How to Make the Perfect Vanilla Buttercream

Buttercream Insiders: What are the ingredients for?

Since buttercream is a no-bake dessert and the amount of each ingredient doesn't significantly affect the final product, you can add more or less of each ingredient to entirely suit your taste. But what is each ingredient and what does it do?

Unsalted Butter

Butter typically has no sodium, or salt. Salted butter contains about 90mg of salt per tablespoon. While salted and unsalted butter can be used interchangably in recipes, we prefer using unsalted butter as it allows control over the final flavor composition of your recipe.

Whipping the butter before adding in the other ingredients is also very important. When you whip the butter, you are introducing air, causing the butter to become lighter and fluffier. This allows your final product to be fluffier, and it will help you to have more buttercream!

Butter in buttercream frosting is what gives it that airy and creamy texture. It also gives the frosting the ability to be shaped when piped onto cupcakes or cakes, unlike royal icing that runs and is more liquid than solid.

Confectioners Sugar

Confectioners sugar (aka powdered sugar) is simply granulated white sugar that had been grinded to a very fine powder, and many companies mix in a small portion of cornstarch that prevents the sugar from clumping.

Although confectioners sugar and granulated sugar are pretty much the same thing, their textures are completely different and using the wrong sugar could ruin a recipe. Granulated sugar is perfect for any sort of solid dessert you will be baking, such as cookies, brownies, or cakes. Odds are that if it doesn't specify confectioners sugar, granulated sugar is the one for the job. Confectioners sugar is best for icings and frostings, such as on cakes, sugar cookies, or cinnamon rolls. Using confectioners sugar will keep the frostings smooth and creamy, while using granulated sugar will cause them to be grainy and slightly crunchy.

Now you might be asking yourself, "If confectioners sugar is already so fine, why bother sifting it?" This technique of sifting already fine ingredients such as confectioners sugar (and other dry ingredients for other recipes) is often overlooked and avoided because it seems like an unnecessary hassle. Sifting these ingredients helps remove clumps, adds air, and makes the final product noticably smoother.

Confectioners sugar and butter combine to give buttercream its creamy texture and sweet taste. The rest of the ingredients round out the flavor profile.

Evaporated Milk

Milk is predominantly water. Evaporated Milk is made by taking milk and evaporated roughly 60% of its water content, leaving you with a thicker and slightly sweeter milk, with a similar consistancy to half-and-half.

Using evaporated milk in buttercream gives it more of a creaminess than regular milk, but it is perfectly fine to substitute evaporated milk in buttercream for regular milk, either whole, low fat or skim.

Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is made from vanilla beans soaked in a water and ethyl alcohol mixture. Vanilla extract has a very strong vanilla flavor, and on its own it is very bitter from the ethyl alcohol. However, adding a small amount of vanilla to recipes gives the finished product and slight, delicious vanilla flavor and helps to enhance the otehr flavors present.

Vanilla extract in this buttercream recipe gives it a nice, subtle vanilla flavor and smell.


Salt is very popular seasoning, used world wide and for centuries. Salt can change the texture of bread depending on how much you add, can help gelatinize proteins in cheeses and meats, and help retain moisture in processed meats. Salts two most popular uses are for preserving foods and for flavoring. Salt draws moisture out of food, preventing food-spoiling microbes from growing on that moisture. Salt also gives food that savory flavor that leaves you craving more.

While salt has many purposes for many different types of food, its main purpose in buttercream is to balance out the sweet flavor, and to give a nice savory undertone to compliment the rest of the dessert.

Vanilla Buttercream

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Yields: 2-3 cups


  • 2 sticks Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
  • 2 cups Confectioners Sugar (sifted)
  • 4 tsp Evaporated Milk (can be substituted with regular milk)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • Food Coloring (optional)


  1. Whip the butter on medium high speed until light and fluffy.
  2. Sift in half of the sugar (1 cup). Mix until combined, scraping the edges with a rubber spatula as needed.
  3. Add the evaporated milk, the vanilla extract, and the salt. Mix until well combined.
  4. Sift in the rest of the sugar and mix thoroughly.
  5. Add an optional 1-3 drops of food coloring for a pop of color, pipe onto any cake or cupcake, and enjoy!