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 Superwhite 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.
And if you’re from the USA, I’ve heard great things about this Wilton White Food Colour too.
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.
The vegetable shortening is so not worth it!
I will never be convinced!
How much icing does this yield?
Hi Mandy. This should be enough to ice 12 cupcakes (as long as you don’t go overboard) or should just be enough to fill and thinly cover a two layered 8 inch cake.
Susie Willcocks says
Hi, I live in Brisbane Australia….where can I get this whitener…in a hurry?????
The only place I ever buy it is on Amazon – I’d you’ve got prime this should come pretty quickly! Your local baking shop might stock it too.
Does this stiff set? Or is it still soft?
Hi Kelly. It is just like normal American buttercream, so it does set on the outside, but the inside of the buttercream will still be soft. It won’t be rock-hard like royal icing. It is great for piping swirls onto cupcakes as it holds the shape well, and it doesn’t need refrigerating. Hope that helps!
Would this crust over enough to use on my watercolor painted cakes? I’m especially curious if it would if I used a 1/4 or 1/2 shortening instead of all butter.
Hi Carol. I’ve got to be honest and say I’ve never painted on buttercream (only fondant), but going on other people’s experiences I would say that you would be best off using some shortening instead of all butter, as shortening doesn’t melt quite as easy and sets firmer. I would also suggest putting the frosted cake in the fridge for a while before painting, so that the buttercream is cold and super firm.
In my experience this buttercream does crust up nicely, even with 100% butter, but I wouldn’t want to absolutely guarantee that it would be firm enough for you. Especially as I am used to UK ingredients, which I do find do sometimes give slightly different results to ingredients from elsewhere. If you already have a great buttercream recipe that you know and works well for you, I would be tempted to use that instead and just incorporate some of the tips above (i.e. whipping the butter for a while, and adding some whitening powder) to get the frosting nice and white.
Hope that helps! And I would love to know how you it goes if you do use my recipe 🙂 x
Does this do well in heat? I’m making a wedding cake and I don’t want it to flop when I take it outside.
Hi Bonnie. The more shortening you use instead of butter, the better it should cope with the heat (but it won’t taste quite as yummy). If it’s going to be really hot then it might be worth using fondant instead. Hopefully that helps!
Can i ask what difference is made between using salted and unsalted butter? I’ve never made buttercream before so just wondering. Thanks.
There’s not a massive difference – I always use unsalted butter in all my recipes as standard, but you can usually substitute in salted butter anywhere, and just reduce any added salt down to nothing. Salted butter makes great buttercream too – I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference 🙂
Gill Brown says
Hi l live in Norfolk England and will be trying this buttercream recipe can I add lemon as I will be making lemon muffins for a party should I add instead of vanilla essence or with the milk looks good but I never have luck with buttercream so any advice would be appreciated
Hi Gill – thanks for the question! I would add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice instead of the vanilla. I would usually suggest adding a teaspoon of lemon zest to the icing as well, but if you’re trying to keep things as white as possible then you might want to avoid this. I have also had success with lemon extract (the Nielsen-Massey brand is good) and I actually used this in my wedding cake instead of real lemon juice/zest. Hope that helps!
Hi what brand of butter is best ? I’m thinking of using stork. Is that any good ?
Hi Joy. Stork will work fine, but I usually find that a block of butter gives the best buttercream rather than a margarine or spreadable butter. I usually use Sainsbury’s own brand unsalted butter. Hope it goes well!