Today is all about frosting. This is my 100% favorite part of any cake. Frosting is smooth, creamy, rich, sweet goodness that I could eat by the spoonful. My (not so) secret dream is to one day have a birthday cake made entirely out of vanilla frosting. If it could be incorporated into a pie crust, that would be cool, too. And Blue Bell triple chocolate ice cream on the side….but I digress.
The reason I chose to go all vanilla this month is to show how you can take one basic recipe with a nice, neutral flavor like vanilla and turn it into anything you want. Vanilla cake and vanilla frosting are great on their own. I love the flavor of vanilla, but I also really love taking one recipe and turning it into something else I love. So I’m going to share my favorite vanilla frosting recipe with you and then show you how to turn it into 5 other flavors!
The ingredients in frosting are incredibly forgiving, so don’t be intimidated by this process. I always thought frosting would be super hard to make, but once I tried it I was hooked. The frosting you can make at home is every bit as good (if not better) than what you get at the store, and you control the ingredients in it. While some things, like pie crust, require a gentle touch, you can beat the heck out of the butter in frosting and it will still turn into something delicious. If you have a stand mixer, I do recommend using it to make life easier, but hand mixers work great, too. If I only need a small batch (like 1 cake or a dozen cupcakes) of frosting I regularly use my hand mixer.
Here are the ingredients you need for 12 cupcakes or an 8″ 2 layer cake:
1 stick butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 ½ cups powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
The first step is to take the butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes to 1 hour before you are going to use it. Softening the butter makes it way easier to work with and will help you achieve a nice, smooth frosting with no butter chunks without wearing out your arm in the process. Once the butter is soft enough that it gives a little (without melting out of the package completely), stick it in a mixing bowl and start your mixer on medium-low. The butter should break apart pretty easily. If it doesn’t, turn up the speed of the mixer or let the butter soften a little longer.
Once the butter is nice and smooth, stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Why is this important? The mixer mushes the butter down against the sides and bottom of the bowl and you want to make sure it’s fluffed up enough to mix thoroughly with the other ingredients. I used to ignore this step all the time and my results were inconsistent. Once I started scraping the bowl, my frosting became much smoother more easily and the texture and taste were much more consistent. So take 15 seconds and scrape the bowl to save yourself time and energy.
Next, add 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and ¼ teaspoon of salt to the mixing bowl and turn the mixer back onto medium low. This time, you’ll give it about 1 minute to start mixing the ingredients together. You want them to be somewhat incorporated, but don’t be worried if you have some chunks. Those will work out as you go. Next, add the rest of the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until it is fully incorporated. The frosting should be mostly smooth at this point. If not, turn the mixer up just a smidge. If it is almost entirely smooth, check the texture. If it is still a little runnier than you prefer, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar at a time until you have the consistency you want. Just remember- it’s easier to add than remove, so go easy on the additions. It takes a little more time but it’s worth it in the end. Once it’s the consistency you’re looking for, turn up the speed of the mixer to medium-high to add some air. This helps make the frosting a little lighter.
After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, you’re done! Spread the frosting onto a cake, cupcakes, or eat it by the spoonful. Or, add some flavor to the vanilla frosting and really go crazy. The 5 options I have here to change the flavor of the frosting require a little more powdered sugar and 1 additional ingredient.
For my cupcakes, I used one batch of frosting and split it between 6 flavors. You can also flavor one batch of frosting. I have amounts below for whichever option you choose.
- To create lemon frosting, add 1 teaspoon of zest and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the frosting and mix. If the frosting seems runny, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar. For a full batch of lemon frosting, add 2 tablespoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice. Again, add powdered sugar by the ¼ cup if you need it a little stiffer. You can add more or less juice depending on how strong you like the lemon flavor.
- Orange frosting is the same as the lemon- 1 teaspoon of zest and 1 teaspoon of orange juice is what I added to frost 2 cupcakes. For a full batch, it would be 2 tablespoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice, plus additional powdered frosting as needed.
- For the jam cupcakes, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar to the split batch of frosting and 1 tablespoon of the jam of your choice. You definitely need to add the powdered sugar to this one because the jam makes the frosting runny and it will slide right off your cake if you don’t stiffen it a little. For a full batch of frosting, try add 1 cup of powdered sugar and 4 tablespoons of jam.
- Caramel frosting also requires extra powdered sugar. To make this frosting, I used 1 tablespoon of salted caramel ice cream topping and ¼ cup of powdered sugar in the split batch (4 tablespoons of caramel topping and 1 cup of powdered sugar for the full batch).
- Last but not least is the cookies n’ cream. This just requires 2 cookies for a split batch of frosting and 6 cookies for a full batch.
Once you have the extra ingredients in the bowl, blend them into your frosting, either with your mixer or by hand with a spoon. Proceed with frosting your cake or cupcakes and enjoy!