It’s not unusual for my sugar cravings to kick in after midnight. More often than I care to admit, I find myself lurking around the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets, hoping for a sweet treat to magically appear. At this hour, all the stores are closed-and I definitely don’t have any Keebler Elves in my cupboards-so I’m left to my own devices. Here’s a secret: Sometimes when this happens, I make buttercream frosting.
Sure, it’s intended for decorating desserts, but you won’t judge…right? Apart from prettying up cakes, cookies and brownies, I’ve discovered this frosting is the perfect spread for graham crackers (or, in more desperate times, savoring by the spoonful). Plus, it takes just four ingredients: butter, sugar, dairy and extract in any flavor you like. In just 10 minutes you’ll have a delicious, easy frosting that’s way better than store-bought.
Whether you’re looking for a sweet-tooth fix or you have cupcakes to decorate, our Test Kitchen experts are here to guide you. Let’s go step by step through this recipe for homemade frosting.
How to Make Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
4-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (use the clear variety if you’re aiming for white frosting)
5 to 6 tablespoons 2% milk
Most of these ingredients are interchangeable. Here are a few tips for making your frosting absolutely perfect:
- You can use just about any liquid in place of 2% milk. If sticking to dairy, either fat-free milk or half-and-half cream will work. Or switch it up with eggnog, juice or cooled espresso.
- Use a different extract. Our basic recipe makes a plain vanilla frosting, but it’s simple enough to swap in almond, coconut or even anise extract. Feeling adventurous? Learn how to make your own.
- If you’re making cake on a hot day, substitute shortening for half of the butter. This will help keep the frosting from melting in the heat.
Step 1: Beat the butter
Place the softened butter in a large bowl. (Is the butter still hard as a rock? Here’s how to soften it fast.) Use a hand-held mixer to beat the butter until it’s pale yellow in color and fluffy. This creamy consistency will help the butter combine with rest of the ingredients for an extra-smooth result.
Step 2: Add everything else
Take care adding the other ingredients into the mix. If the confectioners’ sugar looks clumpy, sift it with a fine mesh sieve. Then add the extract and milk. Use 5 tablespoons of milk for a thicker consistency; add an extra tablespoon for a thinner frosting.
Next, have at it with the beaters. If you see any sugar creeping up the sides, stop the mixer and use a silicone spatula to scrape it back down into the mix.
Test Kitchen tip: For a super fluffy consistency, beat the frosting for a few extra minutes to add more air.
Step 3: Enjoy
It’s as easy as that. This recipe yields about 3 cups of picture-perfect buttercream. Pipe or spread it onto cake, cookies or cupcakes, or add colored sprinkles for a funfetti dip. The possibilities are endless.
Test Kitchen tip: If you plan to save the frosting for later, pop it into the fridge for safekeeping. When you need it, bring it back to room temperature and beat.
More Flavors to Try
This basic recipe is easy to expand upon. Here are a few more flavors you may want to add to your frosting repertoire:
- Almond: Add 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon almond extract instead of the vanilla.
- Chocolate: Use 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup baking cocoa and 6 to 7 tablespoons of milk.
- Lemon: Replace the milk with lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest.
- Orange: Swap out the milk for orange juice and add 1 teaspoon orange zest.
- Peanut butter: Use 1/2 cup peanut butter instead of the butter and increase the milk to 7 or 8 tablespoons.
- Peppermint: Use 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract in place of the vanilla.