This quick, easy recipe for vanilla American buttercream is creamy, fluffy, and rich; it whips up in 5 minutes, and is the perfect frosting for cakes and cupcakes!
You know those thick, luscious, swirls of buttercream? I mean the swoon-worthy swirls that caress and glide in waves over cake. Yup, this is that frosting.
It bears noting that this simple buttercream isn't only good for frosting cakes; it's also great for decorating cakes! I recently make a Cannoli Cake (which I'll be sharing the recipe for soon), and I used this buttercream to pipe pretty decorations on top.
With a velvety-smooth texture, buttery sweet vanilla flavor, and gorgeous vanilla bean flecks, this is sure to become your new favorite frosting.
And did I mention that it takes just 5 minutes to make?!
Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe
Vanilla Frosting Ingredients
In this section I explain the ingredients and give substitution ideas. For the full recipe (including ingredient amounts), see the recipe card below.
- Unsalted butter - if possible use good-quality butter because you'll be able to taste its flavor; make sure it's at room temperature
- Pure vanilla extract - for flavor and aroma
- Vanilla bean paste - this adds gorgeous flecks of vanilla bean throughout the frosting; if you don't have vanilla bean paste, you can use the scrapings from 1 vanilla pod instead, or double the amount of vanilla extract
- Salt - this is to balance the flavor profile and make sure our buttercream frosting isn't overly sweet
- Powdered sugar - along with the butter, powdered sugar is the base of American buttercream
- Heavy whipping cream - cream is the secret ingredient that makes our vanilla buttercream lusciously rich and velvety; if you don't have cream, you can use any kind of milk instead, but start with just a little bit less (2 ½ tablespoons or so) and add more as necessary
Pro Tip: To Prevent Grainy Buttercream
For the most smooth and creamy American buttercream frosting, make sure both your butter and heavy whipping cream (or milk) are at room temperature.
How to Make Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Add the butter, vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, and salt to a large bowl.
- Use a handheld electric mixer to beat until well-combined.
- Add the powdered sugar and cream.
- Beat until smooth and creamy.
Pro Tip: Easy Fixes for American Buttercream
If the buttercream is too thick, add a splash more cream; if it’s too runny, add a little more powdered sugar.
Storage and Reusing
You can store American buttercream in an airtight container on the countertop for up to 3 days, in the fridge for up to 10 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
To store buttercream, I like to use a glass food storage container with a lid. I smooth out the top of the buttercream, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the frosting, and then secure the lid.
After refrigerating buttercream, let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before using. After freezing, thaw the buttercream overnight in the fridge, and then let it sit at 15 minutes before using.
If your buttercream has been refrigerated or frozen, I like to beat it again briefly to make it smooth and creamy again. You can add a splash of cream or milk if necessary to achieve the right consistency.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe FAQs
What Type of Frosting is Good For Cakes?
You're going to want to think about three things when you decide which frosting to pair with a specific cake:
- Flavor. Make sure the frosting flavor compliments the cake's flavor. For example, cream cheese frosting is a common choice with carrot cake, and fudgy chocolate frosting is popular with yellow cake. You can think of this vanilla frosting as the universal frosting because it pairs well with just about any kind of cake!
- Stability. This basically means how well the frosting will hold up at room temperature. For example, whipped cream (if it's not stabilized) doesn't hold up well for long. Again, this vanilla buttercream frosting is a winner; it holds up incredibly well without refrigeration (up to 3 days!). Just don't leave it in the direct sunlight and it'll be fine at room temperature.
- Difficulty to make. Unless you're a professional baker, odds are you don't really feel like making a complex, drawn-out frosting where you have to heat egg whites, get out your stand mixer, make meringue, ever-so-slowly incorporate butter, etc. Luckily, this incredible fuss-free vanilla buttercream frosting recipe whips up in just 5 minutes!
Is American Buttercream too Sweet?
Like any other flavor, this is subjective and will change depending on who you're talking to.
Personally, I find that this recipe for American buttercream has a balanced flavor profile, and doesn't just taste sweet. This is thanks to a combination of vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, and most importantly a touch of salt.
Does Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Have to Be Refrigerated?
First, let's differentiate because there are many different types of buttercream, such as French, Swiss, Italian, German, Russian, etc. Here, we are specifically talking about this recipe for American buttercream.
The short answer: American buttercream frosting does not need to be refrigerated.
Once you make this American buttercream frosting, you can leave it in an airtight container on your countertop at room temperature for up to 3 days. After 3 days, move the container to the fridge for up to 1 week more.
If you frost a cake or cupcakes with this American buttercream, you can leave the frosted cake or cupcakes wrapped at room temperature for up to 3 days. After 3 days, move the cake or cupcakes to the fridge for up to 4 days more.
The Science Behind Refrigerating Buttercream
I remember my grandfather always had a stick of butter in a lidded butter dish on the countertop. He buttered everything (generously!), and lived to a ripe old age of 90-something.
But the point is, he kept his butter at room temperature. And I always wondered about it!
According to the USDA:
Butter and margarine are safe at room temperature. However, if butter is left out at room temperature for several days, the flavor can turn rancid so it's best to leave out whatever you can use within a day or two.USDA.gov
Don't forget, it's not just regular butter we're talking about: it's buttercream! American buttercream has a lot of sugar in it, as well as a little bit of salt, both of which are natural food preservatives.
Livestrong explains how sugar and salt preserve food naturally:
Salt and sugar act to increase osmotic pressure, which stops the flow of water. This destroys some bacteria and slows decay while promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and working together to improve taste. Salt and sugar also reduce the water content in food, giving them a longer shelf life.Livestrong
And there you have it. That's why simple American buttercream frosting doesn't need to be refrigerated, at least not right away!
Cakes That Pair Well with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Mini Victoria Sponge Cake Recipe - these gorgeous cupcake-sized Victoria Sponges are filled with buttercream and jam
- The Best Carrot Cake - if cream cheese frosting isn't your thing, vanilla buttercream is another delicious option on carrot cake
- Decadent Chocolate Valentine's Day Cake - if chocolate frosting on chocolate cake is a little too much for you, use vanilla buttercream to frost this decadent cake
American Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe
- Add the butter, vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, and salt to a large bowl, and use a handheld electric mixer to beat until well-combined. Add the powdered sugar and cream, and beat until smooth and creamy.
- If the buttercream is too thick, add a splash more cream; if it’s too runny, add a little more powdered sugar.
- Recipe Yield: This recipe makes about 3 ¼ to 3 ½ cups of buttercream.
- What Size Cake Can You Frost with This Buttercream: This makes enough frosting to frost and decorate the top and sides (not the middle) of one 3-layer 9-inch-round cake. For cupcakes, this amount will generously frost 24 cupcakes if you're piping the frosting on, and if you're using a butter knife to thinly spread the frosting on, you'll be able to frost about 48 cupcakes.
- If You're Doubling the Recipe: I recommend using a stand mixer instead of a handheld mixer.