4-ingredient vanilla frosting, or American buttercream, is made with just butter, icing sugar, vanilla, and a splash of cream. Easy, sweet, and perfect for frosting or filling cupcakes, cake, cookies, and more.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Butter: unsalted butter will give the most neutral flavour, but you can use salted butter if preferred. We don't recommend subbing margarine for this recipe, especially the spreadable type.
- Sugar: if you don’t have icing sugar, you can try making your own. Blend regular white sugar in a food processor or high speed blender until powdered, sifting through a fine mesh sieve before using.
- Vanilla extract: paste and powder can be used instead of extract. Reduce the amount by half. For a stronger flavour, scrape one vanilla bean instead.
- Cream: while whipping or heavy cream will give the best texture and taste, you can substitute coffee cream (half and half) or full-fat milk. In a pinch, even plain yogurt will do the trick.
- Make it dairy-free: for a vegan option, try our vegan vanilla frosting.
How to Make Buttercream
Step 1: beat the butter on high speed until light and fluffy.
Step 2: add the sugar, vanilla, and a tablespoon of the cream. Beat until very light (add more cream if needed).
Step 3: keep beating until the buttercream is fully mixed and you can't feel sugar.
Step 4: pipe the frosting immediately or refrigerate until use.
- Add food colouring: beat in food colouring after the frosting is fully mixed. This does take colour very well, but we recommend using gel food colouring for best results.
- Keep mixing: beat the buttercream until very smooth. If you rub a little between your fingers, it shouldn't feel textured or gritty at all - if it does, keep mixing.
- Use a stand mixer: to make this in a standing mixer, simply follow the same directions but use the whisk attachment on your mixer. You'll have the same results but save your arm a bit.
For white buttercream, you can use a couple drops of white food colouring (yep, it's a thing!) to brighten it up. American buttercream is always going to be an off-white, creamy colour, as it's made with all butter. It's part of the charm.
The butter is whipped until fluffy before adding the sugar – this lightens the end product and makes everything more smooth and silky. Make sure to add the cream a tablespoon at a time because you might not need all of it.
How to Store
Storage: keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to one week. If you've added food colouring, you might need to whisk briefly by hand before using to make sure it's fully mixed in again.
Freezing: transfer the buttercream to an airtight container and freeze for up to three months. Thaw it in the fridge overnight, and quickly whip again before using.
What's the difference between buttercream and frosting?
Frosting is simply the umbrella term for any type of buttercream, and also includes other cake toppings like cream cheese frosting. American buttercream is always made with butter, while frostings can be made with alternatives like shortening.
Is buttercream same as whipping cream?
Buttercream is a specific frosting recipe, made with butter, icing sugar, and vanilla. Whipped cream is simply whipping or heavy cream, beaten (sometimes with sugar) until thick.
Does buttercream frosting need to be refrigerated?
American buttercream can be left out at room temperature for about a day, but keep in mind that this recipe does contain fresh cream. Refrigerate to prevent fast spoilage.
If you make this Vanilla 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.
Easy Vanilla Frosting (American Buttercream)
- Mixing bowl
- Stand or hand mixer
- Measuring cups and spoons or a digital kitchen scale
- ½ cup butter softened at room temperature
- 3 cups icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoons whipping heavy cream
- Add the butter to a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of your standing mixer). Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, until lighter in colour and fluffy.
- Add the sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of cream. Mix again, starting on low speed and gradually increasing to high, until the frosting is light and smooth, about 3 minutes.
- Add the second tablespoon of cream if the buttercream is too stiff.
- Rub a little bit of the frosting between your fingers. If it feels at all gritty, keep mixing. It should be very smooth, a light cream colour, and fluffy when it's ready.
- Store the buttercream in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.