American Buttercream Frosting {Recipe}

Often the most beloved element of a cupcake is the frosting.  A good frosting can elevate a simple cupcake to a delicious, rich dessert.  Classic American buttercream is surprisingly easy to make, and can be adjusted to your personal preferences using added flavorings, and adjusting the ratio of the ingredients.  American buttercream is simply a combination of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla (or other flavoring), and usually a bit of milk or cream- that’s pretty much it!   The frosting I love to use the most often is my Cream Cheese Frosting, which is simply a variation on American Buttercream, with some cream cheese added.  Free free to play with this recipe and adjust it to your palate.  This is a very sweet, classic frosting that pairs well with most any flavor of cupcake.

American Buttercream Frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) Challenge butter (salted, or unsalted)
1/4 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (best quality available)
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream, half and half or milk.

*Optional- As mentioned above, I like a cream cheese version of this frosting best.  The cream cheese adds to the creamy texture, and cuts down on the sweetness just a bit.  If desired, for a very light cream cheese flavor add 1/2 block (4 oz). cream cheese, leaving the other ingredients (as listed above) the same.  For a more traditional cream cheese flavor, reduce the butter to 1/2 cup, and add 1 block (8 oz.) of cream cheese.  If using a full block of cream cheese, you can reduce the cream or milk to 1 tablespoon total.

Flavoring options– An almost unlimited number of flavoring options can be added in addition to, or instead of the vanilla.  Orange and/or lemon zest, citrus extracts, mint extract, coconut extract or the seeds of a vanilla bean are all wonderful options.  In most cases I’ll still add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, then 1/2 teaspoon of the other flavoring.  For zest, add about 1 teaspoon fresh zest.  For chocolate buttercream, add 1/2 cup (good quality) unsweetened cocoa powder.

Directions-
* In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter (on medium speed) until completely smooth (30 seconds to a minute). (If you are adding cream cheese, add it now, then beat until smooth)
* Add salt (if needed).
* One cup at time, add 2 cups of powdered sugar, beating after each addition.
* Add vanilla, or other flavorings and beat to combine.
* Add about 1 tablespoon of cream, and continue beating.
* Add the remaining 2 cups powdered sugar, one at a time.
* Add an additional 1-2 tablespoons cream until desired consistency is reached.  If you want to pipe the frosting on cupcakes, the frosting should be nice and thick.  Continue to beat another minute or so.  The frosting should now be smooth and fluffy.

Troubleshooting-
* If your frosting is not smooth, it is likely because the butter was not fully smooth before adding the other ingredients.
* If your frosting will not hold up when piped on cupcakes, your frosting has too much liquid or is too warm.  Put entire bowl of frosting in the fridge for 15-20 minutes and it will stiffen up.  If it is still too thin, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar, beat well.

Recipe Source-  American buttercream first appeared in cookbooks in the early 1900’s (here’s a little buttercream history)  Countless sources since then have included very similar versions, always using some combination of butter (or shortening), powdered sugar, milk and flavoring.  The recipe above is simply the proportions I like to use.

Try this classic frosting on top of my favorite Vanilla Cupcakes or Chocolate Cupcakes.

Happy frosting!

Simply PERFECT buttercream frosting! You'll use this recipe again and again!

226 comments

  1. Thank you for this recipe. I used it for my little girl’s birthday cake, and it was perfect even for a beginner like me!
    http://reidgirlshandmade.blogspot.com/2012/06/princess-dinner.html

  2. Does this frosting need to be refrigerated? Im looking for a good filling for red velvet cupcakes without refrigeration?
    thank you

  3. Do you know if the new flavor packages that have come out can be added as a flavoring? Would you use a whole pack? I’ld like to try this with the cotton candy flavoring.

    • I have not tried the flavor packets, but I’m sure they would work fine with this recipe. As with any flavoring, you could start with a small amount, taste it, then adjust to your tastes.

  4. I made this recipe for my cousins wedding cake, and also an additional 148 cupcakes. It was fabulous! I got a ton of compliments. It wasn’t too sweet and it was so smooth. I used the cream cheese version and it wasn’t too cream cheesy at all. It was perfect. I have another wedding this weekend and I am using the frosting for the cake again. It was a hit! Thank you thank you Thank you!

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  6. how many cupcakes will this recipe cover?

    • If you frost them with a swirl similar to the photo you will be able to frost 20-22 cupcakes. It will cover quite a few more if you are just spreading the frosting on.

  7. will the weather affect the stiffness of the frosting? I live in the Philippines and the weather here is kinda warm to hot

  8. Can you use this on cut-out cookies? Is there a way to make it sos it will be stiff enough to hold up/dry to stack them between waxed paper, or not so much?

  9. I can’t wait to try it with your Vanilla Cupcake recipe. I’m making mini cupcakes for my sister’s baby shower. Quick question: When do you add coloring, at the end? Will food coloring work in a pinch? I just want a light yellow and don’t want to spring for a whole tube. of gel. Thanks!

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  12. Just finished making chocolate cupcakes with this frosting: the frosting was very easy to make, but I found it to be too sweet for my liking. I will use this recipe again, but will alter it slightly. thanks for the great recipe :)

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  15. I love this frosting and your website. You are great to share all this information with us. I am making 100 cupcakes for a bridal shower and I WILL only use your butter cream frosting because it is so good. Does it have to be refrigerated? The shower is at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday and I wanted to make them on Friday evening. Any suggestions to keep them fresh?

  16. This frosting is so delicious and all of my friends love it. But it always turns out a little bit grainy, and I am looking for a smoother look. Does anyone know what may help? I do add the cream cheese to this recipe,

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  18. Just tried this recipe I have never frosted anything before and this recipe was perfect I also used your frosting tutorial and I can’t believe how easy it was. Thank you!

  19. Hello, I LOVE all your recipes listed, you are truly talented! I have a quick question though, will this recipe frost two round 9×9’s?

  20. Would you add 1/2 cup of cocoa powder to make this a chocolate frosting?

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  22. Love this recipe!!! I found this last year at Thanksgiving just trying to find something that tasted similar to my Mother’s. Since then I have used it countless times and in several variations. Thanks Glory !!!

  23. Hi! Wondering how your liners always look so colorful? My cupcakes end up attaching to the colorful liners and the colors get lost. Do you plop the finished cupcake in a fresh liner when baked and cooled? What is the secret? Thank you!

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  26. hi! BTW thanks for this. I just wanna ask, will it work even if I’ll just use a whisk and my hands?

    • I’m not sure that you could accomplish this recipe with much success without an electric mixer. I usually use a large stand mixer, but a smaller, hand held mixer would work as well.

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  28. Thanks for sharing :)

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  30. This is by far the best frosting I have ever tasted. I make them with the perfect cupcakes and I get rave reviews every time!

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  32. Thanks for sharing! How long would the buttercream frosting be good for if I leave it out at room temp?

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  34. Hi ! I found your blog just a few days ago and already tried your vanilla cupcakes and they turned out just perfect! But I have one question about measures: could you please give us the measures in metric? Or at least cups in grams of butter, sugar and some ingredients that are frequently used. Thank you very much!

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  36. I tried this frosting today on my cupcakes and it would not sit. It melted after a few seconds. The cupcakes where cooled completely.
    I made this recipe twice to see if I forgot something, but both the times where like this.

    Now I think it might be the weather. It is around 88 degrees here and we don’t have an AC. With the oven on it makes the kitchen even hotter, I did troubleshoot it but it has not use. As soon as it was out of the fridge and on the cupcake it started to melt

    Do you have any suggestions for me? I love the taste!

    PS: I only used 1 tbs heavy whipping cream

  37. Hi, I’m a young aspiring baker and this website is soooo simple and easy to follow. :) I’m so happy I can find ideas and recipes thanks to you. I’m sure you’ll help make my dreams come true as a successful baker :) xxxx

    -N.N.

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  40. how many gr of butter is the amount?

  41. Hi there,

    I am getting ready to make this cake, and thought it would be nice to spend some time in advance making the frosting. How long do you think you can keep it for?

    D

    • Hi Danielle, Usually I prefer to make the frosting right before use. If you do make the frosting in advance, store it in the fridge for up to 3 days, then allow it to come up to almost room temperature and re-beat it a bit to get a nice fluffy texture.

  42. I love the look of your cupcakes! I am curious … the cake appear relatively flat, but the buttercream is nice & puffed. How do you pipe such a nice dollop of buttercream without the cupcake having a large dome on top?

    Thanks!

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  44. Thank you for this fabulous recipe! I’ve never made homemade frosting before and it turned out perfect! I will never buy canned frosting again.

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  47. Hi Glory, the measurement you indicated for the powdered sugar is 4 cups, what is the equivalent value in grams? And if I do not want to use heavy cream can I use milk or water? What do you mean by half and half? Thanks

    • Hi Joy, Feel free to use google to find a good conversion chart to convert the measurements. I use American measurements and I’m not sure what the metric conversion would be. Half and half is sold just as that “half and half” and is half milk and half heavy cream. If you do not have cream, feel free to use milk, although it is much thinner, so you will likely not need as much.

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  49. Hi there! I know this is an older post of yours but I am so excited to try this for an icing for my daughter’s 1st birthday cake! What did you use to accomplish that gorgeous sky blue color? I was thinking of purchasing gel colors but didn’t know if it’s worth the extra dough! :)

    • Hi Ashley, The blue color is from Americolor brand and called sky blue. Generally you can purchase the little bottles of Americolor colors for $1.50 or so each.

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