Basic Creamy Butter Frosting and Variations

Frosted Cupcakes
Frosted Cupcakes Diana Rattray
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 10 mins
Servings: 12 servings

This basic butter frosting recipe is the perfect topping for a cake or cupcakes. I love this frosting on chocolate cupcakes or to frost a layer cake, tube cake, or sheet cake.

You can add different flavorings to this frosting and you can easily color it to suit any occasion. The ingredients can be scaled up easily for 2 cakes or 2 dozen cupcakes.


  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound (3 1/2 cups) confectioners sugar, sifted if it's organic or has visible lumps
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons milk or light cream, or enough to make smooth and spreadable

Steps to Make It

  1. In a mixing bowl beat the butter, salt, and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

  2. Add the confectioners' sugar a little at a time, beating after each addition.

  3. Add 3 tablespoons milk or light cream, beating until smooth.

  4. Beat in more milk or cream until desired spreading consistency is reached, and the frosting is spreadable.

The recipe makes about 2 1/3 cups of frosting, enough to frost the tops and sides of an 8-inch 2-layer cake or a 10-inch tube or bundt cake. Or frost or pipe it onto about 1 dozen cupcakes.

Tips and Variations

  • Small Batch: For a small cake, use 3 tablespoons of butter, a pinch of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, and about 2 tablespoons of milk, or enough for a good spreading or piping consistency.

  • Almond Butter Frosting: Substitute 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract for the vanilla.

  • Coffee Frosting: Replace the milk with strong brewed coffee.

  • Chocolate Frosting: Add 1/4 cup of unsweetened powdered cocoa to the creamed mixture and use less confectioners' sugar.

  • Peppermint Frosting: Replace the vanilla extract with 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Add a few tablespoons of crushed peppermint candies to the finished frosting or use crushed candies to top the frosted cupcakes or cake.

  • Lemon or Orange Butter Frosting: Replace the milk or cream with fresh orange or lemon juice and add about 1/2 teaspoon of finely shredded lemon or orange zest.

  • Browned Butter Frosting: Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until golden brown. Let the butter cool and then continue with the recipe. 

  • Creme de Menthe Frosting: Replace some or all of the milk with creme de menthe liqueur.

  • Nut Frosting: Add about 2 tablespoons of finely chopped walnuts or pecans to the frosting.

  • Spiced Frosting: Add 1/8 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a pinch each of ground nutmeg and ground cloves.