Perfect Buttercream

You know the scene – you’re at a party, and it’s time for the cake to be served. The cake sure looks beautiful, but the frosting … well, you never can tell with frosting. On the cake it all kind of looks the same. The flavor is a mystery. Will it send you running for your toothbrush with its sweetness? Or even worse, will it taste like a dollop of butter?

Both can ruin a good cake and cause people to doubt the skills of the cake baker. Unless you never want to be asked to make a cake again (sometimes tempting… ), you need to work on your frosting skills.

Buttercream Frosting on Cinnamon Cake
Last week I was roped into asked to coordinate last-minute baby shower for one of our temps whose last day was Friday. It being Tuesday already, I figured no one else would volunteer to bake a cake (and since I had my new Wilton decorating set just waiting for an opportunity) I pounced. The cake is Martha Stewart’s snickerdoodle cupcake recipe and maybe my new favorite cake. The frosting is … well, you know you’ve done good when people come up to you later to compliment it and others (including a non-cookery man) ask for the recipe.

Megan’s Perfect Buttercream

makes enough to fill and frost a 9-inch two-layer cake

2 sticks (8 ounces total) butter, softened
6 cups sifted powdered sugar
4 tablespoons milk (I use whole)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Dump everything into a large bowl (preferably stand mixer bowl with whisk attachment). Beat slowly at first until everything starts to come together. If you go too fast you will get powdered sugar all over your counter. Don’t do that. Once there is no longer any loose powder, lock the mixer and turn that baby up to 10. Let whip for approximately 5 minutes, until frosting is light and fluffy. Spread on cake as desired.

* Tip – the trick to getting smooth frosted cakes is to frequently scrap off excess frosting and dip your spreader into a cup of warm water, then continue spreading. It will look a bit wet as you go along, but the frosting will harden up beautifully.

Decorated Buttercream Cake

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48 Responses to Perfect Buttercream

  1. Chef Dennis June 15, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    what a beautiful cake!! and how I do love a good butter cream!

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    Megan Reply:

    Thank you!

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  2. Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro June 15, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    I also heart a good buttercream; my go-to recipe involves egg whites… wonder what just butter and sugar would taste like.

    But wow, that looks delicious. :)

    [K]

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    Yeah, this is for when I don’t want to fiddle with using eggs, which is most of the time. After working with egg whites for macarons, I’m kind of sick of seeing them!

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    BitchyChef Reply:

    @Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro, it would taste like horrible “American” style buttercreme… not at all a buttercreme in the classical sense.

    Yes it pipes nicely, but this recipe could NEVER be my Go to recipe for frosting. I wouldnt be able to ever eat it; far far far too sweet.

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    chefarm Reply:

    @BitchyChef,
    Some people (especially those who might not be exposed to French & Swiss Buttercreams on the regular) love the super-sweet frosting. After all, our palettes were trained on Duncan Hines & Betty Crocker.

    To each their own, no reason to be quite so harsh!

    If you like it, Megan, then work it out, girl!

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    Anonymous Reply:

    @BitchyChef,
    Guessing you have a reputation to live up to but this is pretty standard for American tastes; it’s no secret we like things sweeter on the whole (good or bad, it’s true!).

    I’ve used a buttercream frosting almost exactly like this for years, mostly for my kids and friends birthday cakes and I can tell you this Megan, not one of them complained; yours looks perfect!

    [Reply]

    Anonymous Reply:

    @BitchyChef, wow, you are living up to ur name! Horrible “American” style buttercreme… Go eat some frosting, seems you might need a little sweetness in ur life.

    [Reply]

  3. Memoria June 16, 2010 at 8:05 am #

    I actually love sweet frosting. YUM! I especially love the picture of the sliced cake. YUM!

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    Thanks!
    This is still sweet, but has more flavor than just straight-up sugar.

    [Reply]

  4. Kim June 16, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    I can’t eat cake, but have been craving frosting like crazy. The stuff from the store doesn’t cut it, and it has all of that processed gunk in it, so I cannot wait to make a fresh batch of this to curb my sweet tooth. Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

  5. Steph June 16, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    Your cake is beautiful. I am always looking for a good frosting recipe – I’ll give this a try next time.

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  6. Laurel June 16, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    You know, as much as I love and appreciate a really, really good Italian or French buttercream, there are some times (weeknights, anyone?) when I don’t relish the thought of scrubbing sugar syrup out of a pot.

    Also, there are some people who deserve me cooking a sugar syrup and some people who do not. (Can you tell I hate making anything involving boiling sugar? I’ve had enough burns, thanks. F*ck croquembouche.) And yet, I’m making some goooooood buttercream this weekend.

    But I’ll still go back to butter and sugar; I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again!

    I like to thin mine with vodka instead of milk. I’ve read this makes it a little more stable — nothing to worry about at room temperature.

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Laurel,
    Exactly! I hate cooking sugar and fiddling with egg whites, and during the week there is no way that is happening. Plus I have tasted far too many Swiss buttercreams that taste like butter to make it an appealing thing to make.

    I would have used vodka if we had some, but our house is fairly booze-free.

    [Reply]

  7. Kat June 16, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    I hate super-sugary frosting. It ruins the cake! Buttercream rules…I could eat it straight with a spoon. Yum.

    [Reply]

  8. Dorothy from Shockinglydelicious June 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    Can I just say YUM to your recipe (I also use almond extract in mine, and it is the secret)!

    Also YUM to the cake photos, both whole cake and sliced.

    Ya done good using the Wilton set!

    [Reply]

  9. lo June 16, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    It’s true – Italian buttercream definitely has its place in my repertoire, but sometimes it’s good to have a great butter/powedered sugar recipe on hand. Thanks for sharing this recommendation. Bookmarking it for sure!

    [Reply]

  10. Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks June 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    I’m not generally a buttercream fan. But, I like the addition of the almond here. You’re a doll for making a cake this lovely on the fly!

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  11. Leanne June 17, 2010 at 2:52 am #

    Looks great! Love the slice. Definitely prefer swiss meringue for myself… but I don’t enjoy making it for everyone else all the time :/ Do you think this would be as good without the almond? Allergy alert!

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Leanne,
    The almond helps cut down on the sweetness. You could try doubling the vanilla, but I’m not confident in the same result. Maybe someone else could chime in here!

    [Reply]

  12. Rachel Joyce June 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    This is a great post and the cake is cute as a button. I often struggle with frosting so the more detailed accounts of how to do it better, the better. Cheers!

    [Reply]

  13. Renee June 18, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Hi I just tried you’re buttercream recipe and although I love the taste, the texture is very oily and curdly (if that’s a word). Do you have any suggestions?

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Renee, I just sent you an e-mail!

    [Reply]

  14. Joanne June 18, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    I hate biting into a cake or cupcake only to discover that the frosting is subpar! I am so going to have to try this!

    [Reply]

  15. Lori June 21, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    You did a fine job. While I love Swiss Buttercream ( love the buttery taste ) is good, I also love this kind of frosting as well.

    [Reply]

  16. Susannah June 27, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    This looks wonderful! The photo of the sliced cake is amazing and reminds me that I continue to struggle with frosting between layers without the cake crumbling into the frosting. Is it my cake recipe? The frosting? Suggestions or hints greatly appreciated.

    [Reply]

  17. phil June 28, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    If your cake crumbles into your frosting you may want to thin out your frosting. If you want a little bit more substance to your frosting (I don’t.) then you can freeze your cake first. Alternatively you can also employ a crumb coat, which is basically a thin layer of frosting that you freeze, preventing you from getting any crumbs on the subsequent layer of frosting. For additional fun use a little bit of food coloring for your crumb coat!

    [Reply]

  18. phil June 28, 2010 at 2:58 am #

    Oh and I’ve never liked American style buttercreme. They’ve always been either sickly sweet or far too buttery. The butter/powdered sugar thing seems far too much like a cop-out; for those disinclined to boubleboiling eggs. If you’re baking AND decorating a cake you might as well go the whole nine yards. And maybe use fondant?

    [Reply]

    Laurel Reply:

    @phil, you complain about the taste of American-style buttercream and yet suggest fondant? Ugh. Even the best from-scratch honey-rum fondant I’ve made is still a mass of sugar paste.

    [Reply]

  19. Nuri June 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    That slice of cake looks delectable! May I ask for the time and temp difference, if any, to this recipe when you convert from cupcake to a whole cake?

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Nuri, The temperature remains the same, but you do need to increase the baking time. I think I cooked these for 25 minutes and then constantly checked on them until they were done. The top should spring back and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Sorry I can’t be more specific!

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  20. tay February 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    i’m on stumbleupon and came across this. i’ve always loved buttercream, to me it is the most delicious icing in the world. i don’t bake or cook much but always have wanted to and i think i would enjoy doing this recipe. when i finally do it i’ll let you know how it turns out. hopefully it won’t be too flat-out buttery. the cake looks amazing and it’s adorable. <3

    [Reply]

  21. Kaitlin June 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Is the butter salted or not?

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Kaitlin,
    Unless stated otherwise, all the butter in recipes on this site is unsalted.

    Thanks for your comment!

    [Reply]

  22. denthyg35 June 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    I do not like a sickly sweet frosting either, so I did a little experimenting and this is what I came up with. I add approximately 1/2 of an 8 oz package of softened cream cheese to a single recipe of frosting. It cuts down on the sweetness, but does not taste like a “cream cheese” frosting or butter. You can add more or not as much, depending on your preference. I have had MANY MANY compliments on my frosting.

    [Reply]

  23. Erin July 1, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    i have no yet tried this way of making buttercream icing…i’m sure it is delicious! Why i’m actually commenting on here is to apologize. Some of the other comments on here were rather rude and unnecessary! While i understand you may appreciate input, some of the people who wrote were extremely mean about it. So, i am apologizing for them…no one likes to be spoken to that way!

    [Reply]

  24. Aaria July 13, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    Beautiful cake.. now look what you have done.. I WANT a pretty cake like this for my birthday… :D Its really pretty.. Well done. :) and thanks for sharing..

    [Reply]

  25. Ashley August 19, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    @Erin- the only reason for the rude comments was because of the initial rude comment the chef made.

    @Megan- I cannot wait to try this! sounds utterly delicious

    [Reply]

  26. justforfunbaker August 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    just made this frosting! have been waiting to try it! though it is VERY sweet i absoulutly… LOVED ITTTTTT!!! it is soooo good! im going to be putting it on a plain white cake so…i hope it tastes great!

    [Reply]

  27. Brea September 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    omg i adore butter cream frosting, i’ve never had it with almond extract but i am bookmarking you so that i can try this recipe the next time i feel the impulse to bake a cake simply for some frosting :D thx so much for sharing!!

    [Reply]

  28. Kat October 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    Your photos are beautiful – the frosting is so white! I always fear with the yellow of the butter and the extracts that the frosting will be tinted yellow. If I follow the recipe exacty – it will be as white as yours, right?! I’m doing my best friend’s bridal shower cake this week and her wedding cake next month – I need to be sure that the frosting is as white as can be!

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  29. gunnersmomma October 21, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    I too am always looking for a good buttercream recipe. This was the first one I found in searching for a good one to top off my son’s 2nd birthday cake, and I tell you what… I will NEVER use another buttercream recipe again!

    This was so delicious, all the parents were asking me for the recipe, and there wasn’t a piece of cake left! I will post pictures of the cake on my website for those to see… it is the Toy Story themed cake.

    Thanks so much!!

    [Reply]

  30. lorena February 11, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    I never eat the frosting unless I am absolutely sure it’s just cream, or just chocolate.

    [Reply]

  31. Pat Testing Sheffield April 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    A really great recipe – I loved the multiple layers of buttercream, really keeps it nice and moist. Thanks!

    [Reply]

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    [Reply]

  33. Kimi November 24, 2014 at 3:17 am #

    look so cute :3

    [Reply]

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