Old fashioned brown sugar frosting, just like Grandma's. This recipe needs just 5 ingredients and is cooked before whipping for a perfect texture. It's richer than typical buttercream and has a nice caramel flavour from the brown sugar. The recipe comes from Alex's grandmother-in-law's handwritten recipe, and she made it her whole life.

This is a perfectly smooth frosting that's ideal for chocolate mayonnaise cake – a favourite pairing – but excellent with any type of chocolate cake or spice cake. It's not finicky, but does thicken quickly, so keep an eye on it and read through the tips below.

Light brown frosting in a small bowl with an offset spatula.
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Brown sugar frosting ingredients with labels.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Brown sugar: you can use light or dark brown sugar, but don't substitute another type of sugar.
  • Icing sugar: also called confectioner's or powdered sugar.
  • Cream: heavy or whipping cream, with about 36% fat content. This will differ slightly depending on the region you're in (especially the name) so look at the percentage.
  • Butter: just a bit of butter, preferably salted.


Frosting steps 1 to 4, cooking the sugar and butter, adding icing sugar, finished frosting.

Step 1: add the brown sugar, cream, and butter to a saucepan.

Step 2: bring the mixture to a low boil, then boil for one minute.

Step 3: remove from the heat and add the icing sugar and vanilla.

Step 4: beat for up to a minute, until thickened and smooth.

Top Tips

  • Sift the sugar: the icing sugar should be sifted (as noted in the original recipe) for best results. The frosting mixes up pretty quickly and lumps can cause problems because it isn't beaten for a long time like buttercream.
  • Have your cake ready: brown sugar frosting sets quickly and it's best to top the finished cake immediately.
  • Thin with more cream if needed: if you beat the frosting a little too long or the room is cold, the frosting will set quickly and become quite thick. It can be thinned back to a smooth, spreadable consistency by mixing in a splash more whipping cream.

Recipe Notes

According to Alex's mother-in-law, her mother had a specific method for this icing where she'd beat until it looked a certain way, then quickly pour it onto the cake, where it would set. This has so many variables – room temperature, ingredient temperature, speed of mixing, and so on – and it's something that needs a lot of experience. It's the same recipe but we've tried to give some tips on how to make it well the first time, without 70 years of experience!

Brown sugar icing doesn't lend itself well to plant-based ingredients, so we haven't provided substitutions for that. It is unpredictable when altered significantly (we recommend vegan buttercream if you need a dairy-free option).

How to Store

Storage: keep in a sealed container at room temperature for a day or two. This frosting can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, but it does become quite hard when chilled (so it's best to frost the cake and store the whole thing in the fridge).

Freezing: transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to a month. Thaw at room temperature when ready to use and give it a good stir, mixing in a splash of cream if needed, to make it smooth again.

Light brown frosting spread over half of a chocolate cake.


Why does this recipe use so little butter?

If you're more used to making buttercream frosting, this might look a little confusing, but we promise it's the right amount of butter. Brown sugar has more liquid in it and with the added cream, it makes up for the butter.

Why is my brown sugar frosting grainy?

If it's been beaten too long, the frosting will turn grainy and a little hard. You can fix this by mixing in a little more whipping cream.

What's the difference between light and dark brown sugar?

It's simply the amount of molasses added, with dark brown sugar containing more molasses. For a stronger brown sugar flavour, use dark brown, and for a lighter taste, use light brown sugar.

If you make this Brown Sugar Frosting recipe or any other frosting recipes on the Baked Collective, please take a moment to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It’s such a help to others who want to try the recipe. For more baking, follow along on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

Light brown frosting in a small bowl with an offset spatula.
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5 from 1 vote

Brown Sugar Frosting

Old fashioned brown sugar frosting, just like Grandma's. This recipe needs just 5 ingredients and is cooked before whipping for a perfect texture.
Prep Time4 minutes
Cook Time1 minute
Total Time5 minutes
Yield: 2 cups


  • Measuring cups and spoons or a digital kitchen scale
  • Electric mixer
  • Saucepan


  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup whipping cream about 36% fat
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 cup sifted icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Add the brown sugar, cream, and butter to a saucepan. Bring to a low boil over medium heat, stirring to prevent sticking, then boil for one minute.
    1 cup brown sugar, ¼ cup whipping cream, 2 teaspoons butter
  • Remove from the heat and add the icing sugar and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer for up to one minute, or until smooth and thicker. If the frosting seizes and looks grainy, mix in a splash more of cream.
    1 cup sifted icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Frost your cooled cake immediately. Keep at room temperature for a day or so, then refrigerate for up to a week. This frosting will set and form a thin outer shell.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 101kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 0.1g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.5g | Trans Fat: 0.02g | Cholesterol: 6mg | Sodium: 9mg | Potassium: 23mg | Sugar: 21g | Vitamin A: 71IU | Vitamin C: 0.02mg | Calcium: 14mg | Iron: 0.1mg

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