting is not its strong suit, unless the recipe is doubled or tripled.

It pains me to say that because I love it so, but it’s the truth. I only use it for this frosting if I’m making a huge batch.

The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

I finally buckled and bought a Kitchenaid mixer last year when Costco was running a rebate. I’m not going to lie, I felt like I was cheating on my beloved Bosch when I brought the shiny silver Kitchenaid home.

Although I don’t use it as much as I should (because I love my Bosch so very much), the Kitchenaid definitely shines with recipes like this frosting, especially if I’m diligent about scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

This frosting is anything but hard, but to help ensure the best vanilla buttercream frosting ever, I’ve given lots of notes in the recipe below, including:

-this frosting pipes really well (and you can add additional powdered sugar for a stiffer frosting)
-it is easily adaptable to a cream cheese frosting
-clear vanilla extract as a sub to pure vanilla extract can help achieve a lighter color of frosting
-when frosting sugar cookies, I like adding slightly more heavy cream than the recipe calls for (upwards of 6 tablespoons) so the frosting is extra creamy
-although a lot depends on how heavy-handed one is with frosting, this makes enough to lightly frost a two layer 9-inch cake or 24 cupcakes; I double or triple if I’m piping decorations or the cake is bigger

And let me give a quick plug to the best frosting spatula in the world. I use this 9-inch angled small spatula almost every time I frost cupcakes, cookies or a cake.

That little spatula (ok, I have two) is used all.the.time.

I have the larger version of the spatula for really big cakes, but the small one is a lifesaver; I never knew how easy it was to frost anything until I had one. The best $4 you’ll ever spend.

Phew! I think I’m done! Who knew I had so much to say about frosting?

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The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (16 tablespoons, 8 ounces) butter, softened to room temperature (see note above)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups (16 ounces) powdered sugar
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl using a handheld mixer or the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened butter and vanilla extract until the butter is light in color and creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
  2. Add the powdered sugar gradually, about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing completely after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl often.
  3. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and continue mixing while adding the heavy cream (start with the lesser amount and add more as needed until the desired consistency is reached). Add more powdered sugar for a thicker frosting.
  4. Whip until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  5. If using food coloring, add it now (gel coloring is preferred so it doesn’t thin out the frosting), and mix until combined.

Notes:

Because this is an all-butter frosting recipe (the only way to go!), it’s hard to get it completely white, but it will definitely whiten more as it is whipped and mixed. Using clear vanilla extract in place of the pure vanilla extract can also help if you are after a whiter frosting.

It’s important to beat the butter by itself in the first step to lighten it in texture and color, and it can also help prevent a grainy texture in the frosting. The butter should be soft enough that it “gives” to pressure with a finger but not so soft that your finger can slide all the way through easily. And no melty spots (you microwave-softeners, you!) – butter that is too soft will lead to greasy frosting.

I prefer using heavy cream in the frosting but you can sub in half-and-half or milk (it will be slightly less rich and creamy). The frosting pipes really well (but stays soft; doesn’t harden like royal icing) and works great on cakes and cookies. For cookies, I like adding slightly more heavy cream (upwards of 6 tablespoons) so the frosting is extra creamy. 

A lot depends on how heavy handed one is with frosting, but this makes enough to lightly frost a two layer 9-inch cake, but I double or triple if I’m piping decorations or the cake is bigger. 

Often I’ll make this a cream cheese-style frosting by eliminating one stick (8 tablespoons) of butter and adding 4-6 ounces softened cream cheese (beating it with the butter in the first step).

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Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
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