Bake

Our Best American-Style Buttercream

May 14, 2021
5 Stars
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

American buttercream, compared to Swiss, and click here for some DIY natural dyes) last. Swipe American-stye buttercream onto layer cakes thinly to trap any errant crumbs, chill until firm, then frost again, more thickly, for an elegant but simple cake. Buttercream hardens in the fridge—which is great for setting your artwork—but do let the (cup)cake come to room temperature before enjoying. Our resident pastry expert, these other five. —Erin Jeanne McDowell

Test Kitchen Notes

Bake It Up a Notch is a column by Resident Baking BFF Erin Jeanne McDowell. Each month, she'll help take our baking game to the next level, teaching us all the need-to-know tips and techniques and showing us all the mistakes we might make along the way. Today, a very sweet lesson in all things frostings, icings, and glazes. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Our Best American-Style Buttercream
  • Prep time 3 minutes
  • Cook time 7 minutes
  • Makes about 3 cups
Ingredients
  • 1 cup (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 pound (454 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 g) vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup 1/3 cup (60-80 g) milk or heavy cream, at room temperature
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat room temperature butter until light and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar (to prevent it exploding upward when you turn on the mixer), and mix on medium-low speed to combine. Once all the sugar is added, raise speed to medium-high and cream until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla extract or other flavoring and mix to combine. If using milk or cream, pour it in and mix just until incorporated. The buttercream can be used immediately or refrigerated in an airtight container.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Teri McBrearty Graves
    Teri McBrearty Graves
  • Sarah O
    Sarah O
  • Julia McCabe
    Julia McCabe
  • Erin Jeanne McDowell
    Erin Jeanne McDowell
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, came out on November 10th, 2020, and my pie merch collaboration with Food52 is out now too: https://food52.com/shop/merchants/manifest-food52/food52-x-erin-mcdowell

8 Reviews

tdombrow September 8, 2021
I just made this frosting for some birthday cupcakes. I wanted to be fancy, so I used 1tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of vanilla and made a "Mexican" style chocolate frosting. I guess it was a hit because there weren't any left.
 
Teri M. April 19, 2021
Hi, Erin...thank you for all the great vid tutorials and tips; much appreciated! I am struggling, however, with buttercream and I assume it's due to my altitude and dry climate. For instance, yours with 1 c butter : 1 pound of confectioner's sugar, along with another i tried that was 4 sticks butter : 1 pound of confectioner's sugar, are both yielding really dry and stiff buttercream, even with the recommended 2 TBSP - 1/4 c. milk or heavy cream blended in. My butter cream doesn't come out at the consistency of mayo...rather it is stiff and crusts quickly. i really suspect it's due to the dry climate and 6500 foot altitude but, perhaps it is something totally different. in any event, i am super discouraged. any additional suggestions would be welcome! teri graves - elizabeth, colorado
 
Author Comment
Erin J. April 19, 2021
Hi Teri! American buttercream is a thicker icing and will crust over eventually - but it shouldn’t too quickly to be difficult to work with. I suspect you’re right - your climate is contributing to the mixture needing more moisture. A few things you can try:
-use less sugar! You could probably use 3 cups (340 g). The icing will be less thick and less sweet, but as the sweetest icing out there, it can definitely stand to be less sweet without sacrificing deliciousness!
-start with butter that’s on the warm side of room temperature- it should have some shine to the surface. Using warmer butter will allow it to blend with the sugar a bit faster and more evenly in the early stages of mixing.
-you can add as much milk or cream as you need to make the mixture more fluid (note: it will blend better if it’s at room temperature) - even using other ingredients to contribute moisture: sour cream, yogurt, etc. !

Happy Baking!
 
Teri M. April 20, 2021
Erin, thank you so much; really appreciate it!!!
 
Sarah O. December 21, 2017
What are the benefits of adding milk or cream? (Aka, why is it optional?) Looking forward to trying this out!
 
Julia C. December 23, 2016
To get rid of the taste of raw cornstarch added to confectioners sugar, I've found heating and stirring the sugar over low heat for up to a minute or two works. It completely takes away that raw or burning taste some people experience with this type frosting.
 
Jolie January 15, 2018
I'm confused...Why would there be a taste of raw cornstarch? Does commercial confectioner's sugar have cornstarch?
So much I don't know...
 
Julia M. March 8, 2016
in the last couple of years, I've started using French buttercream as my go to frosting, but I still have a little nostalgia for the American version that my mother put on our birthday cakes growing up. Her tips for a rich taste are to use the best butter you can find, like kerrygold or from a local dairy, and to beat in an egg yolk.