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 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 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 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.

I use it (ok, I have two) 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?

One Year Ago: Winter Minestrone Soup with Garlic Bruschetta
Two Years Ago: Classic Strawberry Shortcake {With a Decadent Chocolate Version}
Three Years Ago: No-Bake Berry Yogurt Cheesecakes

The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Prep

Total

Yield 4-5 cups of frosting

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).

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

Instructions

  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. 

Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links for products I’ve bought from Amazon; feel free to shop around for the best price!


53 Responses to The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting {For Cookies + Cakes}

  1. Kathleen says:

    Mel, thank you for the level of detail in this post! I’ve been making your vanilla buttercream for several years, but sometimes I’ve failed to whip it enough to get it to fluffy perfection. I just made a batch with cream cheese for my 5 year old’s birthday cake and it turned out great. Thanks for looking out for us readers!

  2. Lisa K. says:

    Hi Mel,
    This is exciting, thanks for posting, I’m going to try to make it tonight to decorate some sugar cookies. Sorry, I’m an amateur baker, questions:
    1. is it ok to use unsalted butter or is salted better?
    2. Do I need to use the frosting immediately or is there a way to store it and use later? I’m going to pipe some cookies
    3. Once I finish with the cookies, what’s the best way to keep them to keep them fresh?

    Thank you!

    Lisa

    • Mel says:

      Hi Lisa, I always use salted butter. The frosting is best, in my opinion, if used right away. I’ve found that refrigerating messes with the consistency, but I think others have refrigerated, let it come back to room temp and then rewhipped it when they’ve wanted to make it ahead of time. As long as the cookies are stored at cool room temperature, they’ll be fine, once frosted, for a couple hours. Any longer and I’d pop them in the refrigerator.

  3. Sharon says:

    Is this recipe good for decorating a cake? Flowers?

    • Mel says:

      I pipe decorations with this frosting, but haven’t ever made super intricate flowers. The frosting holds its shape pretty well, though, especially if you make it slightly stiffer (add less cream/milk).

  4. Rachel says:

    This recipe is absolutely fantastic! I’ve used it for two birthday cakes now and will definitely use for my next birthday cake! Thanks for taking extra care in the instructions!

  5. Kara says:

    Wow! This is an OUTSTANDING recipe! I used it to frost your White Velvet Sugar Cookies….and both are fantastically delicious….and they compliment each other very well. I did as you mentioned and used half the butter and added four ounces of cream cheese. It came out perfectly….I had to stop my husband from consuming it all with a spoon. He said it was the best frosting he’s had. 🙂 Thank you for a great recipe!

  6. Katrina says:

    I laughed when you called yourself a frosting snob. I call myself that, too, because I refuse to use the nasty canned stuff, even if I use a cake mix (don’t hate me for that!). I have a friend who buys a can of frosting to just eat with a spoon, which grosses me out. I should make this recipe for her so she can see what frosting should taste like!

  7. Nancy says:

    I made this for sugar cookies yesterday and it turned out AMAZING! Like mentioned in the review above, I used the flex edge KA beater and it worked really well; I hardly had to scrape the sides. I used 4 tbsp of whole milk because I didn’t have cream on hand. It was a great consistency and just the right stickiness to add sprinkles and candy to the top. I have used Wilton’s Decorator’s Buttercream recipe for years but this tastes so much better. Thanks again, as always, Mel! <3

  8. Lauren says:

    Awesome frosting & adaptable, too. I was out of cream cheese but wanted to add some tang. Some plain yogurt did the trick to mean. It did come out a little glossier looking than your pix. That was ok with me tho. Really amazing frosting. It may just be my go to from now on!

  9. This looks delicious! Can’t wait to try.

  10. Keri says:

    This is seriously the best frosting recipe I’ve ever come across. I should know because I just ate way to much of it today! So many frosting recipes either taste like oily butter or powdered sugar but this was a perfect combination. It was so easy to spread on the cake and pipe on decorations. You just saved me hours of missed sleep when I’m trying to finish birthday cakes.

  11. Ana says:

    Hi Mel! I love cupcakes and frosting, I’ll be sure to try this soon! I don’t have any mixers, though – can I whip up the frosting by hand? I hope I can. Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      Can certainly try, Ana – although I think it might be hard to get it as creamy and fluffy as needed (especially that first step of mixing the butter).

  12. Mel says:

    How do you feel about freezing this frosting (before spreading it on cake or cookies)? Have you ever tried it? I like the idea of having frosting on hand in the freezer to save time but I don’t know if it would ruin the taste or texture of the frosting.

  13. Hey Mel! I love this recipe! I love all your great information in your posts! And what a cute bowl!!

  14. Trish Pines says:

    Do you use salted or unsalted butter?

  15. Amy says:

    Yum! I have that mixing bowl. Pioneer woman?? Awesome taste.

  16. Amy says:

    I tell my husband if we ever have a fire in the house for him to grab the kids and I’ll grab the Bosch. It’s that valuable to me too.

  17. Jennifer Hubbs says:

    This is the method/recipe I’ve used for years and it’s definitely the best, but I struggle with it becoming so full of air bubbles that it is very hard to get smooth and pretty on a cake! Have you ever had this problem? They’re usually about the size of a pea and leave the surface of the cake full of divots unless I smooth over it several times. I wonder if I am beating it too long or not long enough?

    • Mel says:

      I know what you mean, Jennifer. After it’s mixed in the mixer and is nice and fluffy, I give it a few folds/stirs with a rubber spatula and press down a little with each turn to minimize the bubbles. But I still do a fair amount of smoothing out on the cake, too.

  18. Sandy W says:

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. Years ago, there was a store here in Green Bay that sold white butter. The frosting was pure white. I wish I could find it again.

  19. Tami says:

    I have never made anything like this before, so please pardon me if this is a dumb question. Would adding cocoa to make it chocolate be ok, or would that mess up the texture of the icing? Do you add cocoa to taste (we like it dark), and should you reduce the amount of powdered sugar when adding cocoa? Thank you!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Tami – that’s not a dumb question; you could definitely try adding cocoa but your best bet might be to google a chocolate buttercream frosting. I’m actually working on a classic chocolate buttercream frosting but don’t have it quite right yet. Hopefully I’ll post soon!

  20. Lori says:

    Try subbing almond exctract or bakery emulsion for vanilla, sometime…decadent! I almost always use almond instead of vanilla, it is so good!

  21. VikkiD says:

    This method looks awesome! How long do you let your butter soften?

  22. Ann says:

    for a mocha frosting – dissolve 4 tsp instant coffee in ~1/8 c boiling water and add to the margarine & icing sugar. cream all together. Deliciousness on white or chocolate cakes/cookies!

  23. Karen says:

    This is the recipe I’ve used for years. The heavy cream instead of milk makes a world of difference. I should know, frosting is the one thing I’d never want to live without. I attend weddings just for the wedding cake frosting!

    • Mel says:

      I agree the heavy cream is what takes it over the top!

      • Helen says:

        When I started reading your blog and making your frostings I started using cream in frostings… I can never go back, unless i’m in a real pinch and I only have milk… and even then it’s hard to do. If I do use milk it’s almost always whole milk!! Full fat frosting forever!!

  24. Swedish Girl says:

    Does this frosting have to be refrigerated due to the dairy ingredients?,,

  25. Carol says:

    Thanks for this, Mel! A couple of thoughts…
    1. What kind of powdered sugar do you use? I’ve found in recent years that I can’t stand the taste of some powdered sugars – they taste dusty. I’m wanting to experiment with different brands to see if there’s one that doesn’t have that yucky dusty taste, but I haven’t had the chance yet.
    2. With your kitchenaid, make sure the beater-bowl clearance is adjusted – it will help minimize how much you have to scrape the sides and bottom of your bowl 🙂 I found this glorious tip in the reviews for the Artisan on Amazon: “There is a beater adjustment screw on the mixer and the manual describes how to make the adjustments. I got even better instructions by calling customer support at KitchenAid. The technician told me to drop a dime into the empty bowl, turn the mixer on (about setting 2) using the flat beater, and it should move the dime 1/4″ to 1/2″ each time it rotates around the bowl. This is the right clearance for the beater to mix everything at the bottom of the bowl, but not low enough to cause wear on the beater from constant friction with the bottom of the bowl during usage. I tweaked the screw setting 1/4 turn each time until I got that dime moving. At this setting, I can now beat a single egg white to stiff peaks in the 5 qt. bowl. That’s impressive.” (thanks to Kathleen from Tijeras, NM for writing that review!!!)

    • Mel says:

      Hi Carol, thanks for the tip. I had someone else tell me that early on and I’ve adjusted it, but I still think it’s a pain. 🙂 doesn’t keep me from using it, but I’m a classic case of: it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks since I’ve been so used to my Bosch.

      I use the brand from Costco. The one in a blue and white bag? I’m not home to check the brand but I will report back.

    • Tammie says:

      I read a food blog from a professional cook she was talking about different powdered sugar she says that she only used C&H cause it is the only one she has found that doesn’t have the grittiness.

      • Margi says:

        Have a friend that bakes an average of 2,000 cookies each Christmas and she will only use C&H sugar and powdered sugar. She said it makes all the difference in baking to use to correct sugar. Me I always thought that sugar was sugar. Got schooled that that assumption was absolutely incorrect. So it’s only C&H in my kitchen. Sounds like a great recipe and I’ve got mini-cupcakes to frost tomorrow so this is the one I’m going to use.

      • Paula says:

        C&H is the only sugar I’ve found that says it’s pure cane sugar. Most others are beet sugar. Maybe that makes its texture better?

  26. Jocy says:

    I sold my kitchen aid so that i could buy a Bosch, haha!

  27. MrsSW says:

    Mel, forty-five other people will probably tell you this: if you don’t already have one get a flex edge beater for your KA. It is an excellent, useful product.
    When they first came out I bought one for my youngest daughter and coveted it for years until my oldest daughter found a brand-new-in-the-package one at a yard sale for a quarter. 🙂
    Your blog is one of my favorites. I’m in my 70s and still collect recipes – as long as collecting doesn’t imply that I will actually USE the recipe. 😉
    Sheila

    • Mel says:

      You’re the first to tell me; thank you!!

      • Catherine says:

        Yes, get one. Totally worth it!

        • Amy P says:

          Yes, definitely get one!! I’ve got the “beater blade” brand – it makes creaming butter and sugar for cookies twice as quick as using the regular blade and virtually hands-off. I just made a tiny batch of buttercream (8 cupcakes worth) in my 6qt KitchenAid last week and foolishly started with the whisk attachment, then switched to the beater blade and it worked perfectly despite the small amount. I finally broke my first one after baking 20+ doz cookies for VBS last summer and replaced it immediately (despite it being twice as expensive in Canada) because I use it constantly.

          I know the Costco KitchenAids aren’t “standard” though; I’ve stopped buying small appliances at Costco because even though they’re good brands (Cuisinart, KitchenAid) they’re never the same models as the ones that are top-rated on Amazon; they’re always just a little different and usually missing a couple features or not compatible with extra parts. I love Costco, but that aspect has really annoyed me!

  28. Linda Law says:

    Wonderful frosting! How do you feel about leaving iced cookies out at room temperature 2 – 3 days since have butter and milk in frosting? Love your recipes.

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