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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.

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.

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.

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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