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1-2-3 Vanilla Frosting

Makes about 4 cups

20 minutes

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American-style buttercream, made by beating butter with powdered sugar and a little milk, is one of the easiest types of frosting to make, but it tends to be cloyingly sweet, with a noticeable granularity from the sugar. This 1-2-3 formula—1 cup cream, 2 sticks of butter and 3 cups of powdered sugar—is nearly as simple and failsafe, but the cream, beaten in at the end, yields a more elegant frosting with a lighter flavor and fluffier, more supple texture. If you like, replace the vanilla extract with a tablespoon of grated lemon or orange zest, or make the chocolate variation below. This recipe makes enough to fill and frost an 8- or 9-inch two-layer cake, with an additional cup or so for piping and decorating. Note that the recipe calls for the paddle attachment, not the whisk, as the frosting may wind up with too many air bubbles if whisked, making it difficult to achieve a smooth, satiny appearance when icing the cake. If you wish to store the frosting or have some leftover that you’d like to save for another dessert, refrigerate it in a microwave-safe container for up to three days. To soften it for use, microwave at 50 percent power, checking every 15 to 20 seconds, until it’s just soft enough to easily stir, then whisk until smooth, creamy and spreadable.

Makes about

4 cups


Don’t use cold butter. Make sure it’s at room temperature and take the time to beat the butter until very light and creamy before adding the sugar. This helps ensure the proper aeration. Also, using room-temperature cream will help the frosting emulsify more quickly because it won’t lower the temperature of the butter as cream straight from the refrigerator would. That said, if you forget to take your cream out of the fridge, it’s fine to use it chilled. You will simply have to beat the frosting a little longer before it smooths out and becomes light and fluffy.

20 minutes


  • 226

    grams (16 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature

  • 372

    grams (3 cups) powdered sugar, whisked to remove lumps


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