Buttercream 101

This post is dedicated to Buttercream Basics. Whip up a batch of my favorite Buttercream Frosting Recipe and let’s get creative!

Buttercream is basic, it’s delicious, and you need to know how to make it. Luckily it’s really simple to make, and WAY better than any canned frosting you could buy. And today I’m going to show you how easy it is to turn vanilla (white) buttercream into something completely unique!

Tips to Making Buttercream

If your buttercream is too stiff for your liking, add more milk.  Add it one teaspoon at a time while mixing until you get the consistency you’re after. If you’re looking for creamy, a little more milk will help you achieve that. If you want to pipe tall stiff roses, add a little less milk!

BUT if you have an oops and add too much milk, no worries!  Just add in some more powdered sugar.  Add 1/4 cup more at a time to get it back to the thickness you are after.

What Can You Add Into Buttercream Frosting?

Once you have your perfect buttercream, let’s get creative. You can add pretty much whatever you want.

Here are a few examples…

Here we have a delicious “Cookie Butter” (which is about the same consistency as peanut butter or Nutella), cinnamon and coconut extract.  These are just a few ideas…use your imagination!  What about caramel?  Or Strawberry jam?  Or pumpkin pie spice?  Or cereal?

** The Cookie Butter is the Trader Joe’s version of Biscoff spread.  It was just something I had on-hand that I thought would make a yummy buttercream.  It did.

Now.  Here’s where I want you to trust me.  I am not going to give you measurements…AND I want you to be ok with that.

For the experiment I separated some frosting into bowls…

For the first flavor I wanted to give the “Cookie Butter” a try.  (It tastes a little like the best graham cracker that you have ever eaten)

I took a large dollop and added that to the buttercream…

Then you know what I did?  I turned my mixer on.  That is all.

You can add more to create a more intense flavor or less for something a little more subtle.  You aren’t going to mess this up, people.

I repeated the process with peanut butter…If you add too much peanut butter and your frosting becomes too creamy what should you do?

Add more powdered sugar.  Trust me on this, the worst that can happen is your frosting will be too sweet…and is that REALLY a problem?  If you said yes, please leave now.

For my next batch I added some cinnamon and mixed away.  Use a light hand when adding spices, you can always add more…

This applies to extracts too…a little generally goes a long way.  If you MUST measure, start with 1/4 teaspoon and add more if you need to.  The only way to fix an over-extracted frosting is to add more frosting.

So with one batch of frosting I made four flavors of buttercream…Coconut, Peanut Butter, Snickerdoodle (the cinnamon) and Graham Cracker (using the “Cookie Butter”).

I frosted a batch of mini vanilla cupcakes with all the different flavors I made.

Garnish them however you like.

But see how easy that is?

Buttercream Frosting is really hard to mess up, so I want you to get creative with extracts and add-in flavors! Can’t wait to see what you create!

93 Responses

  1. Chris

    I LOVE how you don’t give measurements! I myself use “blips” of shortening and capfuls of milk 🙂 I made peanut butter buttercream and fresh strawberry buttercream. Delicious! Put the strawberry buttercream on Kiwi cupcakes. Everyone loved them. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Cookie Butter looks amazing! I want some. I live in rural USA, with nothing more than a walmart, so I’ll have to search around online 🙂
    LOVE buttercream. And you’re right, everyone needs to learn how to make this. Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, it enhances so much in the pastry world.

  3. I made cookie butter cookies out of Cookie Butter last week. And the week before, a cookie butter smoothie.

    I love Biscoff spread, TJ’s spread (but they are OUT in SoCal, no more of it…til a future date and no one knows when that will be….) so til then, it’s Biscoff spread OR the speculoos spread I found in Aruba that’s straight from Holland. The Dutch love their speculoos spread, too.

    Your buttercream looks amazing. Could I lick the bowl? 🙂

    1. elaine

      i just found out at the Original Trader JOes in Pasadena that they will have the Cookie Butter in stock mid February…i bought some candy bars with it last week, love it…

  4. oh delish! Those are great flavors. Cupcakes are my excuse to make and eat buttercream because you know when you swipe it out of the mixer there are no calories!

  5. I spent some time today setting my intentions for 2012 and working on my Why Not List? I fully believe that Us Weekly counts as non-fiction. It’s not like it’s STARR Magazine or something!

    One thing I will have to add is to be more creative with my recipes. I had TJ’s cookie butter in the house, but never thought to add to frosting. I bet that is amazing!

    Wishing you a Sweet Year!
    Thanks for all of the fun and colorful recipes!

  6. Great list of intentions! I think if you dipped those Brussels Sprouts into chocolate you might be able to choke down a few more of them… just a suggestion.
    Your cupcakes look great and I love the variation of color and texture. Very stunning picture!

  7. Stephanie

    I have the TJ Cookie Butter and my husband has been eating it out of the jar. His bday is tmrw and he wants a dense chocolate cake….do you think the Cookie Butter flavored buttercream would taste good on chocolate cake?

  8. I love the idea of “intentions.” I made some goals but intentions is a much better word for them. Thanks for the inspiration! This is a great post, I’m hooked on that cookie butter, time to make some buttercream with it!

  9. Patty Jensen

    I love your blog!!! Never thought about using the Cookie Butter. Without a doubt, Buttercream is my all time favorite frosting. For Christmas I used the cookie butter and made fudge. It was pretty awesome. Here is the recipe if you would like to try it out (I did post it on the http://www.cooktj.com website):


    1 c Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter
    14 oz Sweetened Condensed Milk
    8 oz Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
    3 T Butter, room temperature
    1 tsp Vanilla
    Sprinkle of Sea Salt (about ½ tsp)


    Prepare an 8×8 pan. To prepare either grease the pan with butter, or spray it with Pam, or line bottom and sides of pan with one large piece of parchment paper.
    In double boiler place first four ingredients (Cookie Butter, sweetened condensed milk, semi-sweet chocolate chips and butter). Please note: if you don’t have a double boiler use a heat proof bowl setting on top of a pan of water.
    Heat the water to a gentle boil (not a vigorous boil, as that will cause the end result to be grainy in texture).
    Continue to heat and stir until everything is melted. This should take about 8-10 minutes.
    Now add in the vanilla and stir to mix.
    Pour heated mixture into pan.
    Sprinkle with sea salt.
    Cover and place into fridge to harden. Should take about 2-3 hours.
    Cut into 1/2” pieces.
    Keep stored in tightly covered container and in fridge.


    Adapter from Giada DeLaurentiis and Cookin’ Canuck

  10. Kerry Varner

    You crack me up!! Love this post and the idea of adding flavor to such a yummy yet easy recipe, I really am like, duh, why didn’t I think of that. I do use vanilla extract when I make mine, and at times put a little dot of the extract behind my ears and on my wrist. I love the smell and why not! Very rarely I may add almond extract, but restrain from wearing it. I even added nutmeg to it once, which was very good. But I never thought of jam, or butters, imagine the flavor combinations now! Not only using one on a cake would be so good, too. Wow, making it cherry flavored and rolling it into balls and dipping them in melted chocolate, my mind is just a buzz with ideas, thank you!!!!

  11. Darleen

    Ok, all is well for folks who don’t measure…I’m not one. Can you give me an idea about how much I will be going shopping for? I get it that I can play around adding different things to make different flavors but what is the butter/shortening/powdered sugar ratio?
    I would also love to see a tutorial from you on piping your beautiful buttercream on muffins. Mine never look as professional as yours.
    Thank you for having patience with us beginners. Keep up the good work!

  12. Cookie Spread has been added to my shopping list for this week!

    Plus, I love your playlist, it looks a lot like mine and I have no intention to change my tunes 🙂

  13. I’m not going to make intentions. I’m just gonna do what you do. Sounds good. If you blow one, be sure to tell me so I can give up! I’m not so good at non royal icing. EMBARRASSING right. I intend to get better at the stuff you teach me. And to exercise. And taste and spit. Ask me next week how it’s going, LOL!

  14. I’m really glad you posted this. I’m often afraid of trying new frosting recipes. I have a decorator’s frosting and that’s all I ever use.

    I think I’d better go bake some cupcakes and see what I can come up with!


  15. Shelly, I’m glad your sense of humor is still going strong for the new year! 🙂 Thanks for the heads up regarding the cookie butter! I need to take more time when I shop at T.Joe’s. I am going to get some cookie butter pronto!

  16. Amanda

    I made this buttercream and used it to decorate Christmas cookies. Amazing! I am never going to use anything else. Thanks for the tutorial on how to change it up.

  17. Tracee

    Newbie here…in more ways than one. Hubs got me and our daughter a Kitchenaid for Christmas and we’re having a ball making cupcakes! I found a recipe for a flour-based icing (on pioneer woman’s website) that we REALLY like. However, I’m struggling with how to change it up to chocolate, or mocha, or any other flavor. Any suggestions? Buttercream is pretty straight forward and is a balancing act of milk vs. sugar. This other stuff…not so much. Help!!

    1. shelly

      I have seen that frosting and my mom used to use it on a red velvet cake she always made.
      I would imagine to make it chocolate, the best thing you could do is add either some cocoa powder, or for a richer taste, add some melted semi sweet chocolate, but you might have to increase the milk if you do that. I would play around with it a bit, but not being familiar with making that frosting I am not sure how adaptable it is. So sorry…

  18. “the worst that can happen is your frosting will be too sweet…and is that REALLY a problem? If you said yes, please leave now.” Haha! Did ANYone say yes?!? There is never “too sweet” frosting in my book!

    I can’t wait to try this! I like that you use some shortening…sometimes buttercream tastes too buttery to me. Yes, weird.

  19. Ok your music selection seems fine by me. I love Stereo Hearts by Gym Class Heros! Your frosting looks perfect! Now I want to make a cake. Cake is a breakfast food right?

  20. Great post Shelly!! I’ve never thought to make several flavors from one batch!!

    question………I use half and half in my buttercream, I’ve never used milk – what % milk do you use? We drink 2% and I guess I always figured it would be to runny for butter cream

    1. shelly

      You know, I know some people swear by half and half or heavy cream…but I have literally done side by side comparisons (for research purposes) and I can’t tell. There is so much fat in butter and shortening that the little bit added by milk isn’t missed, IMO.
      BUT, with that said, I use whole milk, because that’s what my kids drink and we always have that on hand. I can’t imagine that 2% would make a whole lot of difference, though 🙂

  21. I finally made buttercream for the first time on Sunday (thanks to your post). Unfortunately, I tried someone else’s recipe which of course, was not nearly as good once I realized the differences between the two. (I prefer my buttercream more buttery than sweet.) Thank you for the instructions – it will be what I do next time.

  22. linda

    you make it look so yummy and easy! I tried it the other night but it ended up being very grainy? I added a hint of concentrated food coloring gel, could that have had an affect?

  23. linda

    Also I dont have a stand mixer or electric hand mixer either, just doing it the good old fashioned way, does that affect the consistency? thanks!

    1. shelly


      Yes…the mixer situation will make the difference for sure. For this type of buttercream you need the electric mixer, that would definitely lead to the grainy texture 🙁

  24. I just made your yummy buttercream recipe and it turned out perfect! I’m waiting for my cakes to cool so I can frost them….but I have a question. Does this need to be refrigerated once it’s on the cakes or can it be left out on the counter?

    1. shelly

      Well, I don’t refrigerate my cakes once they are frosted. The only time I do that is if it’s a super warm day.
      If you aren’t covering the cake right away, yes I would refrigerate it, but otherwise, I don’t.

  25. With a true buttercream addiction, you might never need my little tip, but i occasionally need about a half a cup of frosting. I need this for the cookies from a mix I make for my husband and boys. It gets even easier–instead of dropping each cookie onto a baking sheet, I line a baking dish with foil and make a gigantic cookie bar, which might need icing. So for the icing, I start with a tablespoon of butter and melt it in the microwave and start adding powdered sugar and milk until I have the right consistency.

  26. Becky

    I was so sad to see shortening as a recipe. Shortening is such an archaic and harmful ingredient. One of the beauties of making something from scratch is you leave out the harmful stuff that the grocery store cans of frosting have. Would love to see other recipes from this person if they don’t have shortening.

    1. shelly

      You could certainly sub in butter for shortening, totally a personal preference. As I stated in the post I use it because it holds up better to warmer temperatures but there is no reason you couldn’t use all butter. Thanks for the comment.

  27. annie

    Mmmmmmm! It sounds so yummy! Can’t wait to try different flavors! Does this buttercream need to be refrigerated since it has milk & butter?

  28. Mary Ann Scholl

    What store do you usually find cookie butter at? And what is the cookie butter located next to in the store? Thanks!!!

  29. Wow! My family had 6 bakeries so I grew up with goodies but everyone is now gone so I have to bake – not a good thing for the people who have to eat it. This is wonderful! Now if only I could find my grandfather’s wedding cake recipe for less than 200 people. It wa so dense and rich! Thanks for the recipe.

  30. I made this today for my son’s birthday cupcakes. With using you basics and adding honey, it came out amazing! Usually my buttercreams come out very grainy but not this time. And this was all done with a regular electric beater…No Paddle Attachment. I’ve read you must use this to a hieve the right consistency but I wasn’t about to run out and buy a kitchen aid mixer. So when it was time to add the sugar I put the sucker in high speed while gradually adding the sugar. It came out amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. This buttercream will most definitely be a staple of mine for cupcakes to come.

  31. You may or may not have just changed my life, but you certainly changed my level of baking bravery! I am a crafter and a self-taught cook, but I have always been a fearful baker. Confession: I make cupcakes with no frosting because store-bought frosting is weird and I thought it was way too hard to make a good buttercream at home. This post was a game changer.

    1. shelly

      I love hearing that!! Really, it’s basically impossible to mess up, I promise. Too dry, add more milk or cream…to wet? add more powdered sugar. Can’t wait to hear if you try it!

  32. Sara

    Hi I’m planning to make a caramel buttercream soon and have a few questions. Should I add less sugar to compensate for the sweetness of the caramel? Also I’m using a homemade caramel recipe that involves only sugar and milk and I know caramel can be a little touchy.. Do you think it will be ok to add to a buttercream?

    1. Shelly

      I wouldn’t adjust your caramel recipe. I might add a little less powdered sugar to the frosting, and depending on how thin your caramel is you might be able to omit the milk!

  33. Stephanie

    Hi Shelly, I just wanted to ask, why does my buttercream get like a crusting effect? I don’t like it, it doesn’t stay soft and buttery. If I’m making cupcakes or a simple cake the night before and serve it the next day just leaving it out of the refrigerator in a covered sealed box the buttercream doesn’t stay nice and soft like ones from the store bought cupcakes (eek). The next day it becomes pretty hard. Any ideas why? Thank you!!!

    1. Shelly

      You can up the fat in your frosting or use less sugar to make it stay softer…or use a bit more milk…I like when the frosting gets that crusted effect, but that’s just my personal preference… try using less sugar next time and let me know!

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