Vanilla Bean American Buttercream

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized that there was more than one variety of buttercream. It was probably my ignorance but I thought buttercream was just buttercream. It wasn’t until my husband complained all of the time about how all of my frostings tasted too “buttery” for him that I started to do research into other varieties of frostings. That is when I discovered that there is a whole world of buttercream’s! I pretty much learned that buttercream just means that the frosting has to use butter as something like a stabilizer, but the base can be anything from the butter itself, to whipped egg whites, or even custard. My mind was sufficiently blown! I was super excited to enter into this whole new world of frostings so over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you a variety of different buttercream’s that I have come to appreciate! =)

First and foremost we must start with the classic, the American Buttercream. This was the kind that I always ignorantly believed to be the only variety. You can’t totally blame me though because this is the most widely used variety of buttercream at least here in the US, hence the very appropriate title “American Buttercream”. Out of all the butter creams out there, this is also the simplest to make. Do not EVER go out and buy the ready-made stuff in the little containers in the “boxed cake mix” area of your grocery store. Seriously this stuff is so simple to make. On that note, don’t ever buy boxed cake mix again. If you are making vanilla cupcakes, use this Vanilla Cupcakes recipe. You probably already have all the ingredients at home anyways, and if you don’t, you should. Many times when I have had buttercream from bakeries the frosting tends to be overly sweet, almost to the point of cloyingly sweet. The best part about making it at home is that you can control the flavor and level of sweetness. American Buttercream is the easiest of all the buttercreams because it uses butter as the base, and only combines it with powdered sugar and flavor. This is one of the heavier buttercreams out there. It’s easy to get carried away with how much sugar to add so make sure to add a little at a time and taste as you go. 

I actually have a pretty embarrassing story from the first time I ever made something that I thought at that time was “buttercream”. I must have been 12-13 years old, and me and my little sister had this genius idea to bake a cake for my mom for her birthday. We stayed up late making the cake (I’m pretty sure it was a boxed cake mix.. I know I’m a hypocrite, but I was a kid) and when it came time to make the frosting I had no idea that powdered sugar and regular sugar were 2 separate things. Like I had mentioned in a previous post, nobody in my family ever baked, so I had no understanding of ingredients like that. I mixed the butter with the regular sugar, and ended up with a weird grainy mess. It was chocolate flavored too, I vividly remember a grainy brown frosting. My sister doesn’t cook, she mostly just watches when I cook, so I had the genius idea that maybe this was how frosting was supposed to be and that the sugar would dissolve overnight. To add a bonus to our wonderful cake, we decided to store it in the oven overnight on a plate with the light on so that when my mom woke up in the morning she would see the cake that we so lovingly made for her! It was a great idea in our minds. Little did we know, when my mom woke up in the morning, the oven light had melted most of the so-called “buttercream” off of the cake and onto the floor of the oven. No only did she wake up on her birthday to a weird wobbly looking cake sitting in her oven with grainy frosting, but she was nice enough to spend the morning cleaning the entire oven before we even woke up. My mom’s pretty cool sometimes. Because of that fail of an experience, it took me a long time to have the courage to try making buttercream again. 

The first time I remember successfully making buttercream was during the same time I mentioned in my last post for Vanilla Cupcakes, was for my cousin’s birthday. I made this exact buttercream in-fact to pair with those Vanilla Cupcakes. If my cousin was going to request vanilla frosting I was at least going to make it interesting by making it “vanilla-bean” frosting. I still remember the first thing they said when they ate the cupcakes the first time was that they loved that the frosting was not too sweet. This makes the cupcakes much more enjoyable, you’re able to eat an entire cupcake without feeling like your mouth is coated in sugar. Let me share with you my recipe for buttercream! Like I mentioned earlier, you can use this recipe as a base for a variety of different flavors. I added vanilla beans, but you can add anything. I will be sharing examples with you in the future of variations I have made. 

Lets get started!

In this recipe we are only making just enough frosting to cover the dozen cupcakes that we got from our Vanilla Cupcakes recipe. So this frosting recipe makes the exact right amount to cover the 12 cupcakes. We will start by throwing into a mixing bowl our 1 stick of room temperature butter. Make sure you don’t heat this in the microwave to bring it to room temperature. In some recipes you can do this, but this frosting is not being cooked, so it’s important that the texture of the butter remains uniform.

You can use a Stand Mixer or a hand mixer to begin to whip the butter.  It’s your choice. I have never had luck with the hand mixers because for some reason I always end up making a big mess, I prefer the stand mixer but it’s up to you what you feel comfortable using or what you have available to you. Be sure to whip the butter to where it looks like this picture, it should be quick if the butter is at room temperature.

After that you want to add your powdered sugar a little bit at a time until you reach a consistency that you like. In my recipe I have included the amount I used in weight form. Really you just need to add it 1/2 a cup at a time until it holds its shape, and tastes acceptable to you. I don’t like my frosting too sweet so I normally add a little less than what you would normally expect a buttercream to taste like. Whip it into the butter, I like to use a paddle attachment on my stand mixer to whip it. Switch between high and medium to get the sugar mixed in really good.

Once the buttercream is good, prepare your vanilla bean. I am super stingy and Vanilla Beans are expensive. I first cut my vanilla bean in half. And put the other half back into the jar where it was from.

After that I only extracted the vanilla beans from half of the remaining piece. I wasn’t making that much buttercream so I didn’t need more than that. If you have never removed the seeds from a vanilla bean, the best way to do it is to cut a slit down the middle, and the use the back of your knife to push against the bean and scrape all of the beans out. They will stick to your knife and then you can use them however you wish. Once you are done extracting all the little beans from the vanilla bean, be sure to not throw out the leftover bean. Save it, it can be used in a variety of recipes that require infusing a vanilla flavor. I will show you in the future many examples. Vanilla beans are expensive, make sure you use each bean to its full potential.

After you have extracted your beans, add them to the frosting along with 1 tablespoon of milk. I used almond milk since that is the milk we keep at home. I also added 1 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract just to amplify the vanilla flavor. Whip everything into the frosting until it all comes together. If the frosting has seemed to thin out too much, add more powdered sugar, a little bit at a time until it comes back to the texture and flavor you want. I needed to add a little bit more for mine. 

Make sure you scrape down all the sides of the bowl with a Silicone Spatula to make sure you didn’t miss mixing in any butter or sugar. 

After that you can either frost them by hand with a Silicone Spatula or use a Piping Bag with any tip of your choice to frost your cupcakes. 

As you can see the cupcake looks equally delicious whether you frost your cupcakes by hand, or pipe on the frosting =)

And that’s it! Like I said, this recipe makes just enough to frost exactly 12 cupcakes. It would also be good to frost 1 small cake. The benefit of how easy this frosting is to make, is that if you need more you can always whip some more together real quick. So if you are making a cake you can always leave more butter out to come to room temperature and just make more as you need it and when you are done put the rest of the butter back into the fridge! =) Be sure to pair this frosting with my Vanilla Cupcakes! This frosting comes out beautifully, especially with all of the little flecks of vanilla that you can see inside of the frosting. 

I hope you give this recipe a try for yourself! Please be sure to let me know in the comments if you do! I would love to hear what you thought of it! Be sure to subscribe so that you can be notified when I post new recipes! (link in the sidebar). Follow me on Instagram @saltyoversweet and find me on Facebook (the link is in the sidebar). 

Vanilla Bean American Buttercream
Yields 12
A super basic and easy to make American Buttercream recipe
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Total Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
  1. 1 Stick of Unsalted Butter brought to room temperature - 1/2 Cup - 110g-115g
  2. Powdered Confectioners Sugar - 180g (the first time) +35g (additional in last step)
  3. 1 Tbsp - Milk or Almond Milk
  4. Seeds from 1/4 of a Vanilla Bean
  5. 1 Teaspoon - Vanilla Extract
  1. Put your room temperature butter into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer or hand mixer.
  2. Whip it up so it starts to get lighter in texture.
  3. Whip the powdered confectioners sugar in 1/2 cup at a time switching between high and medium until the frosting has reached your desired consistency. (I have included how much weight it took me to reach my desired consistency but you will need to judge for yourself what is appropriate.
  4. Extract the vanilla seeds from the vanilla bean pod, and add them to the frosting along with the tablespoon of milk and the vanilla extract, whip them all into the frosting.
  5. Once everything is all combined, check the texture of the frosting, it may need more powdered sugar, mine did. I added it in 1/4 cup at a time until it reached my desired texture and level of sweetness.
  6. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, ensuring that everything has been combined.
  7. Either frost your cake or cupcakes directly with a silicone spatula, or place into a piping bag and use from there =)
  8. Enjoy! =)
  1. *This recipe can be easily made vegan by using room temperature Earth Balance butter instead of dairy based butter.
  2. *This recipe is inherently gluten-free.
  3. *It's easy to get carried away with adding the powdered sugar, so just make sure you add a little bit at a time, and taste as you go, once its fluffy enough, and has enough sweetness you should stop before it becomes too sweet. The only time you would want to add more sugar is if you need it be a much denser frosting for more intricate piping.
Salty Over Sweet

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