This past weekend involved a lot of homemade vanilla buttercream frosting. Like, a ridiculous amount of frosting.
Between Cookie Monster cake and Elmo cupcakes for Little E’s birthday party and more Elmo cupcakes for daycare treats, my kitchen counter has seen a continuous cycle of butter, sugar and food coloring the past few days.
By the way, these Sesame Street designs did not originate in my head. Pinterest played a large part.
And oooh myyy goooodness, that Cookie Monster cake – that was SO much fun to make. The design was inspired by Confessions of a Cookbook Queen. I used different recipes for my cake and frosting but I used her recipes for the chocolate chip cookie dough filling and ganache which were both quite decadent and delicious!
I was always hesitant when it came to homemade frosting. Would it be too gritty? Would it be too sweet? Would it hold up?
But I’ve found this combination of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and cream that leads to the best and easiest homemade vanilla buttercream frosting ever!
Some recipes call for vegetable shortening but I just couldn’t fathom eating that much uncooked vegetable shortening. Even if it was paired with butter, sugar and cream. I just couldn’t do it.
Some frosting recipes use granulated sugar but I’ve found that as those sit, they become grainy and tend to be too sweet.
But this recipe…it’s my new go-to for all things cake, cupcake and birthday related. The butter makes it rich and decadent, the powdered sugar makes it sweet but not too sweet, the vanilla adds the delicious flavor and the heavy whipping cream makes it smooth and creamy.
Throughout this birthday baking extravaganza, I also learned and solidified a few tips when it comes to buttercream.
Tips for Working with Homemade Vanilla Buttercream
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#1 REMEMBER TO SOFTEN THE BUTTER. It will make your life so much easier. This should be obvious but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gathered all of the ingredients for a recipe only to realize that I needed softened butter. I had to add “take butter out” to my list of birthday party to-do’s so I would be sure not to forget. I usually take the butter out 1-2 hours prior to using it.
If you don’t have that long to wait, I’ve found that you can place a stick of butter (still in the paper wrapper) in the microwave for about four seconds per side, rotating to three or four sides, until the butter is softened. Just don’t step away from the microwave or you’ll have a puddle of melted butter!
#2 GO FOR THE COLORING GEL. If you’re looking for deep, dark colors for your buttercream frosting, go with the Wilton food coloring gel rather than the traditional liquid food coloring which may make your frosting too runny for piping.
I used almost an entire 1 oz. container of gel for the red Elmo buttercream frosting.
#3 BUY THE REUSABLE PIPING BAGS. I will make every effort to save a penny but when it comes to piping bags, just get the disposable ones. I use these Wilton piping bags that came with my decorating kit. Once you’ve plowed through an entire bowl of frosting to decorate umpteen cupcakes, the last thing you’ll want to do is scrub out a slippery, buttery, piping bag. Trust me, it’s a sweet, colorful mess. Plus, I’ve never been able to get them 100% clean and free of buttery residue anyway.
If you’re in a pinch and don’t have actual piping bags on hand, just use a regular zip-lock bag fitted with a piping tip.
#4 BUTTERCREAM IS VERY FORGIVING. Once you start working with it, it will become warm from the heat of your hands. Simply stick the piping bag in the fridge to chill down and spend that time on the next stage of cake or cupcake decorating or tidy up your kitchen counters a bit.
You can also make this homemade buttercream a few days in advance and store it in the fridge to cut down on all of the last minute prep work for your celebration. Just like the butter, make sure to take the made-in-advance buttercream out of the fridge about 30 minutes prior to using it so it can soften.
#5 BUTTERCREAM IS USER FRIENDLY. Before you get started on your cake or cupcakes, test your piping skills and design on a piece of clean foil or waxed paper. If you think you’ll be short on frosting, you can always add it back to the piping bag.
If you’re not thrilled with the design once you’ve piped on your cake or cupcakes, carefully remove the frosting and start over. You won’t be able to tell frosting was removed if you cover it back up with more frosting. Just don’t reuse the buttercream you removed so you won’t have cake crumbs in the frosting.
#6 AN OFFSET SPATULA IS YOUR FRIEND. Before I owned an offset spatula, I struggled when it came to getting a smooth finish on frosted cakes. A butter knife or regular spatula just doesn’t cut it. I don’t use this utensil every day but when you need it, it’s great to have on hand.
The Best Homemade Vanilla Buttercream
This homemade vanilla buttercream frosting is perfect for a simple cake decoration or themed birthday party cupcakes.
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 T vanilla extract
- 3 T heavy whipping cream
- Colored icing gel (optional)
Add the softened butter and powdered sugar to a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment. To avoid powdered sugar dusted countertops, turn the mixer on low to incorporate the butter and powdered sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip until well combined and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the vanilla and heavy cream and whip again on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
If desired, add colored icing gel. Start with a small amount and whip until the gel is thoroughly combined. Alternate between adding more gel and mixing the frosting until the desired color is achieved.
- This recipe will frost about 24 cupcakes (depending on the amount needed for your design) or one round, two-layer cake.