• Start to Finish: 30 minutes
  • Servings: 5 cups, enough for a layer cake
  • Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate

You’ve gone to the trouble of baking a cake from scratch, so naturally you want to top it with a perfectly delicious frosting. None of that sugary canned stuff for you; you want to create it yourself. In the category of the good news, a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth buttercream frosting is a snap to make with just a few ingredients and an electric mixer.

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (use the best butter your budget allows)
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

Tips

Clear vanilla extract, although harder to find, makes for a whiter frosting.

Put the softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. If you don’t have access to a stand mixer, a hand mixer can do the job, but at a slower pace. On medium speed, cream the butter for four minutes — longer for a hand mixer — or until the color has lightened and the consistency is very smooth. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you mix. The longer you whip the butter, the lighter it will become, so let your eyes be your guide.

Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time and beat at medium speed until the sugar is fully incorporated. After each addition of sugar is blended, crank up the mixer to high for 10 seconds to get it all fluffy and then turn it back to medium to blend in the next round. After all the sugar is in the mix, turn the mixer to the highest speed and whip the mixture for another 20 seconds.

Add the vanilla and salt — omit the salt if you use salted butter — and keep on whipping. Turn the mixer to low and begin to add the cream 1 tablespoon at a time. Dribble it down the side of the bowl so that the mixer doesn’t throw it back in your face. Add cream until you reach the desired consistency. If, in the end, you decide you want a firmer frosting, add a little more powdered sugar.

Tips

Whipping in the sugar at high speed adds air to the frosting and lightens the yellow color of the butter. Using clear vanilla helps with the whiteness factor as well.

Your buttercream frosting is ready to go. Just cool your cake, cupcakes or cookies before applying the frosting.