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Vanilla Buttercream Frosting is creamy, sweet, and fluffy. It’s so easy to make and super useful to have in your back pocket to use with your favorite cake and cupcake recipes. It’s also great on sandwiched between cookies or even humble graham crackers for a simple, quick treat!
Can we all agree that homemade frosting is far superior to the canned kind? If so, you might also want to check out my Homemade Rainbow Chip Frosting, Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, Fresh Strawberry Frosting, and many other frosting recipes!
Our Favorite Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe
Even though vanilla buttercream is the most basic recipe ever, I feel like it deserves it’s own post because of how much it gets used around our house.
This is close to the frosting I grew up with. It’s just salted butter, powdered sugar, and some heavy cream, with a little vanilla and maybe a pinch of extra salt to balance out the flavors.
Except I often add three secret ingredients that make it the best vanilla buttercream ever. It’s something I picked up while attending BYU in Provo, Utah for law school and getting hooked on cupcakes from a popular bakery there known as the Sweet Tooth Fairy.
I sampled DOZENS of their cupcakes over the years I was there and decided there was just a little something extra that made it so much better than the most basic vanilla buttercream. And it’s the addition of very small amount of cream cheese, almond extract, and coconut extract.
These additional flavors can totally be left out if you want more of a straightforward, classic vanilla buttercream. But I think they make this vanilla frosting stand out in a subtle but special way without overpowering the classic vanilla flavor. One thing to be aware of though is that the small amount of cream cheese can make the frosting on the softer side, so if you are planning on doing more intricate piping designs, you might want to leave it out.
We used this frosting on everything from sugar cookies to birthday cakes.
How to make vanilla buttercream frosting
1. Beat the butter and cream cheese (if using) with an electric or stand mixer until light and creamy, about 2-3 minutes. You will actually notice the butter start to lighten in color as you beat air into it.
2. Add powdered sugar, heavy cream (you can use milk instead but if you have cream on hand it works best), vanilla, almond extract, coconut extract, and a pinch of salt. Beat again for another 2-3 minutes until smooth and creamy. It should spread easily but also hold it’s shape for piping.
3. Add food coloring , if desired, then use to frost your favorite cakes or cupcakes.
Tips for the best vanilla buttercream
- Use softened, but not melted, butter. Cold butter just doesn’t mix up as creamy and smooth as butter that has had a chance to come closer to room temperature. I recommend pulling the butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to make your frosting. Cubing the butter can also help it to soften a little bit faster. If you forgot to pull butter out of the fridge and you just can’t wait half an hour, go ahead and microwave the butter for 8 seconds, then flip the sticks over and heat again for another 5-8 seconds. This usually works to soften the butter slightly without melting it, but it’s inherently risky attempting to soften butter in the microwave so watch it carefully!
- Get rid of air bubbles by giving your arms a workout. If you find that your buttercream frosting has a lot of air bubbles in it, that is easily fixed by grabbing a wooden spoon or stiff spatula and stirring the buttercream by hand for a minute or two, pressing it against the sides of the bowl to get some of those pesky air bubbles out.
- Frosting too thick or to thin? No problem! I love American buttercream because it’s so forgiving compared to other types of frosting like Swiss meringue buttercream. If you accidentally added a little too much powdered sugar, just add a little more heavy cream, one or two teaspoons at a time, mixing well after each addition until you get the consistency you want. Or if you go too far with the cream, add a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar at a time.
- Use vanilla bean paste for beautiful flecks of vanilla bean. If you have never used vanilla bean paste before, it can be used interchangeably with vanilla in any recipe except that it adds little specks of vanilla, which are absolutely beautiful in a pure white frosting. It’s more expensive than regular vanilla though, so it’s not something I would waste on frosting unless I wanted the flecks to be noticeable and part of the overall appearance of the finished dessert.
Cake and cupcake recipes to use with vanilla buttercream frosting
- Best Ever Moist Chocolate Cupcakes
- Homemade Funfetti Cake
- Best Red Velvet Cake
- Cherry Chip Cake
- Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake
- Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes
- Yellow Cake
- Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
- Chocolate Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
- Oatmeal Rolled Sugar Cookies
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- 1 cup salted butter softened
- 2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature (optional - don't use if doing intricate piping or decorating as it softens the frosting just a bit more than normal)
- 4-5 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3-4 Tablespoons heavy cream
- Pinch of salt to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract optional
- 1/8 teaspoon coconut extract optional
- Beat butter (and cream cheese, if using) on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until creamy and smooth.
- Add powdered sugar, vanilla, cream, and salt (and almond and coconut extracts if using). Beat for another 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the frosting by hand for a few minutes to get rid of air bubbles before using to frosting cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.
- Vanilla Bean Buttercream: You can substitute 2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste for the vanilla extract in the recipe to have beautiful specks of vanilla bean in the finished frosting.
- Storage and Freezing: If making the frosting in advance, it can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw completely and let it come to room temperature, then beat again so it's a nice, light consistency.
- Coconut & Almond Extract Notes: If you find that you really love the coconut and almond flavor, I have gone as far as 1/2 teaspoon of each in this frosting and it tastes wonderful. Some people feel like that is too strong though and it definitely takes it past the vanilla buttercream flavor, but it's such a great variation to really add something different and unusual to your desserts.
- This recipe makes enough for 12-16 cupcakes or a 9x13-inch cake. For larger cakes like a 2- or 3-layer cake, you will want to make 1.5x or even double the batch, especially if you want enough frosting to pipe borders or other decorations.