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Vanilla Buttercream

I’ve come to realize that there is a simple, basic frosting recipe that is missing from my blog.  Sure, I’ve got recipes for white, cream cheese, chocolate, chocolate cream cheese, egg white chocolate, cherry chocolate, chocolate fudge, caramel, whipped caramel ganache, peanut butter, Oreo, raspberry, and lemon frostings (phew!), but no vanilla.

With as much cake as I obviously make, you may well be wondering why in the world I haven’t shared a basic vanilla buttercream recipe with you yet.  And the truth is, I haven’t posted one because before last week, I’d never made it.  Not once.  Seriously!

I prefer cream cheese frosting for most cakes, so I never needed to make something so simple as a basic vanilla frosting.  Until I started making my nephew’s 6th birthday cake and realized (*gasp*) I was out of cream cheese.  But as soon as I realized it, I was excited to make a new frosting, even if it was such a basic no-frills attached kind of buttercream.

If you don’t like cream cheese frosting, and your cake doesn’t have to be perfectly white, this is the one for you.  I based the recipe off of my celebration (white) frosting recipe and prefer it MUCH more because, come on, it’s made with real butter.  The only downside, which won’t matter in most cases, is that it is ivory colored, even if you use clear vanilla, because butter has a soft yellow hue.  This does affect the resulting color of your buttercream when you add icing colors to it, lending them warmth rather than the pure color advertised on the bottle.  My Mom once made a baby shower cake with real buttercream rather than white frosting and the pink turned out peach.  It was OK, but if the color scheme is very important to your cake, you should stick with the white celebration frosting recipe.

If you want to fancy this up a bit, use vanilla bean paste or scrape out a real vanilla bean in place of the vanilla in the recipe.  I imagine the little black flecks would make your cake so pretty!

Vanilla Buttercream

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 (2 lb.) bag powdered sugar
4 teaspoons real vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
Milk or cream to thin, if desired

Cream the butter with an electric mixer. Add remaining ingredients and beat on low until powdered sugar is moistened, then increase speed to medium and continue to beat for a few minutes longer, until smooth and creamy, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. I don’t thin mine, but if you want yours more creamy, add milk or cream a teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

*For celebration buttercream, use two teaspoons crème bouquet flavor emulsion and two teaspoons vanilla extract. If you want to keep the color as light as possible, use clear vanilla extract.

Just for fun, here are the cakes I’ve made for Owen through the years.  His first birthday was teddy-bear themed, and his cake was one of the first I ever decorated.  The trouble I had with it inspired me to learn how to decorate cakes so that it wouldn’t be as stressful in future.

https://i0.wp.com/a2.l3-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/140/7aec2a1bde3e416ab2dbb16c2aa393a9/l.jpg

His Mom (my youngest sister, Lacey), made his second birthday cake, which is the only one I didn’t make for him.  I guess I was slacking that year!  I thought this was a really cute and simple idea–using cereal to make a picture on top.

Lacey had a Sponge Bob luau for his third birthday, by which time I’d finally taken the basic Wilton cake decorating class.  I used a trick I learned in the class to transfer a picture from the internet onto the cake in clear gel so I could trace over it with colored icing.

https://i0.wp.com/a3.l3-images.myspacecdn.com/images01/63/aaa82308731bf2e8a52d60acf4d79d46/l.jpg

We went to the zoo for Owen’s 4th birthday so I gave his cake a zoo theme, cheating with some plastic toys and animal crackers.

https://i1.wp.com/a2.l3-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/11/93412935a29444f2a37aab65b701364c/l.jpg

He requested a “monster” party for his 5th birthday, and I had no idea how to make a monster cake so I asked him how he imagined his cake.  I made it exactly how he described it, which was a lot simpler than I would have done if left to my own devices, and he loved it!

This year’s dragon cake was the first shaped cake I’ve ever done.  Using that flat frosting tip pictured above really eased the frosting process–all I had to do was squirt and smooth.  (I actually use that tip for all my cakes, but it was especially handy frosting an uneven surface.)  Although I don’t enjoy decorating and do it only because I enjoy baking cakes and people, for some strange reason, expect birthday cakes to be decorated, I’m kind of excited to make future shaped cakes now that I know I can do it.  It was a lot easier than I thought!  I used the tutorial for the cake on Instructbables.  Creating an account is free, and if you make one, you can view each full-size step-by-step photo, which helped me a lot.

Update: Here’s his 7th birthday cake:

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About Veronica

I have a kitchen addiction and love to collect & share recipes. My passion is baking but I love to cook as well. The only thing I don't like to do in the kitchen is wash dishes, but my husband generally does them for me in exchange for his dinner.

26 responses »

  1. My goodness, you are talented. You have a very fotunate nephew. And I bet your cakes taste as good as they look. I’ve seen so many cakes where they were all about the look but they tasted terrible. My opinion is, the cake is primarily to eat,not just to look at so the taste should be the most important thing.

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  2. I remember you making the cake for his fifth birthday :) All your cakes look great!

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  3. Veronica, I always love when you show the base of the cake and how it turns out so good! Love the cake history for Owen!!

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  4. Basic buttercream, just what i needed!!! I so trust you on the whole cake/frosting thing because you are so good at it. LOVE the dragon, he is beautiful!!!!!!

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  5. What beautiful cakes! I love buttercream, but I tend to make cream cheese icing a lot too.

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  6. How timely! Thank you! My daughter’s birthday is Tuesday, and since we finally live in a place where I am allowed to take cupcakes into school, she was asking if I could do that as a special treat for her and her new friends. I looked at the prices at a gourmet cupcake bakery in town today and they get $37.50 for a dozen cupcakes! My daughter has eaten a cupcake from there before and she said it wasn’t so great: Too much frosting, and blah cake! I like to bake so I will be baking my own on Monday!

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    • There are places where you can’t bring cupcakes to school?! The horror! You’re def better off making them yourself–most places can’t compare to homemade. Your daughter is lucky to have a Mom that likes to bake!

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      • Yes! When we lived in Massachusetts there were all sorts of rules about food in school! A lot of it has to do with allergies. We’re fortunate to have moved to Texas in the last year, so this is her first birthday that she can enjoy celebrating at school! Whew! Just in time. She’s 12, so soon that window would have closed. I’m thrilled to be able to use my cupcake carrier. LOL! :)

        My daughter is more of a cake lover than a frosting lover, so the cupcakes from the fancy bakeries are not a big hit with her anyway.

        I am also making her favorite banana cake with cream cheese frosting for the family to enjoy at home! Lots of baking here this weekend!

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  7. I just baked Guinness Chocolate cupcakes, and I used cream cheese frosting. I can’t say I’m a fan of vanilla buttercream much because I just need a bit more tang to cut out that buttery richness of buttercream.

    Loved the other cake pics! You’re so talented, Veronica! :-)

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  8. Ummm you are amazing. Why have you not opened up a bakery yet? You’ve got SKILLZ girl!

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  9. This such an amazing looking cake! I have never done a big decorated (or shaped) cake like this. I love the icing too. I would definitely add vanilla paste but that is only because I like to add it to almost anything…haha.

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    • I’m so weird. I bought a jar of vanilla paste and keep saving it for something special. I’ve never used it b/c I guess nothing is “special” enough. Frosting is definitely worthy, though!

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  10. Yum, nothing look good old classic buttercream. Your cakes all look so amazing! You are so talented.

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  11. For someone who doesn’t enjoy decorationg cakes you are wonderful!
    If I may ask, what classes did you take? (if any). I love baking, and decorationg is equally as exciting to me as the baking, but I’m not so good. :P
    I made your mocha crunch cake for my mom’s birthday and that was my first time making buttercream, it turned out great and was delicious, thanks for all the recipes!

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    • I took the first two Wilton classes. I think there are four total but I didn’t care enough to continue. I learned the basics and that helped a lot. Check at your local crafts store or cake supply store to see if they offer the Wilton decorating classes–most do! Thanks for the feedback on the cake–I’m always excited to hear when someone has enjoyed one of my recipes. Yay!

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  12. Love the dragon cake! So cute! :) And thanks for the buttercream tip…I haven’t worked with it a lot and I haven’t really thought of it having a bit of a hue. Good to know for the future!

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  13. I was just wondering if the BRAND of powdered sugar mattered. I used Great Value (walmart brand) and it had a strange aftertaste.
    What kind do you use for frosting? Please share!

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    • It shouldn’t matter, no. I usually use Aldi brand, which I believe is even cheaper than Walmart’s, but have also used Walmart’s with success. I would think that bad butter or milk might be a more likely culprit for a bad aftertaste. Or maybe it was just a bad batch of sugar! I’ve never had any problem with any sugar I’ve used.

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  14. Hi Veronica… I have a question i have been testing buttercream frosting I can never get them stiff for piping on a cupcake. I tried the buttercream with crisco and I did not like the taste. I need something that will hold up in the heat and that is stiff please help me.

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    • Just add more powdered sugar until it is stiff enough. Try my cream cheese one up there–with 2 lbs of powdered sugar, it should hold up and the cream cheese tang offsets all that sugar a bit.

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