David Lesniak's Vanilla Buttercream

The ultimate vanilla buttercream recipe from David Lesniak, one of America's best-loved food writers. Learn how to make perfect buttercream today!

Baked in America
From the book Baked in America
By &


Talk about a staple of our repertoire! We practically make this one in our sleep. Used for all sorts of things, this can easily be swayed anywhere in the spectrum by adding food color, so it lends itself to a wide variety of uses, be it for cupcakes, layers or even whoopie pies. Kids love this not only for the taste but because it's the one real chance we have to provide them with bolder colors. Adding jam or fruit purée will also lend color, just not as intense. If that's your preference, reduce the milk to 4fl oz / 120ml / ½ cup to compensate for the added moisture. Nine times out of ten we fiddle with consistency toward the end by adding a bit more powdered sugar. The water content of butter varies enough per brand and it's this sort of recipe that reveals this kitchen factoid. For a Lemon or Orange Buttercream, substitute freshly squeezed juice for the milk and add 1 tbsp freshly grated zest to the butter and sugar before creaming. The acid from the juice may require you to add a touch more icing sugar to get the same consistency as the Vanilla Buttercream. Switch the milk to puréed strawberries and, hey presto, you have another flavor entirely! How amazing is that?!

Enough to fill and frost one 3-layer cake or frost 36 cupcakes


36-48 oz / 1050-1400g / 6-8 cups confectioner's or icing sugar
6fl oz / 180ml / ¾ cup whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 pinch kosher salt
1 tsp food color for pastels (optional)
1-2 tbsp food color, for bolder colors (optional)
12 oz / 350g / 1½ cups unsalted butter, softened

Essential kit

You will need an electric mixer.


In a mixing bowl, stir together the sugar, milk, vanilla, salt and food color, if using, and mix on a low speed until almost combined. This will help reduce the mess of powdered sugar exploding from the bowl, as well as incorporate the color more evenly. Bit by bit, add the softened butter and increase the speed to medium-high. Beat for about 5-6 minutes or until light and fluffy. If you're tinting this frosting, be sure to scrape the bowl up from the bottom to reduce / eliminate streaks of color. Often we finish mixing by hand using a rubber spatula.

Once you achieve the desired consistency, spread the frosting with a metal spatula or palette knife. This can be made ahead of time, but if you do, it may be necessary to beat it for 1 to 2 minutes to loosen it up again to a spreadable consistency.

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