This is a basic powdered sugar frosting recipe that comes together with just four ingredients. Use the vanilla frosting for cakes, cupcakes, or cookies!
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!
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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.
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Recipe and Food styling Tara Teaspoon. Cupcakes images: Ty Mecham. Updated March 2022.