Easy 5-Minute Fluffy Vanilla Frosting

5 from 5 votes
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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.

Easy Vanilla 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.

Ingredients for the Best-Ever Vanilla Frosting

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.
all ingredients in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment.

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.
The frosting mixture in a bowl

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.
The frosting being whipped

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.
Vanilla frosting on vanilla cake.

FAQs

What is the difference between icing and frosting?

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.

Why vanilla extract?

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.

How do you make vanilla frosting better?

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.

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5 from 5 votes

Easy 5-Minute Fluffy Vanilla Frosting

I tried this vanilla buttercream for the first time when it was made by a professional baker. It was the best vanilla frosting I'd ever had.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 12

Ingredients 
 

  • 2 cups softened unsalted butter (454 g)
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar (460g)
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
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Get this recipe link sent straight to your inbox to make it later!
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Instructions 

  • 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.

Video

Notes

VERY IMPORTANT: You must allow the frosting 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 soft, airy texture.
Air is an ingredient. Whipping for 5 minutes allows you to make a big volume of frosting without adding tons of extra icing sugar.
If it is dense and fudgy, it’s not done yet. It will be soft and shiny when you’re done beating.
This frosting is perfectly sweet, never chalky and oversweet, thanks to the higher ratio of butter to sugar combined with the whipping technique. It tastes and acts more like a fancy Italian or French buttercream than the simple American buttercream that it is.
Butter: ONLY use unsalted, no room for negotiation. If you use salted butter, this will be inedibly salty. Please trust me on the quantities and you will not be disappointed.
 
This makes enough frosting for 24 simply-frosted cupcakes, one 9×13″ slab cake, or two 9″ cake layers. If you want enough frosting to pipe details on the cake or make dramatic cupcake swirls, make 1.5 x the recipe.
If you’d like to add food coloring, add it by a few drops at a time at the end and beat just until combined. Start with a little. You can always add more but you can’t take it away.
You can add a splash more milk if you like to reach the desired consistency. Note that it will continue to thicken up as the sugar hydrates.

Nutrition

Calories: 279kcal | Carbohydrates: 42g | Protein: 0.4g | Fat: 31g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 83mg | Sodium: 5mg | Potassium: 12mg | Sugar: 0.2g | Vitamin A: 960IU | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 0.01mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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16 Comments

  1. Amanda says:

    5 stars
    “Motorboat the bowl” 🤣 🤣 loooove this recipe so much!!!

    1. Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD says:

      Hahah! Yay! Thank you 🙂

    2. Calen says:

      It was really good almost as amazing as this one beautiful girls buttercream recipe I fell in love with a very long time ago if this is A.M.M or A.M.R now 😊

  2. Meg says:

    5 stars
    I have tried several different buttercream recipes and couldn’t find one that works until this!! This is my absolute favorite buttercream recipe! Thank you

    1. Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD says:

      Hi Meg, I’m so happy to hear it! Thank you for coming back to comment.

  3. Diane says:

    5 stars
    I’d like to make Chocolate also. Do I just add Cocoa Powder? Thanks 😊

    1. Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD says:

      You could add cocoa powder to taste (plus a bit more milk to make up for more dry ingredients) or use my cocoa-based chocolate frosting recipe here: https://foodess.com/fluffy-chocolate-frosting/

      1. Diane says:

        Thank you!
        Just out of curiosity, why is it essential to use Unsalted butter? I usually don’t have it

  4. Jennifer says:

    I made this, just this morning, to frost my granddaughter’s birthday cake. I was scared because I do not have a stand mixer. I had to use the hand mixer for ten minutes and it was painful, but wow the frosting is gorgeous and perfect. Thanks so much because I never would have thought I could make a frosting so divine. xo

    1. The Foodess Team says:

      Amazing! I’m so glad you liked it 🙂

  5. Madelon says:

    5 stars
    This frosting is amazing. I made it with half & half instead of milk and 1 tbs of vanilla. Whipping for 5 mins is CRUCIAL. I set in fridge afterwards to make sure it doesn’t fall and it sets. My husband loves it. Thanks for sharing

  6. Melissa says:

    5 stars
    Hands down the best vanilla frosting recipe I’ve ever tried (and I have tried a LOT).

  7. Nicole says:

    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?

    1. Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD says:

      Hi Nicole,

      For either, you’d really just have to expiriment. You would be adding fat (and sugar, for nutella), which changes the ratios. I think you’d be better off finding a recipe specific to those flavours so you don’t risk wasting ingredients.

  8. Yvonne says:

    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!

    1. Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD says:

      Oh Yvonne, you make my heart sing! Thank you so, so much for coming and leaving a comment.