It’s no surprise that buttercream contains butter. And butter is yellow. So, you’re never going to get it stark white like you could with other (less tasty) frostings. But, there are a few tips and tricks I can show you to get it your buttercream as white as possible, depending on how far you’re willing to go. And yep, there’s still butter in it. Magic!
Beat the butter
Butter in its normal form is pretty yellow. Buy you can get around this, and make your buttercream incredibly fluffy and light (double win), by beating it for at least five minutes. Yep, that long. Make sure the butter is nice and soft, by getting it out of the fridge an hour or two before using it. If it’s not quite soft enough, 10 seconds or so in the microwave should do it – just don’t melt it.
A stand mixer will save you a tonne of effort here. Use the balloon whisk attachment on high speed to whip up the butter for a full five minutes, scraping down the sides with a spatula every minute or so. If you don’t have a stand mixer, then a hand-held electric mixer will do the trick too. Just don’t try and do it by hand, please.
Once you have whipped the butter it will be very light and pale, and adding the icing sugar will only make it whiter. Beat it for a good minute between powdered sugar additions too. You can’t really whip this stuff enough.
White Food Colouring
I was as sceptical as you are at first, but adding a tablespoon of this SugarFlair Icing Whitener to the buttercream after the icing sugar really did make it seem a whole lot whiter. I should have done a before and after photo – maybe next time. But seriously, this powder is some sort of magic dust. It’s white buttercream’s new best friend.
Yeah, it probably contains some sort of bleaching agent that isn’t all that good for you, but if you’re already eating a cupcake with a tonne of sugary frosting on top, and it’s a one-off treat, then I don’t see a problem. But it’s your call.
Clear Vanilla Extract
This one is a bit of a looks-over-taste compromise, as everyone knows that good quality vanilla extract is brown, not clear. But yeah, it you want your buttercream as white as possible, then you’re going to need to make this compromise.
Clear vanilla extract (or essence as it is sometimes called) will probably have a bit more of a ‘fake’ vanilla taste, but I’d recommend using some than just leaving it out altogether. Especially if you are going all in with the next step.
Use butter and vegetable shortening
This is a bit of a controversial one, and possibly a step too far for some (me included, most of the time), but if you want to get rid of a bit more of that yellow butter colour, then just reduce the butter content down and add in some shortening instead.
In an ideal world, there would be something that tastes as creamy as butter, but looks as white as Trex. But there isn’t, and using 100% shortening will give the white buttercream a horrible greasy texture. So, if needs must, use 50% butter and 50% shortening. Do this at your own risk though, because you may not be able to deal with the consequences. Adding some clear vanilla extract will help get rid of the taste yes, but both myself and Kate still aren’t convinced that it is worth the switch.
Whether you want to stick with butter, or try some shortening, here’s the recipe for the super white buttercream pictured above:
- 225g (1 cup) unsalted butter*, very soft
- 500g (4 cups) icing sugar or powdered sugar
- 2-4 tbsp whole milk or cream
- 2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
- Icing whitener or white food colouring (optional)
- Beat the butter in a stand mixer, using the balloon whisk attachment, or if using a hand-held mixer then beat the butter in a medium sized bowl. Beat on high for at least five minutes, scraping down the sides with a spatula every minute or so. The butter should be light, fluffy, and very very pale when it is whipped enough.
- Add the sifted icing sugar in three or four stages, beating for at least a minute in between additions. Once all the icing sugar has been beaten in, add between 2 and 4 tablespoons of milk or cream (depending on what consistency you need your frosting to be), as well as the vanilla extract and icing whitener, and mix well again.
- NOTES & STORAGE
- *If you want it even whiter, use half butter and half vegetable shortening (e.g. Trex). This won't give the buttercream the same texture, but it will be a little whiter. It's your call.
- The buttercream can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the fridge. Keep it in a bowl covered with clingfilm, and bring back up to room temperature and beat well before using. The buttercream also freezes well - put in an airtight plastic tub (with room for some expanding) and use within three months. Defrost overnight in the fridge, and then beat well to bring it back to a good consistency.