Simple Buttercream Icing

Heart Basket

There are many different types of buttercream icing that you can make. I will touch on these in another post. But right now, we are going to talk about how to make what is typically known as Simple Buttercream or American Buttercream. In it’s most simple form, this buttercream is butter and confectioners sugar creamed together. Here, though, we will talk about a variation.

Simple Buttercream icing is dense, heavy and very sweet. It also forms a light crust when left at uncovered at room temperature. This crust can be beneficial when achieving certain effects. It can also become a nightmare in some cases.

Let’s first talk about a typical Simple Buttercream recipe you may find in your hunt for recipes on the world wide web. There are different variations that you can do. I always tell my students to experiment and try different things. That’s the only way you will come to know what your taste buds prefer and what you like to work with. Give the basic recipe a try first so you get acquainted with the icing, it’s consistency and feel. Then change it up! Try new things with it.

Heart cupcakes

American Buttercream

  • 1 cup of vegetable shortening (Use Crisco!)
  • 4 cups of confectioner sugar
  • 7-8 tsp of water or milk
  • 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Cream the shortening, water/milk and vanilla until creamy. Add the confectioner sugar on medium speed until creamy. You may need to add more liquid to thin it out depending on the consistency you need. This will make roughly 2 1/2 cups of icing. 

So let’s break this ingredient list down a bit. I am going to explain what each ingredient is used for as well as some other variations and options that you can use to make the icing your own.

Vegetable Shorting: 


It is best to use Crisco as opposed to a generic or store brand vegetable shortening. Over the past 9 years or so the formula has changed to remove trans fatty acids. This didn’t just happen with Crisco brand. It was required by the FDA across the board for many food products, not just vegetable shortenings. This change in the formula has resulted in a change in the buttercream. Many who have been baking and making this for a long time can tell a difference. But if you are just starting out, take my advice and use the brand Crisco.

Using the brand Crisco yields better results for your icing. I have used generic brands in a pinch and I have had some horribly terrifying results. Most frequently what happens is a pool of grease will build up on top of the icing. And when iced on a cake, the icing may look like it sweats. Really gross. I’ve only had this happen when using the generic stuff. 

Why use Vegetable Shortening? Buttercream is always made with a fat. It will either be shortening, butter or a mix of both. If you are trying to achieve a pure white icing then you will want to use shortening. When using butter, even half butter, the icing will be off-white in color. Many brides, for example, want a pure white cake. In a case like this you would want to use all shortening. Another time to use shortening is during the summer. Here in central Ohio we have very humid and hot summers. If using butter, your icing will quickly melt. Not a pretty effect. If you know your cake will be outside or exposed to humidity then I would use all shortening.

Other Options: Many people are disgusted at the idea of using 100% shortening in their buttercream recipes. Well, no fear, there are modifications you can make! You can use 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening and 1/2 cup of softened butter (I use real butter not margarine). You can also use margarine but I like the taste and consistency that results from real butter. Do not try to use oil as your fat. Won’t work, just makes a mess.

Confectioners Sugar

This is the main ingredient in the icing. It will add sweetness to your icing. Most recipes will call for at least double the amount of sugar compared to your fat.

Water or Milk?


You will want to add a liquid to the icing in order to achieve the correct consistency you need.

Water: Can be used to thin down the icing.

Milk: Used to thin down the icing. Will result in a creamier texture than water.

Other Options: I have added Heavy Whipping Cream instead of water or milk. This makes a VERY creamy icing. It is so good! I have also heard of people using coffee creamer in place of water or milk. I haven’t tried this yet. I’m sure it would be delicious! Maybe some Bailey’s coffee creamer….YUMMO!

Vanilla Extract


Most icings are flavored with vanilla. That is what the majority of cakes are iced with from grocery stores. But there are other options to try! Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors. Some of the more common alternatives are almond flavoring (my favorite) and butter. Or try a combo. I have also used vanilla and butter to flavor icing. Very tasty!


Salt will cut the overly sugary sweet taste and enhance the flavors of the icing. When adding the salt, I dissolve the salt in my liquids. So I will add the extract, liquid and salt together in a bowl then add it to the mixer with the butter and sugar.


Now that we’ve examined the standard buttercream at more depth, I encourage you to get baking. Make a lovely little delight and decorate it with this richly sweet icing. Happy Baking!!


5 thoughts on “Simple Buttercream Icing

    • Christina says:

      You are welcome! Thanks for stopping by here. 🙂 I’m so glad you are starting to bake again. I find baking and decorating so relaxing. It’s the most relaxing thing I can do while making a big mess. 🙂 I’d love to know what you think of the buttercream and any modifications you make! Happy Baking!

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