White frosting in clear glass jar.
Cakes,  Desserts,  Recipes

Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe

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Making a cake or cupcakes? Vanilla Buttercream Frosting is the best way to make it complete. This recipe is my go-to frosting for most of my cake recipes.

Top view of white frosting in glass jar.

Its luscious, creamy texture and sweet vanilla flavor complement a variety of desserts, from red velvet cakes to carrot cupcakes. This easy recipe uses common pantry staples and comes together in just minutes, making it perfect for both novice and experienced bakers. With a few simple adjustments, you can customize this frosting to fit your needs, whether you desire a piping consistency for intricate decorations or a looser spread for a rustic charm.

Ingredients You Will Need

Ingredients in glass dishes on wooden board.

Powdered Sugar (also called Confectioners’ Sugar): This is the main source of sweetness in vanilla buttercream frosting. It dissolves much easier than granulated sugar due to the addition of cornstarch, which prevents the frosting from becoming gritty.

Softened Butter: Butter plays a few key roles. First, it creates a smooth and creamy base for the frosting. Second, creaming softened butter with the powdered sugar incorporates air, which makes the frosting light and fluffy. Using unsalted butter allows more control over the final taste.

Vanilla Extract: This adds the classic vanilla flavor that defines vanilla buttercream.

Boiling Water: Boiling water serves two purposes. First, it helps to dissolve any stubborn lumps of powdered sugar that might remain after creaming with the butter. Second, a small amount of hot water can help adjust the consistency of the frosting. If the frosting seems too thick, adding a teaspoon of boiling water at a time will help thin it out to a spreadable consistency.

Why You’ll Love Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

No Fancy Stuff: Forget about weird ingredients or spending hours in the kitchen. Vanilla buttercream is all about a few basic things whipped together.

Sniff and Smile: The smell of vanilla filling your kitchen while you make this frosting is pure happiness. It’s like baking therapy, but way tastier.

Confidence Booster: Because this frosting is so easy to win at, it’ll have you feeling like a baking pro in no time. Next thing you know, you’ll be whipping up fancy cakes like a champ!

Frequently Asked Questions

My frosting is too stiff/too thin! Adjust with powdered sugar (thicker) or water (thinner) a tablespoon at a time.

Should I use a whisk or electric mixer? An electric mixer will give you a smoother and creamier frosting, but a whisk works in a pinch.

How can I make my frosting extra smooth? After mixing everything together, use your mixer on low speed for a few minutes to beat out any sugar granules.

How long will my frosting last? Frosting keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for longer. Let it thaw and rewhip before using.

Substitutions and Variations

Butter Substitutions:

  • Shortening: For a whiter frosting or if you need it to hold its shape better in hot weather, substitute half the butter with vegetable shortening. The frosting will be slightly less flavorful.
  • Vegan Option: Use vegan butter sticks and non-dairy milk for a completely plant-based frosting.

Liquid Substitutions (instead of boiling water):

  • Milk or Cream: Skip the water altogether and use milk or heavy cream for a richer and creamier frosting. Remember, the less fat content (skim milk vs. heavy cream), the thinner the frosting will be.

Vanilla Extract Variations:

  • Different Extracts: Swap the vanilla for another extract like almond, peppermint, coconut, or maple for a whole new flavor profile.
  • Chocolate: For a chocolate twist, add cocoa powder in place of some of the powdered sugar (around ½ cup) for a rich chocolate buttercream.

What to Frost with Vanilla Buttercream

Cupcake in red wrapper with white frosting and sprinkles, topped with pink birthday candle.
Photo credit: YayImages.
  • Cakes: Classic layer cakes, sheet cakes, and bundt cakes get a delightful upgrade with vanilla buttercream.
  • Cupcakes: The most popular canvas for frosting fun! Vanilla buttercream is perfect for piping fancy swirls or simply spreading for a more rustic look.
  • Cookies: Sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, and even snickerdoodles get a sweet and creamy upgrade with a blanket of vanilla buttercream.
  • Brownies: Rich chocolate brownies get a delightful contrast in both taste and texture with a dollop of vanilla buttercream.
  • Cinnamon Rolls: The warm spice of cinnamon rolls pairs beautifully with the cool sweetness of vanilla buttercream.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

If you like Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, you may also like my Coconut Buttercream Frosting or my Homemade Vanilla Extract. This Vanilla Custard is also delicious.

Final Thoughts

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting is quite easy to make and very versatile. It’s the perfect frosting for almost every cake and dessert. Because of its simplicity, it’s easy to add your own mix-ins or colors to make it go with whatever dessert you’re making.

White frosting in clear glass jar.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Heidi Bruaw
This quick and easy vanilla buttercream frosting uses just a few ingredients. Whip up powdered sugar, softened butter, and vanilla extract, then gradually beat in boiling water for a smooth and creamy frosting.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 3 Cups


  • 6 Cups Powdered Sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons Butter softened
  • 3 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 6 Tablespoons Water boiling


  • Use a mixer to combine sugar, butter, and vanilla.
  • Add boiling water, a little at a time, beating well between each addition.
Keyword Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Pinterest pin for vanilla buttercream frosting.
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