This easy vanilla buttercream icing recipe comes from 1985 and uses real butter and vanilla to get that delicious flavor and perfect consistency. It’s easy to make, easy to use, and oh-so-yummy on your cakes!
Why you want this recipe:
- perfect for frosting cakes and cupcakes
- holds shape for piped roses, borders, and more
- no cooking or meringue required
- easy beginner recipe
- tons of flavor variations
- the perfect sweetness level!
My mom loves decorating cakes. I used to be fascinated by her collection of Wilton Yearbooks — an old magazine with ideas and patterns for creating very 80’s looking cakes from buttercream. Fondant cake wasn’t really a thing back then, and the look of those old cakes is very different from what we’re used to!
Although Wilton changed up its American buttercream recipe (which was printed in the back of those Yearbooks) each year, my mom always stuck with the 1985 Wilton buttercream icing. Why? Because while new recipes might yield a whiter color, or use less sugar, the 1985 version was hands-down the best. It’s easy to make, and combines the rich flavors of butter and vanilla with a silky smooth texture.
I’m sticking with that old Wilton buttercream frosting recipe too (with just a few tweaks of my own) — the 80s may have had *interesting taste* in clothes, but their frosting game was bodacious!
What ingredients do I need for Homemade Vanilla Buttercream Icing?
While I know that many folks have issues with using shortening in frosting, vegetable shortening is the easiest way to get structure in your icing. You want those piped roses and borders to stay clean and crisp? Shortening will give you the best results. Don’t worry; there’s enough butter in this recipe that you’ll still get a gorgeously buttery taste!
I recommend brand name Crisco for this. Store brands are often much softer, and Crisco is consistently thick. You can even use the butter flavored Crisco if you want to up the flavor!
For this recipe, I recommend unsalted butter. You can use salted butter, but if you do, you’ll want to adjust the salt or even omit it.
Your butter needs to be room temperature before using it. This helps you get that perfectly smooth and silky consistency. Butter that’s too cold will leave chunks and give your frosting a gritty texture.
Also known as icing sugar or confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar holds this whole thing together!
If you want your frosting to be whiter, you can use clear vanilla extract. In my opinion, nothing beats the flavor of real vanilla extract. I have a tip on how to make your frosting whiter using food coloring later in this post!
Salt offsets the sweetness of the powdered sugar. If you like sweeter frosting, you can use less salt. I like a teaspoon — I think it compliments the flavors best!
Your last step will be to adjust the consistency of the frosting. You can use a variety of liquids to make the adjustments, including water, milk, light corn syrup and heavy cream. I’m a fan of milk usually, but if I’m going to use the frosting for writing, light corn syrup helps it to be more smooth and flexible.
Purple Food Coloring
This is the secret for getting white buttercream when using real butter and vanilla. You’re only going to need the tiniest bit of this, and I recommend gel like this since it’s easier to manage the amounts.
What equipment do I need for Vanilla Buttercream Icing?
This recipe is somewhat hard to do by hand. You’ll want to use some kind of electric mixer. I have a Bosch stand mixer that I love, but back in the old days, I used my trusty KitchenAid hand mixer from the thrift store. Your hand might get tired, but you’ll get gorgeously smooth buttercream!
A rubber spatula is excellent for scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Measuring Spoons and Cups
*Disclosure: these are affiliate links. If you purchase something from these link, I will receive a portion of the profit. However, all opinions and recommendations are my own. I will only ever recommend something I love!
How do I make easy Vanilla Buttercream?
Step 1 | Cream Shortening, Butter, and Vanilla
In a large bowl, cream your shortening, butter, and vanilla together at medium speed. Make sure that your butter and shortening are smooth. Room temperature butter really helps with this! As you mix them together, remember to use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that everything gets mixed in.
Step 2 | Add Powdered Sugar
The secret to not coating your entire kitchen is to add the powdered sugar a little bit at a time, and use a low speed on your mixer. I usually add 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time, mix it in, then scrape down the sides with my spatula before adding any more.
At this stage, your frosting will be very thick — almost like playdough. If that’s too much for your mixer, you can add a little of the liquid in to thin the frosting.
Step 3 | Adjust Consistency
Depending on what you are going to use your buttercream for, you will need either stiff, medium, or thin consistency. For a description of each level and how to check for consistency, see the section “Notes on Consistency” below. It’s not exaggerating to say that consistency will make or break your decorating!
Once you’ve decided on a consistency, mix the liquid in a 1/2 Tbsp at a time, checking in between until your frosting is where you want it.
Step 4 | Dim the Yellow
Use an extremely small amount of purple food coloring to offset the yellow color of the buttercream. The cool tones of the purple will “dim” the warm yellow tones of the butter. The frosting will read as much more white!
Be careful with amounts. You don’t want to use too much here — it’s better to use not enough and then add more. If you do use too much, you’ll tint the frosting purple.
Notes on Consistency
Consistency refers to how thick and malleable your frosting is. If you’ve ever ripped pieces off your cake while frosting it (too stiff), or had your roses wilt right after you finished piping them (too thin), then you’ve been a victim of using the wrong consistency.
Using the right consistency frosting and letting cakes cool completely before frosting will fix 90% of beginning cake decorators’ cake issues!
Stiff consistency is best for piping stuff that you want to hold a free-standing shape. For instance, piped roses are going to need stiff consistency.
This is the thickest form. To check for stiff consistency, get a big old glob of your icing on a butter knife. Then, try to shake it off. If it takes more than 2 shakes, you’ve got stiff frosting!
Medium consistency is best for piping stuff that has a distinct shape, but stays flatter. For instance, stars, drop flower, and shell borders work best with medium consistency.
To check for medium consistency, get a big old glob of your icing on a butter knife. Then, try to shake it off. Your frosting should take a couple of tries, but it will fall off.
Thin consistency is best for frosting cakes and writing.
To check for thin consistency, get a big old glob of your icing on a butter knife. It will fall off easily when you shake the knife.
So the absolute best part of this recipe is how versatile it is. You can make so many flavors with just a few changes, and the buttercream keeps its consistency, making it super easy to pipe and decorate with, no matter what flavor you’re using!
To get pure white frosting, switch out the butter for an equal amount of Crisco. Use clear vanilla extract in order to maintain that white color. Pure white icing does not have the same buttery flavor, but you will get that crisp, clean white color!
For chocolate frosting, add 1/4 cup cocoa and increase milk by 1-2 Tbsp. Use Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa to make dark chocolate! (That’s my favorite!)
Add 1 tsp cinnamon to base recipe. Really. That’s it. This is fantastic for fall — it goes great on pumpkin chocolate chip bars!
Substitute lemon juice for the milk. This one comes out a fluffy, gorgeous white, but it has a gorgeous springy lemon taste.
Strawberry/Raspberry/Blueberry/Mixed Berry/Stone Fruit, etc.
In place of one tablespoon of milk, use a tablespoon of jam or jelly. Jam makes the frosting really pretty since you get tiny flakes of the berry or fruit in the final product.
Coloring, Storing, and Freezing
It’s best to use gel colors in this frosting. Liquid food coloring changes the consistency of the icing, and we all know how important that is!
You can store leftover buttercream in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week. If you’re planning to reuse it, make sure to let it come to room temperature and give it a good stir before you try to frost with it!
Buttercream can be frozen for up to 3 months. Put it in a freezer-safe airtight container. Make sure to let it completely thaw before using.
You want frosting to be at room temperature before using. You can put frozen buttercream in the fridge overnight, then put it on the counter for about an hour. Make sure to rewhip it or stir it vigorously before using. Freezing can add texture to that silky smoothness, and stirring smooths it back out again!
Ideas for Using Your Buttercream
Homemade Vanilla Buttercream
- ½ cup shortening
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp milk or water
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- Cream shortening, butter, salt, and vanilla.1/2 cup shortening, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp salt
- With mixer on low, add powdered sugar in small amounts and mix until completely combined.4 cups powdered sugar
- Add water or milk in 1/2 Tbsp amounts until the desired consistency is reached.2 Tbsp milk or water