I tasted this Vanilla Frosting recipe for the first time when it was made by a professional cake baker. It was the best vanilla frosting I’d ever tasted: so fluffy and satiny and not too sweet. I thought it was a fancy, labor-intensive Swiss Meringue Buttercream. When I found out how simple it was, I was instantly sold on it as my new go-to vanilla buttercream frosting for cake.
The Best Vanilla Frosting Recipe
And you know why I’m sharing this great recipe? Because I tasted this frosting once made by a professional cake baker. It was the best vanilla frosting I’d ever tasted: so fluffy and satiny and not too sweet. I thought it was a fancy, labor-intensive Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
When she told me it was a simple buttercream, I flipped out, and then had to immortalize the recipe.
It is for you, yes.
But honestly, it’s for me. Selfishly. So I never forget exactly how to make my favorite-ever, super-easy vanilla buttercream frosting.
It’s easy for even the most beginner baker, but delicious enough that even pro bakers will want it in their regular rotation.
What is the difference between icing and frosting?
I get this question a lot. While often they are used interchangeably, an icing is typically 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.
If your goal is to cover an entire cake with a fluffy, beautiful topping, choose a silky frosting recipe like this one. If you’re just adding a little touch to cookies or want a sweet vanilla drizzle on a pound cake, icing is fine. Icing tends to be either thin or fudgy in texture.
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.
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 Buttercream Made of?
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) and the pro technique. Read on!
How do You Make Vanilla Frosting?
- 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.
Here are the 3 Secrets To Making Perfect Buttercream
- Whip the frosting. Whip it good. Use only a whisk attachment on a stand mixer, the paddle attachment will not whip enough air into the frosting to the 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.
- 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
You can make this vanilla frosting recipe ahead and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 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.
Once a cake is frosted, you can store it on the counter for 3-4 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.
- If ever there is one place where unsalted butter is non-negotiable, it’s in a vanilla frosting. Salted butter will totally overpower this recipe. A pinch of salt is enough to balance the sweetness in the whole batch.
- 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.
Where To Use this Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe:
This vanilla frosting works with so many flavors so be sure to try it with your favorite cake. I love it with vanilla, lemon, orange or chocolate cake, or on a big birthday sheet cake like mom used to make. Spoon it into a piping bag and make fancy swirls on your favorite cupcakes (need a cupcake recipe?) .
- Frosted sugar cookies (the sugar cookie base in my Snowflake cookie recipe is my fav).
- On sheet cakes.
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 beatint. 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 January 30, 2023 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD