Making this classic buttercream is the perfect way to top cakes and cupcakes. Master this basic recipe and then you can enjoy experimenting with lots of different flavours and colours.
Buttercream icing is made by combining together fat – in this case, butter – with icing sugar to make a creaming topping for cakes and muffins. There are three types of buttercream. This recipe is for your more classic, American buttercream which tends to be slightly sweeter than its alternatives (see the tips section for links to those). This buttercream frosting recipe makes enough to decorate one 20-23cm round cake or 12 cupcakes but be warned – buttercream doesn’t hold up too well in hot temperatures. Once you’ve perfected this frosting, learn how to make a piping bag.
- 110g butter, room temperature
- 500g icing sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 60ml milk
Add butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract to a large mixing bowl, then beat for about 5 minutes with an electric whisk until smooth.
Pour the milk gradually if you need to loosen the mixture.
Top tips for making buttercream
If you want stiff buttercream for piping, use your ingredients straight from the fridge. For softer buttercream you can smooth with a knife onto cakes, use ingredients at room temperature. For tips on how to ice your cupcakes with buttercream check out our cupcake icing videos.
What are the three types of buttercream?
There are three types of buttercream you can use to decorate a cake or cupcakes. These include; traditional American buttercream (this recipe!), Swiss Meringue buttercream which is much thicker, creamier frosting and Italian Meringue buttercream which is a much more complex buttercream to make using eggs and heated sugar.
What’s wrong with my buttercream?
My buttercream is too gritty
If you didn’t sieve your icing sugar when making the buttercream this may have led to your buttercream being gritty in texture. Lumps can be broken with the back of a spoon or fork. Make sure you’re using the correct sugar too as some types of icing sugar e.g. beet sugar, can cause this odd texture too.
My buttercream is overbeaten
Its best to soften the butter before adding the icing sugar to make buttercream. This method will make sure both ingredients combine smoothly together. You can overbeat buttercream by whisking too long or too fast with an electric mixer so make sure you stop as soon as the buttercream firms.
My buttercream has separated
If your buttercream has separated and looks almost curdled, you may have added a little bit too much moisture to your mix. Whether its too much food colouring or too much milk you may be able to rescue it by adding a spoonful of icing sugar at a time.
If you’re using food colouring however it is best to opt for high quality gel food colouring when it comes to mixing with buttercream to avoid curdling or separation.
Do you have to refrigerate a cake with buttercream frosting?
You don’t have to refrigerate a cake once its covered in buttercream but its best covered in some way on the kitchen side. You can do this with either a cake tin, tin foil or cling film so the buttercream doesn’t go hard. You can leave a cake covered in buttercream at room temperature for up to three days.
If you're re-using buttercream that's been in the fridge but not yet added to a cake, try adding a few drops of food colouring to dye your buttercream or a few drops of water. This will loosen the buttercream before you use it again and make it easier to ice and decorate a cake with.
Can you freeze buttercream?
If you make lots of cakes then you can bulk batch make this buttercream icing recipe and freeze it. Store it in separate containers in your freezer and then get out what you need ahead of when you need it. Buttercream defrosts well overnight. Remember to let the buttercream come to room temperature before you use it so that it's easy to ice with.