Two kinds of people live in this world: cake people and non-cake people. People who relish the first bite of a piece of chocolate cake and spend all dinner thinking about dessert, will start salivating when you carry out a cake topped with homemade frosting. And people who don’t care much for cake might be converted by fluffy, rich frosting made from pure ingredients. Forget about packaged frosting that sits on your grocer’s shelf — whipping up a batch of heavenly frosting is easier than you think, and well worth your effort. With two different options, a basic vanilla buttercream and a chocolate buttercream, you can frost a two-layer cake with each recipe.

Things You'll Need

Basic Buttercream

Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and 1/2 cup (2 sticks) of softened, unsalted butter into your mixing bowl or your electric stand mixer. Add the sugar to the butter one cup at a time. After you add each cup of sugar, blend the sugar and butter lightly with a mixing spoon and then beat on low for two minutes, using the rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and mix for one minute on low.

Add 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract into the mixing bowl and blend on medium for three minutes until the frosting is well blended. For a flavor that might be new to your guests, try lemon, orange extract (or, grated orange rind) or raspberry extract, instead of vanilla. Each flavor is well suited to stand as a solitary complement to the vanilla buttercream, but some bakers prefer combinations, while others prefer a single top note. Vanilla as a top note with a hint of lemon, or lemon as a top note with a hint of vanilla works well. You can also experiment with vanilla-raspberry flavors or lemon-orange flavors. It is important to have a single top note as your dominant flavor, and then use a smaller quantity of your secondary flavor. Be sure to taste as you go along.

Beat the buttercream and your flavoring on high speed for two minutes, or until they are combined. When it’s ready, the butter should look and feel fluffy — try scooping out a tiny bit with a spoon so you can touch it — and any flavorings should appear evenly distributed.

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of heavy cream to make the frosting a bit softer and lighter. Add more if you wish, mixing in one tablespoon at a time until you’ve reached your desired consistency. The frosting needs to be stiff enough to hold its shape.

Add a few drops of food coloring if you wish to tint the vanilla buttercream. If you have vanilla-lemon buttercream, you might want to tint your frosting a pale yellow. Or, if you have a raspberry buttercream, tint your buttercream a pale pink.

Chocolate Buttercream

Melt 6 oz ounces of unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler over low heat. Stay close to the stove and stir the chocolate frequently, since it can burn if you leave it unattended. It should be completely smooth and shiny when it’s fully melted, and this will take about five minutes or so.

Remove the double boiler from the heat, when the chocolate is fully melted and let the chocolate come to room temperature. Pour the melted chocolate into your mixing bowl.

Add 6 cups of sugar to the melted unsweetened chocolate. Add the sugar slowly, one cup at a time, stirring with a mixing spoon.

Add 1 cup (2 sticks) of softened unsalted butter to your sweetened chocolate mixture. Stir lightly, with a mixing spoon. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (more, if you wish). Beat on low for three minutes until well blended, using a rubber spatula to scape the sides of the bowl. Beat on medium for another three minutes, adding a few tablespoons of heavy cream to keep the chocolate buttercream moist. Beat on high for two to three minutes, adding more cream if necessary.

Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of almond flavoring to your chocolate buttercream, if you wish to give the frosting that unique, decadent, old-World, marzipan-like flavor. Add more almond flavoring if you wish, but taste as you go along, to ensure the proportions are right.


  • Frosting is not the place to sacrifice quality. Using margarine or sugar substitute will make for grainy or a strange tasting frosting. Use real butter and powdered sugar. Opt for pure vanilla extract over imitation extract.