Silky smooth, light and fluffy vanilla buttercream icing is perfect for topping and filling cake and a staple for many bakers.
Easy to make in just a few simple steps, you can mix up a batch of this perfect vanilla buttercream icing in about 5 to 10 minutes.
This has to be one of the most useful frosting in any bakers portfolio. Really versatile, you can use it for anything from a topping on a simple cupcake or a biscuit filling to celebration cakes and even a tiered wedding cake.
This easy vanilla buttercream icing is quick to make from just two main ingredients.
It goes with out saying that butter is the key ingredient to this frosting. You can use salted or unsalted butter and opinions are divided on which is best. Many recipes for this icing suggest unsalted. However a little salt brings out the flavour so they then often add salt.
I prefer to use salted butter to make buttercream as that is what I usually have in the fridge. Indeed I use a lightly salted butter in all my baking recipes unless there is a compelling reason not too.
If you want to control the exact amount of salt in your buttercream then you could of course use unsalted butter and add your own.
Different brands of butter have different salt levels, usually between 1 and 2%. Everyone's salt tolerances varies, so it is likely that if you prefer a saltier flavour then your preferred butter will have a higher salt content and vice versa. So by using your usual butter you will likely get the degree of saltiness just right for your tastes with no messing around.
So in answer to do you use salted or unsalted butter? It is entirely up to you.
Can I use margarine in place of butter?
Yes you can if you must, but the clue is in the name. Buttercream gets a lot of its flavour from butter which I feel tastes far better than margarine. I also prefer to use butter because it is a more natural product and not so heavily processed.
Icing sugar also known as confectioner sugar or powdered sugar is the 2nd main ingredient for this icing.
Icing sugar has a tendency to quickly absorb moisture from the air forming clumps which can be quite hard to remove once added to the softened butter so I recommend that you sift the icing sugar first to remove any lumps.
Golden icing sugar is a less refined sugar and you can use this to make buttercream however its golden colour will effect the end result which will be darker. If you then wish to colour the butter icing it may end up making a muddier colour.
I use vanilla extract (look for the words extract on the bottle, Vanilla flavouring is artificially produced) or paste. I find the paste a bit more concentrated so you use less but you will get tiny specks in the icing from the vanilla seeds as you can see in my images . Personally I like them but if you wish to avoid them use vanilla extract.
Buy a good quality vanilla extract I like Nielsen-Massey, or if you like you can make your own vanilla extract.
Alternatively you can scrape out the seeds from a vanilla pod again these will be visible in the finished frosting. Do not waste the pod stick it in a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.
Milk or Cream
Finally a little milk or cream is added to buttercream icing to mix it to the desired consistency (see below). You can use skimmed, semi-skimmed or full fat cream milk. In theory at least, adding full fat milk will give a creamier effect than skimmed or semi although I have found the difference negligible.
Ideally have the milk at room temperature and add slowly to prevent splitting.
You can also use single (light) or double (heavy) cream which I think does make it that little bit richer and creamier.
You do not need any special equipment to make butter cream just a large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon will suffice if you are prepared to put in a little elbow grease.
A sieve to get out those pesky lumps from the icing sugar.
Hand held or or stand electric mixers will take all the hard work out of mixing the ingredients
Beat the butter until light and fluffy.
Start with softened butter. The butter should be at a coolish room temperature and should just yield gently when pressed. Remember to get the butter out of the fridge to come to room temperature about an hour before you want to make the buttercream. Longer on cool days and less on hot.
Top Tip: How to quickly soften butter
If you forget and your butter is hard, cut into cubes then place on a plate. Fill a ceramic or glass bowl with very hot water until it feel warm on the outside. Tip out the water and quickly dry. Place the warm bowl over the plate of butter and leave for 5 minutes.
Do not be tempted to use a microwave to soften butter as you will likely end up with an oily mess. If you are using a stand mixer you may be able to get away with using butter straight from the fridge if you cut into cubes and beat for a few minutes on a low speed to soften.
Beat the softened until soft and fluffy.
Add the vanilla then add about half of the sieved icing sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.
Add the remaining icing sugar and beat again until light and fluffy. The buttercream should be spreadable, smooth and not grainy. Taste and beat in a a little more vanilla paste or extract if desired.
Top Tip: How to avoid covering the kitchen with icing sugar
It is an occupational hazard for many of us when baking. While you might not be able to completely avoid a haze of icing sugar escaping the bowl, I have found by adding the sugar a little at a time in step 3 and beating before adding more it will help to minimise the clouds of icing sugar.
And Remember mix on slow speed if using a mixer to begin with and increase the speed once the icing sugar is incorporated.
Add a little milk or cream a spoonful at a time until you get the desired constancy. Take care not to add too much or the buttercream will split.
Getting the correct consistency
Best for covering cakes especially if you want a smooth finish as a thinner consistency will spread more easily. Add extra milk or cream to thin. Start with 1 tbsp of milk than add extra a teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached . To test a spatula dipped into the butter cream will pull out easily with smooth peaks.
Best for piping around edge of cakes or top of cupcakes, so that the details of your piping are not lost. Start by adding just 1 tbsp of milk or cream and adding a little more only if required.
When piping flowers with petals that need to stand up you will need a firm consistency to hold its shape. The aim is to make the buttercream as thick as possible but not so thick that it is difficult to pipe. Try without any additional milk and add a little extra icing sugar to achieve a thicker consistency if required.
How much icing does this make?
This quantity will be enough to give 12 cupcakes a generous swirl or to cover and fill a 20cm (8in) double layer cake.
You may have some buttercream left over.
Top Tip: make a little more than you need
It is always best to make a little more than you actually need. This will make it easier to cover a cake and get the desired finish and make piping easier. It is very hard to pipe a pretty swirl of buttercream with an almost empty bag!
How long will buttercream keep?
It can be stored for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or frozen for up to 6 months.
I store decorated cakes in an airtight container at cool room temperature but when its hot they can also be kept in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.
If your buttercream has too many air bubbles to achieve a smooth finish which can result from over beating, use a wooden spoon and slowly stir the buttercream pushing it against the side of the bowl to burst the bubbles as you do so. It takes a little time but you will be able to rid the buttercream of most of those air holes.
You can use this basic method to make a variety of flavours.
- Replace the vanilla extract with a different flavoured extract such as lemon or orange.
- Dissolve some instant coffee powder in hot milk (then allow to cool and use to flavour the icing.
- Replace 2-3 tbsp of the icing sugar with cocoa powder for a chocolate frosting
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Easy Vanilla Buttercream
- 250 g (9oz) butter softened
- 500 g (1lb 2oz)icing sugar sieved
- 1-2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1-2 tbsp milk or cream optional
- Electric mixer
- Beat 250g (9oz) butter until light and fluffy.
- Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and about 250g (9oz) of the icing sugar and beat until well combined.
- Add the remaining 250g(9oz) of icing sugar a spoonful at a time beating on low speed until just combined. Then increase the speed and beat until light and fluffy. Taste and beat in a little more vanilla extract if desired
- Gradually add 1-2 tbsp milk if desired to create the correct consistency. See notes below.