Buttercream icing: how to make basic buttercream

This is how to make buttercream icing that's perfect for piping onto cupcakes or for covering a cake

buttercream icing
(Image credit: Getty)

If you need to know how to make buttercream icing then you're probably making cupcakes, a birthday cake (aren't you good) or simply looking for the most decadent cake icing you can get to please your sweet tooth. Buttercream icing has a rich, thick consistency that makes it perfect for piping, hence its popularity for cupcakes.

This recipe is simple, but you will be better off with a food mixer of some sort, because whipping butter by hand is harder than it sounds and not always successful unless you're a pro! You can use a hand blender or a stand mixer, check out some of our favourites to use below and read on for the method.

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What is buttercream icing made of?

As the name suggests, the main ingredient here is butter, and the quality of the butter is everything for making tasty buttercream. Fresh, organic, unsalted butter is best, although some recipes will tell you to add a little salt – we do without that. Then, it's just icing sugar and a dash of semi-skimmed milk. We like to add a teaspoon of vanilla essence too. 

How to make buttercream icing

Ingredients

To make enough buttercream icing for a standard cake or one batch of cupcakes (approximately 12), you'll need:

  • Unsalted butter, 250 grams
  • Icing sugar, sifted, 300 grams
  • Semi-skimmed milk, 50 ml
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Method:

1. Place the block of butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with a hand blender or kitchen mixer continuously for five minutes. Be patient and do the whole five minutes: you will see that the butter expands and takes on a whipped texture; it will also lose its yellow colour. 

2. Gradually fold in the icing sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Taste occasionally to check if it's sweet enough. Add the vanilla essence and fold in, too.

3. Begin adding the milk, a small splash at a time. The point is to slightly loosen the texture of the buttercream so that it's easier to pipe or spread, but you don't want to add too much. 

That's it, your buttercream is ready to transfer into a piping bag or to be spread over the top of your cake. If you prefer flavoured buttercream, add a couple of drops of your favourite flavouring at the same time as the milk. The same goes for any food colouring.