Sweet Treats

A Rock Star Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe-Use on Any Dessert

By January 6, 2021February 17th, 2021No Comments

A Simple Vanilla Buttercream Recipe for Desserts and Decorating

use this simple buttercream recipe to decorate any dessert

Easy to make with a smooth texture and creamy flavor, this vanilla buttercream recipe is just what you’ve been looking for.  It tastes delicious on any dessert!  Spread it on sugar cookies or frost and decorate a cake with amazing piping details!  This frosting is versatile as well as tasty!

Simple Smooth Vanilla Buttercream

Like the idea of one easy vanilla buttercream recipe you can use for any dessert?  We have it covered!  Adapted from a long-time favorite recipe, this easy to make vanilla buttercream 

  • has a balanced sweet creamy flavor
  • has a smooth consistency that can be adjusted to your likeness
  • is extremely versatile
  • has a short ingredient list

This frosting has a delightfully sweet, but not too sweet, flavor.  The butter base paired with vanilla extract keeps this buttercream rich without being overpowering.  

Its balanced flavor allows it to pair well with cakes of all flavors along with cookies and even muffins.  Try it on ANY dessert or sweet treat, we dare ya!

This vanilla buttercream can also be made with varying consistencies simply by adjusting the amount of milk used.  So whether you’re topping off cupcakes with fluffy swirls, spreading creamy frosting on Christmas sugar cookies, or decorating a cake with extravagant piping, this buttercream can do it all.  

Rather than relying solely on powdered sugar for thickness, which may sweeten the frosting too much for some people, we use meringue powder in our recipe.  This wonderful ingredient adds structure to the buttercream without altering the flavor.  More on meringue powder below. 

Meringue Powder

Four of the five ingredients in this simple recipe are as basic as it gets.  The fifth ingredient may be one you aren’t familiar with, meringue powder.

What is Meringue Powder?

Meringue powder is made of dried egg whites and is a baking substitute for fresh egg whites.  You can find it in the baking and decorating aisle at the store or on Amazon or Walmart.  Major craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby also carry it. 

What is Meringue Powder Used For?

Meringue powder acts as a stabilizer and stiffening agent when used in frosting recipes.  It provides structure to the frosting and prevents it from looking droopy or losing its shape.  Learn more about meringue powder from Wilton. 

Before creating this recipe, Tammy used a buttercream recipe for years that used meringue powder and shortening.  While working on our own recipe, she started experimenting with different ingredient combos, sometimes including meringue and sometimes not.  

We found that we preferred the flavor and smoother texture of a butter-based frosting, but getting it to hold its shape in hot humid Kansas summers was a bit of a challenge.  She added meringue powder and ta-da! The meringue helps to stiffen the frosting and hold its shape on humid days when otherwise the buttercream would have melted into a mushy mess.  

Do You Absolutely Need Meringue?

Short answer: no.  We need frosting that can handle the often crazy, ever-changing Kansas climate.  In hot or humid weather, the meringue helps hold the buttercream together for longer.  This is particularly important when using buttercream to pipe flowers and elaborately-detailed desserts.  

If you are simply frosting a cake or cookies or making large swirls for cupcakes the absence of meringue isn’t going to make or break your buttercream.  Also, a drier cooler climate won’t present the same challenge as does say, July in Kansas.

If you don’t have meringue, you can still make smooth beautiful buttercream with this recipe.  We have more tips on how to change up frosting consistency down below after the recipe.  

easy vanilla buttercream for decorating

Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe

This simple recipe will make buttercream with a thin to medium consistency which works well for frosting and crumb coating cakes.  You can also use it for basic piping such as cupcake swirls and swirl borders on cakes.  

For more intricate piping details and flowers, you will want to stiffen the frosting up a bit.  We’ll tell you exactly how to do that in the next section.  

Before you get started, here is a list of helpful tips to keep this buttercream recipe simple, quick, and easy.

Good to Know

  • Tammy uses salted butter, has never used unsalted butter, and probably never will.  Some people like to add the salt separately, but we’ve never had flavor issues with this recipe so we feel like it’s an unnecessary step.  
  • To speed up the butter softening process, slice it into pieces.  
  •  For brighter whiter frosting, use clear vanilla extract.
  • Tammy doesn’t measure out the powdered sugar; she uses the 2lb bag from the grocery store.  You can weigh it out if you want to get super accurate, but this is not something Tammy usually does.
  • Sifting the powdered sugar may help rid it of clumps and put air into it which could give the buttercream an extra bit of fluffiness.  
  • Stir the meringue powder before measuring it out-do not skip this!  The powder becomes dense when it settles in the container, so giving it a good stir will make it light and fluffy.  Tammy promises this makes a difference in the buttercream-she has forgotten to stir the meringue on a few occasions. 
  • To color buttercream, use food coloring gel or powder, not liquid.  Using liquid food coloring may altar the consistency of the buttercream.  

Let’s get started with the base recipe! 

This recipe yields about 6 cups of smooth vanilla buttercream.  

cupcake with vanilla buttercream swirl

What You’ll Need:

Ingredients:

  • 4 sticks (2 cups) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2-3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 Tbsp milk
  • 2 lbs confectioners powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Meringue powder (optional)

Supplies:

  • hand mixer or stand mixer
  • mixing bowl
  • measuring spoons 
  • spatula 
  1. Mix butter, 2-3 tsp vanilla, and 3 Tbsp milk together until well combined.  

                       * Start with 2 tsp vanilla, add the extra tsp to taste. 

Helpful Tip: To enhance the whiteness of the frosting, mix the butter and wet ingredients together for a little longer.  You’ll notice the butter lightening in color as you mix!

2.  Add about ⅓ of the powdered sugar to the bowl and continue to mix until combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.  

how to make vanilla buttercream frosting

Helpful Tip:  Use a damp towel to cover the bowl and mixer to prevent a cloud of powdered sugar from rising out of the mixture.

3. Add 1 Tbsp meringue powder and mix well.  Very Important: before measuring out the meringue, give it a stir with your spatula.  Meringue powder settles in its container, making it thick and dense.  Stirring adds air into the powder to make it light and fluffy-just how you want your frosting to be!  Do NOT skip this!!!

4. Add another ⅓ of the powdered sugar and continue to mix.

5. Add the second Tbsp of meringue and mix.

6. Add the last of the powdered sugar and you guessed it: keep mixing!

7. Once the ingredients are well combined, you’ll have a bowl full of light and fluffy buttercream.  You should be able to run your spatula easily through the frosting.  If it feels stiff, mix in ½ Tbsp milk at a time until you achieve the desired level of fluffiness.  

mix well until buttercream is smooth and easy to spread

How to Adjust the Consistency of Buttercream

Not all buttercream is created equal.  Buttercream can range from thin to medium to thick in consistency.  Each consistency has a specific use when it comes to dressing up a dessert.

For example, this recipe base will produce a thin to medium consistency buttercream.  This fluffy frosting is easy to spread with a smooth finish, making it perfect for frosting a cake.  

However, for most decorative piping work, you will want a buttercream with more of a medium consistency. 

For intricate flower making, an even thicker stiff frosting is ideal.  

The difference among these three consistencies is the amount of milk used.  The more milk used, the softer and thinner the frosting.  

More Milk = Soft & Thin Buttercream

Less Milk = Stiff & Thick Buttercream 

So if you have a cake to frost and decorate with some elaborate piping you will need varying consistencies of buttercream to work with.  

Take this mini cake for example.  Use smooth and thin buttercream to frost and medium buttercream to create the detailed cascade.

smooth buttercream for frosting cakes and medium buttercream for piping details

Is there a way to easily make all three consistencies from one batch of frosting? Absolutely, it just takes a little planning ahead and changing up the amount of milk used at the beginning of the recipe.  

In this case, you’ll be making the stiff buttercream first, then thinning it with milk to a medium consistency and finally to a smooth thin consistency.  In a nutshell, it’s kind of like working the recipe backwards. 

Here’s the method that Tammy follows: 

All Three Consistencies From One Batch of Buttercream

  1. For stiff buttercream: In step 1 of the recipe, when mixing the wet ingredients, start with 1 ½ Tbsp milk instead of 3 Tbsp.  Add the dry ingredients in the same way (all you’re changing up is the milk amount).  

This will be very thick frosting perfect for flower piping.  If it feels too thick you can add ½ Tbsp milk at a time and mix well.  Climate is a major factor so go more by the feel of the frosting and NOT the amount of milk you’re using.  

2.  Reserve 1 cup (more or less depending on how much piping work you’re doing) of this stiff buttercream and set aside.  Now you’re ready to make medium consistency frosting. 

easy vanilla buttercream recipe

3.  For medium buttercream: To the remaining buttercream, add another ½-1 Tbsp milk and mix until combined.  This will be a little thick but you should be able to easily move your spatula through, creating stiff peaks when you pull your spatula out.  

4.  Reserve 1-2 cups (depending on how much you need for piping). 

5.  For smooth and thin buttercream: add ½-1 Tbsp milk to the remaining frosting and mix until you get a nice fluffy smooth buttercream!

What if you add too much milk and the buttercream is too thin?           No biggie, just add more powdered sugar to thicken it up.  Add ¼-½ cup at a time until you are pleased with the consistency.  

Now from one batch of buttercream you have a few bowls of frosting varying in consistency.  Below are some guidelines and tips on how to use smooth, medium, and stiff buttercream in all your dessert creations!

easy buttercream that works great for decorating cakes

Uses for Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Beginner bakers may have trouble figuring out which buttercream consistency to choose and how to use it.  For a long time, I didn’t even know there were varying consistencies.  I thought frosting was just frosting.  Wrong! 

Here’s how we typically use each consistency along with our favorite supplies.

Thin Buttercream

Smooth and easy to spread, this consistency is perfect for applying a simple layer of frosting on top of any dessert.

For cakes, use this consistency to

  • stack layers
  • crumb coat
  • cover for a smooth even finish

For spreading even layers of smooth buttercream use these straight and angled spatulas.

cupcake with vanilla buttercream swirl

Thin to Medium Buttercream

For some piping techniques, thin to medium frosting works well.  With a light and airy texture, almost like soft serve ice cream, this frosting has just enough thickness to hold it together.  

We use this consistency for making big swirls on cupcakes and swirl borders on top of cakes.  

Here are some icing tips to use with thin to medium buttercream:

Medium Buttercream

Use this consistency for more intricate and detailed piping.  A great example is detailed designs on these glorious cupcakes!

use medium buttercream to decorate cupcakes

If you’re looking to get started with buttercream piping, Wilton makes some sweet little tip sets that are a great place to start!  The price for the sets is more cost effective than buying the tips individually.  

This 12-piece set includes 4 tips that are great for cupcakes and 8 disposable piping bags.  This 8-piece starter set comes with a storage case and 8 tips for all kinds of piping and details.

Play around with these tip sets to create an array of piped patterns just like the ones on this cool pizza cake!

For more decorating ideas using buttercream, check out our Cakes page!

decorate with buttercream using fun patterns with different piping tips like the designs on this pizza cake

Stiff Buttercream

This frosting will be very thick with a lot of structure.  Use this consistency to pipe roses or flowers.  Check out Wilton’s quick video tutorial on how to pipe a flower. 

Tips for piping roses:

How to Store and Freeze Buttercream

  • On the kitchen counter: Buttercream can be kept in a sealed container on the counter for 2-3 days (the high fat and sugar content works as a preservative).  
  • Refrigerator: Store buttercream in a sealed bag or container in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.  The cool temperature may cause the frosting to stiffen and even dry out a little.  To combat this, let the frosting warm to room temp on the counter and give it a good stir before using.  If the frosting still seems dry, mix in a splash of milk to restore smoothness to the buttercream.
  • Freezer: Have some leftover frosting or just want to have a batch on hand?  Buttercream will keep in the freezer for 2-3 months!  We recommend double wrapping and using air-tight containers.  When you’re ready to use the buttercream, let it thaw in the refrigerator for about 48 hours and you may  leave it on the counter the night before use.  
easy vanilla buttercream for decorating

Vanilla Buttercream

A Simple Vanilla Buttercream to Use on Any Dessert
Yields ~6 Cups
Cook Time 15 mins

Equipment

  • stand or hand mixer
  • mixing bowl
  • measuring spoons
  • spatula

Ingredients
  

  • 4 (2 Cups) sticks butter softened to room temperature
  • 2-3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 Tbsp milk
  • 2 lbs confectioners powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Meringue powder optional

Instructions
 

  • 1. Mix butter, 2-3 tsp vanilla, and 3 Tbsp milk together until well combined.  
                           * Start with 2 tsp vanilla, add the extra tsp to taste. 
  • 2.  Add about ⅓ of the powdered sugar to the bowl and continue to mix until combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.  
  • 3. Add 1 Tbsp meringue powder and mix well.  Very Important: before measuring out the meringue, give it a stir with your spatula.  Meringue powder settles in its container, making it thick and dense.  Stirring adds air into the powder to make it light and fluffy-just how you want your frosting to be!  Do NOT skip this!!!
  • 4. Add another ⅓ of the powdered sugar and continue to mix.
  • 5. Add the second Tbsp of meringue and mix.
  • 6. Add the last of the powdered sugar and you guessed it: keep mixing!
  • 7. Once the ingredients are well combined, you’ll have a bowl full of light and fluffy buttercream.  You should be able to run your spatula easily through the frosting.  If it feels stiff, mix in ½ Tbsp milk at a time until you achieve the desired level of fluffiness.  

Notes

All Three Consistencies From One Batch of Buttercream

  1. For stiff buttercream: In step 1 of the recipe, when mixing the wet ingredients, start with 1 ½ Tbsp milk instead of 3 Tbsp.  Add the dry ingredients in the same way (all you’re changing up is the milk amount).  
This will be very thick frosting perfect for flower piping.  If it feels too thick you can add ½ Tbsp milk at a time and mix well.  Climate is a major factor so go more by the feel of the frosting and NOT the amount of milk you’re using.  
2.  Reserve 1 cup (more or less depending on how much piping work you’re doing) of this stiff buttercream and set aside.  Now you’re ready to make medium consistency frosting. 
3.  For medium buttercream: To the remaining buttercream, add another ½-1 Tbsp milk and mix until combined.  This will be a little thick but you should be able to easily move your spatula through, creating stiff peaks when you pull your spatula out.  
4.  Reserve 1-2 cups (depending on how much you need for piping). 
5.  For smooth and thin buttercream: add ½-1 Tbsp milk to the remaining frosting and mix until you get a nice fluffy smooth buttercream!
What if you add too much milk and the buttercream is too thin?                   Add more powdered sugar to thicken it up.  Add ¼-½ cup at a time until you are pleased with the consistency.  
 

Questions or comments? Get in touch with us in the comments below!

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A Rock Star Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe-Use on Any Dessert

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