This is a basic powdered sugar frosting recipe that comes together with just four ingredients. Use the vanilla frosting for cakes, cupcakes, or cookies!
This recipe for homemade vanilla frosting is so versatile and readers love it! It's my most popular frosting recipe. Close seconds are my Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Lemon Royal Icing.
When it comes to frosting, the taste is key — and this fluffy vanilla frosting is delicious. This is a homemade frosting made with powdered sugar and butter, so you do have that sugary mouthfeel.
It's classic childhood frosting, and much like what you'd find on top of cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery in New York.
This easy vanilla frosting is made with four basic ingredients: unsalted butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and salt.
I haven't added any milk to this version because I use it for piping decorations as well as filling cake layers and icing. Plus, eliminating the milk results in an ultra fluffy frosting rather than a thick and creamy one.
The thicker consistency without milk is necessary for piping out of a decorating bag, but also works for spreading on top of a cupcakes and cake.
The piped decorations hold their shape, but still taste light and smooth in your mouth. Looser icings can droop and fall when designs are piped.
Tip: If you want a frosting that is a bit looser for swooping or spreading on cookies, just add a tiny bit of milk at the end. Mix it up and check the texture as you go.
How to Make Vanilla Frosting
To make the frosting, I recommend a stand mixer, like this one from Kitchenaid. You don't want the butter too soft so a mixer is excellent at creaming the just-barely-room-temperature butter.
I use the paddle attachment, not the whisk. I find the whisk incorporates more air into the frosting than I like.
Once you've got your mixer set up, you'll need to beat the butter until smooth.
There is no melting the butter here, people! Just softened butter, not even room temperature (I find that's too warm, but maybe I keep my rooms too hot!). Just soft enough to mix into a smooth situation.
That's the trick. I like to smooth my butter and add the sugar a little at a time, mixing the sugar in completely before adding more. You NEVER get lumps this way because you start out with smooth butter. And the sugar has plenty of time to mix in completely.
Once the butter come together, simply stir in the vanilla and salt!
Coloring Vanilla Frosting
This fluffy frosting takes color perfectly. You can use liquid food coloring drops for a pastel tint. For a deeper color use gel paste food coloring.
Gel paste food coloring won't add too much liquid to your thick, pipe-able frosting, but will add intense tint.
To experiment with mixing colors, blend a small spoonful of frosting in a bowl with your desired color drops. Make intense color bases this way and then stir parts of that spoonful into your larger batch to get the color you want.
Can I Use a Hand Mixer Instead of a Stand Mixer?
Yes, but it just takes a bit more time. If you have to use a hand mixer, I recommend a powerful one like this.
Can This Recipe Be Made Vegan?
Yes! To make vegan vanilla frosting I use Miyokos vegan butter. It is a cashew butter with live cultures mixed in.
How Long Does Frosting Last?
This frosting will keep covered on the counter for several days and in the fridge for about two weeks. Bring refrigerated frosting to room temperature and give it a good stir before using.
Desserts Using Vanilla Frosting
This fluffy frosting is perfect for decorating cakes, cupcakes, cookies and cookie bars, and more! Here are some desserts I've paired this easy vanilla frosting with:
- One-Pan Sugar Cookie Bars
- Spring Flower Cupcakes
- Vanilla Cupcakes
- Simple Birthday Cupcakes
- Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
Tips for the Best Vanilla Frosting
- To create smooth swoops: Beat the frosting on a lower speed after all the sugar has been incorporated. This will smooth out a lot of the air bubbles that formed in the mixing process. Adding a tiny drop of milk can help as well.
- Butter temp: Make sure your butter is soft but not warm. Sometimes room temperature is too soft. If your butter is on the warm side, just chill the frosting a little before using it for piping decorations.
- If piping: Stir well before adding to your piping bags so there are no cold lumps.
Let me know how it went!
Scroll to the bottom of the page to rate ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and comment on this recipe. Leaving comments helps other too!
More Frosting Recipes to Try
- Old Fashioned Caramel Icing
- Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
- Classic Cream Cheese Frosting
- Milk Chocolate Frosting
Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
- 2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks) softened
- 6 cups confectioners’ sugar sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch fine salt
- In a mixing bowl or bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.
- Add confectioners' sugar ½ cup at a time, mixing well and scraping down sides of bowl occasionally.
- Beat in vanilla and salt; stir until smooth.
The best frosting recipes to make
About Tara Teaspoon
I’ve been in the food publishing business for over 20 years, creating recipes & food-styling for magazines, books, television & advertising. Order my new cookbook & stick around for amazing things to eat.
Recipe and Food styling Tara Teaspoon. Cupcakes images: Ty Mecham. Updated March 2022.
Cadence Mistsea says
This did not work for me.
Let me know what happened and I can walk you through some tips. It's pretty failsafe!
Me neither. But you can easily make some changes
Will gel coloring change the consistency of this frosting?
Hi! No it won't! I love using gel coloring. And unless you are adding a lot (like a tablespoon) the consistency won't change.
How much butter and sugar do I add
The amounts are up in the recipe!
Um. This sucked... there wasn’t any moisture in my mix, so i had to dump it. Back to store bought frosting...
Hey negative Nelly! It's frosting! There's no mix, it's confectioners' sugar and butter. Plus I included a tip for adding milk to make it softer if you like.
This looks amazing!! I'm excited to try it. Do you have piping bags you recommend? I have some big ones I got, but they often break and explode all over the place and it drives me crazy! I'd love any advice you have. Thanks!
There are definitely flimsy piping bags out there. I use Ateco or Wilson ( https://amzn.to/2nQmskW )that I buy in the boxes for everyday jobs. For thicker frostings and mashed potatoes try these sturdy disposable bags: https://amzn.to/2oE5syD . I also buy in bulk because it's so much more economical. For around $10 I have a supply that won't run out for a long time!
Brianna Mejia says
hi!! I know that a lot of recipes add whipping cream to the frosting, is there a reason why you didn’t?
This recipe is great without cream or milk. If you'd like to add cream you can. It will make the frosting a bit looser and it won't pipe as well. I also don't prefer cream because it changes the texture when air is beaten in.
That’s really rude I’ve made this 2 times and its always worked out and I’m only 10 !!
I’m planning on using this recipe today for a cake I’m making. I only have salted butter though.........can I still make it without it tasting too salty? I hate to waste ingredients if it won’t taste good.
Sent you an email! So glad you are trying it. My mom actually uses salted butter and loves it! It's still delish, just leave out the pinch of salt!
I tried this recipe I used salted butter and left out the salt and used whipping cream instead of regular milk and it was so good it was just perfect thank you for sharing this recipe
Same here- only have salted butter around! Any suggestions?
Feel free to make it with salted butter! My mom actually prefers it with salted butter! Just leave out the pinch of salt in the recipe.
Mary Bench says
This is a keeper! Love it!
Brittany Smart says
Oh yum!! I'm afraid I'd eat the whole batch haha
This is perfect. My daughter used it on cupcakes at her lemonade stand and they were a hit! Thanks for the recipe.
Oh fantastic. I'm so glad you liked it. It's my go-to!
This worked really well! I made cupcakes for my best friends birthday, and it was so good, they made me go back home and make some more! Great job, Tara! Two thumbs up!
I liked the recipe a little bit and it was easy to follow, but I would recommend something to make it more light and fluffier. I would recommend this recipe as a cake frosting to a friend.
Glad you liked it a bit! I find as I continue to beat in the sugar it creates a fluffy frosting. For a less fluffy frosting simply beat it less. Thanks for recommending this!
Amazing! Thanks so much. Turned out great for my chocolate cake. Great easy last minute recipe.
Oh I'm thrilled. Fantastic.
mine came out a little watery sos😞
Im making this today and your chick cupcakes!! The only thing that Im concerned with...is my piping the frosting will never look like yours!! lol, I always think it looks so easy..."NO PROBLEM"...but I must practice more! I know this is a little late to ask this, but I really love a fluffy marshmallow frosting (like 7 minute icing), I would love to use something like that, but am worried that I won't be able to have the same look. Maybe for a future cupcake, you could recommend something? Wish me luck!!! And Happy Easter...
Hi, Tara, I was planning on using the frosting to ice a cake but I was wondering if this frosting has to be refrigerated or is it safe to leave out for a couple of days.
Sugar acts as a preservative. You would be just fine to leave this frosting out for several days.
Loved this! I added the bit of milk at the end and was perfect!
Oh fantastic!! I’m glad you adjusted it as needed!
I am planning to use this to cover 2 large cakes, each twice the size of a 9x13. How many batches of this should I make do you think?
Hi Kathryn! Twice the size of a 9x13 would be a half sheet pan (sheet cake) size, correct? Depending on how thick you want the frosting it will take about 2 1/2 to 3 cups to frost a half sheet pan sized cake with one layer. This recipe makes about 5 cups. I think you would just have enough with one recipe. But, I like to have extra frosting rather than not enough. My suggestion would be to 1 1/2 times the recipe to get about 7 1/2 cups total. Use 6 sticks butter, 9 cups confectioners' sugar, 2 tsp vanilla and two pinches of salt.
CHELSI MILLER says
I have a happy little boy! Whipped this up to drizzle over the little piggy shaped pancakes I made, didnt want to bother with a mixer this morning so I used a fork! My butter sits on my counter and we were out of milk and this worked perfect! Wasn't hard to make smooth with the fork for what I needed!
CHELSI MILLER says
I dont think I did the stars! 5 for sure!
Can I leave out the vanilla extract if I don’t have it?
Yes for sure. It simply gives a lovely essence. Not necessary for success.
How do I make strawberry frosting and Chocolate?
Hi Rebecca! I have several great chocolate frostings. This one is fantastic and easy. For strawberry frosting, I suggest using freeze dried strawberries and crushing them to a fine powder. Add the powder to the Fluffy Vanilla Frosting to taste. You can add a little red food coloring if you want more red color.
can I half the recipe?
Absolutely! Everything divides quite easily and it turns out really well!
If I only have 3 sticks how much of the other ingredients will I use?
Hi Briana, You're taking out 1/4 of the butter. So take out 1/4 of the confectioners' sugar. Use 5 1/2 cups with 3 sticks of butter. Use as much vanilla as you'd like. 1/2 teaspoon should be fine for flavor. I always add a pinch of salt.
Hello! Do you need to sift the powdered sugar? I use another recipe where you do.
I actually don't. Because you add it a little at a time, it has a chance to blend in well. That being said, if your confectioners' sugar is particularly lumpy or a bit dry and the lumps don't fall apart easily, this is when you'd want to sift before stirring in.
Hi, please help! I made this frosting but it is grainy and now it seems to be sitting. What can I add to make it fluffy again?? I want to use it on cake.
I used icing sugar and normal butter. I let it sit out and I live in warm place. I think that killed it's fluffiness.. 🙁 any help would be appreciated.
Okay I stuck it in freezer for some time so it looks fine again. But it's grainy. What can I do to make it smoother??
Hi! Yes, if the frosting sits at room temperature the butter will get warm and the frosting will almost look like its separating. I find that just chilling it a bit, then re-beating it in the mixer helps. It will bring it back to the texture you want. Because of the confectioners' sugar (icing sugar), the frosting is inherently grainy, but immediately melts on your tongue. I do not recommend using Trader Joes confectioners' sugar because it is not as smooth as other brands. If you are in the UK, find the most fine, powdery icing sugar you can. •Beating the icing on a medium-low speed should smooth it out as well, rather than incorporating air on a high speed. You can also add a tiny bit of milk if you need it to be a softer consistency.
My grandson is allergic to dairy. Can I substitute the butter with crisco?
Hi! Absolutely. You will not get the same flavor and may want to use half butter-flavor crisco and half regular to get a bit of butter flavor in there. I would also strongly suggest a vegan butter alternative like Earth Balance or Miyoko's. My favorite is Miyoko's for flavor.
I am probably one of the least creative people I know, but I would love to be able to decorate a cake, nothing fancy, just basic and cute. I have tried several different piping recipes, but am finding them really, really stodgy. I have a big sweet tooth, but man oh man, these toppings are just too sweet and heavy. Have you got any suggestions for one that is less sweet and yet lasts for a few days at a time? Would love to keep trying. Many thanks.
Hi! I totally get it! When you have an entire cake, frosted and then decorated with frosting piping, it can sometimes be too much, and too sweet. This Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream is made with confectioners', or powdered sugar. It also has a ton of delicious butter that helps cut the intense sugar. However, I have just the frosting for you if you want something not too sweet and heavy! https://tarateaspoon.com/meringue-buttercream/ My Swiss Meringue Buttercream is an cooked egg white and sugar based icing, also with lots of butter. But the meringue creates a light, silky frosting and the taste becomes less cloying. It pipes beautifully. I think you'll really like it.
Hi there, I’m looking to decorate sugar cookies with this recipe but am wondering if I stack cookies on top of decorated cookies will I mess up the decorated cookies underneath? Thanks!
Tara Teaspoon says
Great question Breanna. Fluffy Vanilla Frosting will develop a thin crust after decorating the cookies, but it will not be enough to withstand stacking and yes, I'm afraid the decorated cookies would be get smushed. Laying the cookies out single layer will be best. Happy decorating! Tara
I just ran out of butter and all I have left is margarine. Can I use that instead 😟
This frosting made my mixer thing brake and it was not fluffy we had it add milk
I'm sorry your mixer broke. Sounds like your butter may have been quite cold, or your confectioners' sugar was dense and needed to be sifted. It's a straight forward recipe, so I hope you enjoyed ithe taste and used it once you got the milk in there.
Margarine will produce a frosting with the same texture, but the flavor will be completely different. I do not care for the flavor of margarine and so I don't recommend it. However if you are ok with the taste, you can substitute it.
I added lemon zest and a bit of lemon juice and it was perfect for my ( of course) lemon cake ! Everyone loved it. I will definitely do it again. Thank you for the recipe
Hi Tara, this looks delicious! Can I substitute a non-dairy "butter"? If so, can you suggest any? I've used Fleischmann's unsalted and I've recently started to use Country Crock Plant "Butter".
Hi! Yes!! I have tried both of those substitutes and don’t like the flavor, even though the frosting texture was great. I like MIYOKO’S brand of cultured non dairy butter. It does get soft fast. Use it chilled and keep the frosting on the cooler side when working with it!
This is my go-to frosting from now on. I got so many compliments on it and have passed your recipe on to others. Side note: I had a little left from frosting cupcakes and two soft sugar cookies calling for attention. I sandwiched the frosting between them and ohmigod, yes! I will be making stuffed cookies in the near future with your frosting in the middle. Thank you!
Love to hear it!!!! Sandwich cookies for the win! Thanks for the note.
I have never successfully made buttercream frosting before but this one turned out perfect! I halved the recipe since I was only icing a dozen cupcakes but it turned out great anyways.
Tara Teaspoon says
Great to hear Samantha! This recipe wis easily halved and turns out great either way. Tara
Tina Edwards says
I made this tonight, it turned out delicious. Thank you for sharing.
How many cupcakes will this cover? 12 or 24?
This will cover 24 cupcakes easily. If you are piping on a lot of frosting it will be tight for 24, but just spreading about 3/8-inch thick on top is great.
Oh my gosh! Best vanilla icing ever! I cut the recipe in half because I did not need quite that much. I used 1 stick of salted butter and 1 stick unsalted butter and nixed the pinch of salt. It came out perfect. So light and fluffy and spread on my very delicious banana cake very easily. Thanks for the recipe! I will be using again and again.
I'm thrilled you liked it. And great idea using the two kinds of butter! Genius!
The recipe worked great! It made my cake! It was super simple and easy, I used a little less icing sugar than it called for but it worked great. It even worked for piping "Happy Birthday" on it using just a a ziplock witha poked hole in it.
Tara Teaspoon says
Thank you for sharing Ariel and I'm so glad to hear you found ways to make it work for your recipe. Tara
Ellie June says
This icing was awful. It tasted like straight up butter. We had people complaining about the taste. The only good thing about it was the texture.
Also I thought that the recipe was not specific enough. How much is a pinch?
I'm sad you didn't like my highest rated recipe. I would hope it tasted like butter--it's a buttercream frosting! A pinch is pretty standard and has been written in recipes since the 1800s. If you'd like a measurement, many people use 1/16 teaspoon as a measurement for "a pinch." Some people use 1/8 teaspoon. Calling for a pinch of an ingredient in a recipe means the difference between that 1/16 and 1/8 doesn't matter. I'm happy to hear you liked the texture though.
Hi! I was wondering if I could add carmeal to the frosting? Or would it ruin it?
Hi there Tara, I am just wondering if this recipe will cover a 3 layer 6 inch cake? Thanks in advance
This is the best fluffy non dairy icing! I’ve not tried other recipes, this was my first one and I’ve stuck to it! My grandson has dairy allergies, and when I was asked to make his bday cake, I went on the search for a non dairy icing and found this one. It was a hit! No one believed it was non dairy. I used the new Country Crock plant base butter made with avacado oil. I’ve made this icing 10 + times, starting Aug 2019 through 2020. I’ve been put in charge in making my 7 grandkiddos bday cakes.
Thank you Tara for your work on formulating this icing recipe. So easy, and perfect ever time!
Tara Teaspoon says
Rose, thank you for sharing your experience! I am thrilled you and your family have enjoyed the recipe so many times. Tara
What would the ingredients amount be for 1 cup of frosting?
Hi Neha, You can divide the recipe by 5 to get the amounts. I suggest simply cutting it in half though. Making just 1 cup of frosting is tedius and the leftover frosting freezes well if you'd like. Half a recipe would be: 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt.
Would it do anything to the frosting if I warmed the butter in the microwave a little bit? Just to soften it faster?
I think that's a great technique, but you don't want it too soft. Just BARELY soften it. Honestly, if you are using a stand mixer you can let the mixer do a lot of the work before you add the sugar. Just a few seconds in the micro, and then let the paddle attachment soften it a bit longer than usual.
Ok thx. I didnt do it. turns out my butter was soft enough. But I might do it next time. I tried the recipe but when it was finished and on the cupcakes it was a little too sweet. But overall great frosting recipe.😁
Oh I'm glad it worked out!! Yes, it's a sweet frosting. Totally sugar! I love it for cupcakes and cookies. If you want to try one that is less cloying, try my Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It's a hit. https://tarateaspoon.com/meringue-buttercream/
Really surprised at some of the negative comments, this is my go-to frosting! It's been a hit with everyone thats tasted it, people always ask for the recipe.
Tara T. says
Love to hear it! It's a great recipe!
Nice generous amount and covered my layer cake with some to spare. I did set some aside to use for piping, then added a tiny bit a milk to make it a little looser for on the cake.
Tara Teaspoon says
Perfect! I'm so happy it worked well for you!
Randi Wolf says
So glad I found this recipe! The icing came out great – I love the fluffy consistency. Very easy to spread over cake. After icing the cake, I saved a bit of it overnight (with plastic wrap over the bowl on the counter) to use for piping. Added just a touch of milk and it was very easy to pipe. My guests thought it tasted delicious too. Thank you Tara!
Tara Teaspoon says
So happy to hear it! It's definitely a crowd-pleaser!
karen connors says
Came out perfect! Thanks.
I am using this recipe for the second time and I absolutely love it......Thank you...... This recipe is a KEEPER and my new FAVORITE. 👍👍
Renate Hoekman says
I have been looking for this receipt for a long time. Glad to have found it. We enjoy fluffy frosting. I like to bake for my family.
I’m a rebel I guess😉 I used a hand mixer, salted butter and even made one fourth of the recipe for 12 cupcakes and it was delicious! Who knew that whipping the butter would create such a light fluffy frosting?! Loved it and thank you! This is my new go to frosting. Tastes like you went to so much effort.