There are many sorts of vanilla frosting, with different textures. The fluffy seven minute frosting is lovely, but breaks down quickly and is a little fussy to make. Many people love the frosting on cakes sold in grocery stores, but that stuff is half Crisco and I can't stand the film it leaves on my teeth. The pre-made, canned stuff will get the job done, but making your own doesn't take very long, and is a million times more satisfying.

This is a basic buttercream, dead simple to make and work with, made with the absolute minimum ingredients. Its flavor is strong and clean: VANILLA. For that reason, please use the real stuff. I can live with imitation extract when it's in the background, but in this, it would be fakey and awful. This is a perfect way to use homemade vanilla extract and get credit for doing so; people will be able to tell, both from the incredible flavor, and the little black flecks of real vanilla seeds against this pure white frosting.

This recipe makes enough to fill and frost a three-layer cake (about 8 cups). Half it as needed.


  • 0.75 cup (1.5 sticks / 6 oz / 340g) butter, salted or unsalted, room temp

  • 4 teaspoons (0.6 oz / 16g) vanilla extract

  • a pinch of salt

  • ~8 cups (~9.25 oz / ~270g) powdered confectioner's sugar, measured and then sifted

  • ~0.5 cup (4 oz / 125g) milk, anything but whole (or thinned-down whole)


Whip the butter with a mixer for a few minutes, until it looks fluffy.

Mix in vanilla and salt.

On low speed, mix in about half of the sugar, then about half the milk, then the rest of the sugar. You need all the sugar, but you may not need quite all the milk, or, you may need a little more. Add milk by very small amounts - spoonfuls - until you've reached a smooth, spreadable consistency.

Taste, and add more vanilla and/or salt to your liking. I find it almost always wants a little more of both.


Sift the sugar or you'll regret it.

This recipe is very bendable and forgiving. You can add more sugar or milk at any point to correct the consistency, as long as it's fully blended in. If you fuss back and forth with more milk, then more sugar, just remember to taste the final product to make sure the flavor is still what you want it to be.

This, and pretty much any butter cream-style frosting, can be made weeks ahead of time and kept in the fridge or freezer. The worst that can happen is that it will be hard to work with when cold (solved by time, or, if desperate, microwave) or it may dry out a tad (solved by a sprinkle of milk or water).

This pairs well with pretty much any cake. It's a lovely counterpoint to anything chocolate, and also does well as a vanilla-vanilla combo, provided you include enough salt in the frosting to keep it from being just sweet on top of sweet. This frosting on the elegant white vanilla cake, with a tart fruit filling and/or cinnamon sprinkled on top, is a showstopper; photo here.

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