Often the most beloved element of a cupcake is the frosting. A good frosting can elevate a simple cupcake to a delicious, rich dessert. Classic American buttercream is surprisingly easy to make, and can be adjusted to your personal preferences using added flavorings, and adjusting the ratio of the ingredients. American buttercream is simply a combination of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla (or other flavoring), and usually a bit of milk or cream- that's pretty much it! The frosting I love to use the most often is my Cream Cheese Frosting, which is simply a variation on American Buttercream, with some cream cheese added. Free free to play with this recipe and adjust it to your palate. This is a very sweet, classic frosting that pairs well with most any flavor of cupcake.
American Buttercream Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (salted, or unsalted)
1/4 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (best quality available)
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream, half and half or milk.
*Optional- As mentioned above, I like a cream cheese version of this frosting best. The cream cheese adds to the creamy texture, and cuts down on the sweetness just a bit. If desired, for a very light cream cheese flavor add 1/2 block (4 oz). cream cheese, leaving the other ingredients (as listed above) the same. For a more traditional cream cheese flavor, reduce the butter to 1/2 cup, and add 1 block (8 oz.) of cream cheese. If using a full block of cream cheese, you can reduce the cream or milk to 1 tablespoon total.
Flavoring options- An almost unlimited number of flavoring options can be added in addition to, or instead of the vanilla. Orange and/or lemon zest, citrus extracts, mint extract, coconut extract or the seeds of a vanilla bean are all wonderful options. In most cases I'll still add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, then 1/2 teaspoon of the other flavoring. For zest, add about 1 teaspoon fresh zest. For chocolate buttercream, add 1/2 cup (good quality) unsweetened cocoa powder.
* In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter (on medium speed) until completely smooth (30 seconds to a minute). (If you are adding cream cheese, add it now, then beat until smooth)
* Add salt (if needed).
* One cup at time, add 2 cups of powdered sugar, beating after each addition.
* Add vanilla, or other flavorings and beat to combine.
* Add about 1 tablespoon of cream, and continue beating.
* Add the remaining 2 cups powdered sugar, one at a time.
* Add an additional 1-2 tablespoons cream until desired consistency is reached. If you want to pipe the frosting on cupcakes, the frosting should be nice and thick. Continue to beat another minute or so. The frosting should now be smooth and fluffy.
* If your frosting is not smooth, it is likely because the butter was not fully smooth before adding the other ingredients.
* If your frosting will not hold up when piped on cupcakes, your frosting has too much liquid or is too warm. Put entire bowl of frosting in the fridge for 15-20 minutes and it will stiffen up. If it is still too thin, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar, beat well.
Recipe Source- American buttercream first appeared in cookbooks in the early 1900's (here's a little buttercream history) Countless sources since then have included very similar versions, always using some combination of butter (or shortening), powdered sugar, milk and flavoring. The recipe above is simply the proportions I like to use.