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How to Make Buttercream Frosting for Cake Decorating

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Roses made from stiff consistency buttercream

Roses made from stiff consistency buttercream

Buttercream Frosting Is Everything

Buttercream frosting is an essential recipe to master if you plan on making and decorating cakes. You can decorate a cake entirely with just buttercream from crumb coat to flowers and even script! Even a fondant covered cake requires a layer of buttercream first. The recipe itself is also quite versatile. It can (and should) be adjusted based on your intended purpose. The amount of milk will determine consistency, the extract will determine the flavor, and the type of fat will determine color (and flavor, to some extent).


  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tablespoons milk
  • food coloring, optional


  • Powered hand mixer, or stand mixer
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Measuring tablespoon
  • Sifter or fine meshed strainer


  1. First, make sure your sugar is sifted. This will ensure a smooth, fluffy icing. If you don’t have a sifting tool you can use a fine meshed strainer. Just measure out 4 cups of powdered sugar into your strainer and run a spoon back and forth against the bottom until all the sugar falls through into your medium mixing bowl. Leave the sugar in the medium bowl for now.
  2. Put the butter into the large mixing bowl and beat on low just until smooth. Now add your extract, 2 tablespoons milk and 1 cup of the powdered sugar to the butter. Beat on low until combined. It's important to beat on low so you don’t get a sugar cloud in your face. Continue to add sugar one cup at a time and beating until smooth.
  3. Now is where you can decide what consistency you want. If you want your icing stiff, mostly used for making flowers, do not add anymore milk. If you want a medium consistency icing add one more tablespoon. Medium is great for border work, crumb coat and final frosting. Now if you need a thin consistency for vines, lines or script add 2 tablespoons of milk. Beat any added milk until combined.
  4. Now that you have all your ingredients it is time to work on getting that soft fluffy texture. Beat your icing on med-high for 6-10 minutes of until its light and fluffy and lighter in color. Even if you used all butter it should be white if whipped enough. Your icing is now ready to use! Congratulations!
  5. To add color, simply stir in food coloring a few drops at a time until desired brightness. Be careful not to add too much—buttercream takes color very well.

Use Flowers as Simple Decorations

Looking for an easy way to decorate a cake? Simply frost your cake with buttercream, try using edible flowers such as fuchsia, violets, day lilies, carnations and marigolds... just to name a few! Fresh fruit always looks and tastes great as well. Then use this buttercream frosting to make accents such as borders and simple piping.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you recommend using water-based food coloring or gel-based for cake decorating? Or does it not matter?

Answer: I'd definitely use gel colors! They won't affect the consistency whereas water-based will.

Question: what should I consider when preparing a butter icing?

Answer: The most important thing to consider is the temperature of the room and ingredients. Too cold would be around less than 65'F, and too hot would be around 80'F. These are estimates. If your frosting or ingredients are too cold, you'll have a very hard time blending and piping, and you run the risk of accidentally adding way too much milk or it turning into a lumpy mess. Too hot will melt the butter and it won't be able to hold air and become more of a glaze than anything resembling frosting.

Question: Can I keep buttercream frosting in the fridge?

Answer: Yes! Buttercream that needs milk to thin will always need to be refrigerated within 4 hours. It'll just need to sit out until room temperature again before using, and preferably before serving since it becomes quite stiff when cold.

Question: Is it possible to make buttercream frosting a few hours before using, and then keep it in the fridge?

Answer: Yes and no. It needs to be at room temperature to behave properly. So if you do need to make it a day or several hours before, just give it time to come back to room temp before using. This usually takes 30-60 minutes, depending on temperature and how much you've made. Do not try to speed up the process, as heat will ruin it. Just before using, I like to use an electric beater to ensure fluffiness and even temperature throughout.