Start to Finish: 15 minutes
Servings: 3 1/2 to 4 cups
Difficulty: Beginner

Buttercream icing is an easy go-to icing option for both beginning bakers and those looking for a quick recipe. Buttercream icing spreads well and complements the flavor of many cakes, making it a great choice for a birthday cake. For a standard-sized cake — an 8- or 9-inch two-layer round cake or a 9-by-13-inch one-layer cake — you’ll need 3 to 3 1/2 cups of buttercream icing to evenly cover the cake.

Tips

It’s usually best to make a little more icing than you think you’ll need in case an area needs an extra touch-up, you want a thicker layer of icing or you can’t resist sneaking a couple of tastes. This recipe yields approximately 1/2 cup more icing than the minimum recommendation, for your benefit. You can refrigerate any leftover icing for three to five days.

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 5 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons milk

Tips

Clear vanilla extract keeps the buttercream icing from being tinted in color. If you want a pure white buttercream icing, replace the butter with more shortening.

Soften the butter slightly and mix it with the shortening at medium-low speed.

Add the powdered sugar in increments, mixing it with the butter and shortening until its fully incorporated. The icing will be somewhat stiff at this point.

Mix in the vanilla extract and the milk. Start with 3 tablespoons of milk, and if the frosting isn’t smooth enough for your preference, add another tablespoon and mix the icing to a smooth consistency.

Decorate the birthday cake as desired.

Buttercream icing has a number of variations you can try. Chocolate buttercream is made with cocoa powder, or use lemon or almond extract for a different twist. Add food coloring, a few drops at a time, to tint or color the icing. Bourbon, brandy or other liqueurs can also add special flavor. Because the icing isn’t cooked, use liquors or liqueurs only for birthday cakes served to those over 21 years of age.

Tips

Use the zest from citrus fruit like orange or key lime and the corresponding juice for a bold fruit flavor.