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I tasted this Vanilla Frosting recipe for the first time when it was made for me by a professional cake baker. It was the best vanilla frosting I’d ever tasted: so fluffy and satiny and not too sweet. I’m talking about pillowy, fluffy swirls of vanilla heaven. I assumed it was a fancy, labor-intensive European-style buttercream (which involves beating egg whites into meringue and/or sugar syrup).
When I realized it was a simple vanilla buttercream frosting made the American way (beat butter with sugar and flavorings: done!), I flipped out, and then had to immortalize the recipe.
The key to this icing’s gorgeous shine and airy texture is the technique and ingredient proportions.
It’s absolutely perfect on my best vanilla cake recipe. Spoon it into a piping bag and make fancy swirls on my favorite moist vanilla cupcakes. Also delicious on my Moist Chocolate Cake or Lemon Curd Cake. I even love this fluffy vanilla icing on sugar cookies (the sugar cookie base in my Snowflake cookie recipe is my fav). Heck, why not just make a batch and motorboat the bowl. And when you’re done, whip up some amazing Chocolate Frosting.
The Best Vanilla Frosting Recipe. Here’s Why:
- Tested-till-perfect ingredient ratios. There’s less sugar and more butter in this recipe, which gives it a beautiful warm vanilla flavor instead of a cloyingly-sweet taste.
- This fluffy vanilla frosting works with so many flavors so be sure to try it with all of your favorite cake recipes. You can even swap it into these peppermint whoopie pies or slather it onto chewy brownies.
- It’s a super easy frosting recipe for even the most beginner baker, but delicious enough that even pro bakers will want it in their regular rotation.
Is Vanilla Frosting the Same as Vanilla Buttercream?
Yes, vanilla frosting is the same as vanilla buttercream. Sort of.
Vanilla frosting is a type of buttercream and vanilla buttercream is a type of frosting, but there’s more to it.
What North Americans call vanilla frosting is technically “Vanilla American buttercream” to professional bakers. So frosting is a kind of buttercream.
However, vanilla buttercream may also refer to the more complex Swiss, Italian, or French buttercream, which require making a meringue of egg whites and/or cooking a sugar syrup before whipping in butter. Bottom line? When you hear “Vanilla frosting”, you are talking about a type of buttercream. When you hear “Vanilla buttercream”, you might not be dealing with the basic vanilla frosting you expect.
What I adore about this recipe is that it has the fluffy, satiny, not-too-sweet allure af a fancy schmancy meringue buttercream, but with the simplicity and ease of an American vanilla frosting recipe.
What is Vanilla Icing Made of? Gather Your Ingredients
This fluffy vanilla frosting starts with a basic American buttercream, meaning a few simple ingredients: unsalted butter, confectioners’ sugar (a.k.a. icing sugar or powdered sugar), vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste) and a splash of milk or cream.
What’s makes it stand out as the best vanilla buttercream for both flavor and texture is the ingredient ratio (more butter, less sugar). Here’s what you need.
- Unsalted butter – Butter is what gives your frosting a creamy, rich flavor and helps to stabilize it so it holds its shape when you pipe it. Unsalted is necessary for frosting, as salted butter would make it inedibly salty.
- Confectioners’ sugar – Also known as icing sugar, this superfine powdered sugar gives your frosting the sweetness and light, airy texture that’ll have everyone asking for more.
- Milk – Only a little milk is needed to thin out the frosting to the perfect fluffy consistency.
- Vanilla extract – I love pure vanilla extract for the gorgeous warm flavor it gives. You could swap in a couple of scraped vanilla beans, if you like.
Grab Your Tools
Here’s everything you need to make frosting from scratch at home.
- Stand Mixer – If you’re serious about baking, then it’s time to invest in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. You’ll have beautiful, fluffy frosting ready in just 5 minutes. A hand mixer will do the trick in a pinch, but you may need to double the beating time.
- Spatula – A silicone spatula is a kitchen necessity for scraping down the bowl during beating and getting out every last spoonful, so make sure you have one handy before you start baking.
- Measuring Spoons – You’ll want to measure out each ingredient precisely in order to achieve the perfect vanilla frosting, which means having measuring spoons on standby. Choose stainless steel or plastic ones that can be easily popped into the dishwasher after use.
How to Make The Best Homemade Vanilla Frosting: Step-By-Step Instructions
The key to making super-fluffy vanilla frosting is to really whip it. Whip it good. It will become much lighter in color and texture when it is ready. Here’s what to do:
- Combine all ingredients in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Couldn’t be easier. Start on low to incorporate confectioners’ sugar, then gradually increase to medium speed and then to high.
- Whip on high speed for 5 minutes, until the frosting is very pale and very fluffy. And I mean a full five minutes. This long whipping time is critical for the frosting to be light, satiny, mousse-y and like the most delicious, beautiful-textured vanilla frosting ever.
- Pause several times to scrape down sides of the bowl while it is beating. The frosting will double in volume and will go from a dull, matte white to a shiny, satiny, fluffy white when it is ready.
Expert Secrets To Making Perfect Buttercream
- Use the whisk attachment on your stand mixer: the paddle attachment will not whip as much air into the frosting to get the best fluffy, cloud-like texture.
- The temperature of the butter is important. Here’s how to quickly bring butter to room temperature. Ideally, the butter should be around 65ºF, which is actually cooler than most rooms (why do we say “room temperature”). You don’t want your butter to be super soft or partly melted (it won’t be able to hold air). Likewise, it won’t cream properly if too cold. I pull out an instant thermometer and check that it’s in this 60ºF-65ºF zone, but you can just press it with your pinkie. You should be able to leave a dent, but your finger will feel resistance (not sink right in).
- AIR IS THE SECRET INGREDIENT: Allow the mixture to whip for a solid 5 minutes. Letting the mixer run for a prolonged time allows the butter and sugar to whip up into a luscious, pillowy texture that incorporates a lot of air for a mouthfeel that teeters on the precipice of mousse-like. Because air is incorporated to make up a lot of volume, the sugar is less dominant for perfectly sweet, never cloying, icing for the cake. If you are using a hand mixer instead of a powerful stand mixer, you might need to double that time. You’ll know it’s ready because the frosting goes from dull to shiny.
How to Make it in Advance
- Refrigerate: You can make this vanilla frosting recipe ahead and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Freeze: Alternatively, you can freeze it for up to a month. You’ll need to bring it back to room temperature before you use it and it should be re-beaten for a minute or so for optimal results.
- Remix: Confectioners’ sugar continues to absorb more of the liquid as it stands, so if your vanilla frosting has gotten a bit too thick, just whip it up for a minute or two and you’ll be ready to ice that cake or cupcakes.
- Storing a Frosted Cake: Once a cake is frosted, you can store it on the counter for 2-3 days (unless your kitchen is very warm, in which case you’ll have to refrigerate it or the butter will melt). Generally speaking, it’s best to store cakes on the counter because the fridge temperature actually accelerates staling.
- As the frosting sits, it will thicken and become drier. This is because the sugar absorbs the free liquid. If you are not using it immediately after the 5-minute beating time is up, beat in 1-2 tablespoons more cream or milk just before filling your piping bags.
- This recipe yields enough frosting to frost and fill a two-layer 9″ cake, or 24 cupcakes. If you’d like to frost the cake and then pipe additional details, make 1 1/2 times this recipe.
- As with any butter-based frosting recipe, you only want to frost a cake once it is completely cooled. Even a slightly-warm cake (any warmer than room temperature) will make the butter in the frosting melt and the frosting will become greasy and/or slide a bit off the cake.
While the terms “icing” and “frosting” are used interchangeably, an icing may be thinner and made with confectioners’ sugar, a bit of liquid (it could be water or juice) and flavoring. There may not even be any butter. A frosting, on the other hand, always has a base of butter creamed with sugar, plus a small amount of liquid (usually milk or cream) and flavoring.
Vanilla extract is used in this frosting recipe because it is an affordable pantry staple and you can get some very good quality ones. I love vanilla extract from Mexico. You can alternatively use the scraped seeds from a fresh vanilla bean or vanilla bean paste to taste.
Whip it until it doubles in volume. The difference between a greasy, too-sweet, thick frosting and a beautiful soft, cloud-like vanilla frosting is simply time in the mixer bowl. Beat it for 5 minutes at least, until it turns shiny and fluffy.
Easy 5-Minute Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
- 2 cups softened unsalted butter (454 g)
- 4 cups confectioners' sugar (460g)
- 2 tsp milk
- 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
- Combine all ingredients in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Start on low to incorporate confectioners' sugar, then gradually increase to high.
- Whip on high speed for 5 minutes, until very pale and very fluffy. This long whipping time is critical for the frosting to be light, satiny, mousse-y and like the most delicious, beautiful-textured vanilla frosting ever.
- Pause several times to scrape down sides of mixer bowl while it is beating. The frosting will double in volume and will go from a dull, matte white to a shiny, satiny, fluffy white when it is ready.
Last Updated on May 3, 2023 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD
Hands down the best vanilla frosting recipe I’ve ever tried (and I have tried a LOT).
Would like to make a nutella flavour and pistachio creme spread flavour frosting, could this be used as base? Any suggestions on how to incorporate those flavours into the frosting?
Love, love, LOVE this recipe!!!! I’ve made it twice now and had it once on your Ultimate Moist Vanilla Cake (DIVINE!) and then most recently on cupcakes. It’s so heavenly I almost don’t even need a vehicle (cake/cupcake) to deliver it – just give me the kitchen aid paddle and I’m good to go!