Chocolate chip cookie dough balls on tray ready to bake. Red mixer with red SideSwipe for Kitchenaid beater and mixer bowl in background


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Light and Silky American Buttercream Frosting

Light and Silky American Buttercream Frosting

We have a confession to make. We're frosting scrapers. Most American buttercream is just too thick and too darned sweet, so we scrape most of it off our cake. Meringue based frostings are lighter and less cloying, but require cooking and using a thermometer. Who has time? 

We came upon this recipe by pastry chef Stella Parks, an editor at Serious Eats and author of one of our favorite baking books, Bravetart. She promised a better buttercream frosting, and her recipe really delivers! We've altered the recipe very little here, just adding some notes to clarify some of the processes. 

The key to achieving a not-too-sweet and silky frosting is the type of powdered sugar you use. For best results, use organic powdered sugar that features tapioca (not corn) starch as its anti-clumping agent. The three brands we found available at local stores are Wholesome, Good and Gather at Target, and Trader Joe's Organic. The Trader Joe's brand is the best value, selling at around $3 for a one-pound bag. Some organic brands use corn starch, so check the label before trying another product.

Is it worth the extra cost? We know, organic powdered sugar is SO much more expensive than conventional - and harder to find. But our testing showed that, it delivers a much lighter, smoother result. With less sugar and without any of the grittiness you have with conventional powdered sugar. So if you can afford to make the switch, do it!

Learn more about organic vs powdered sugar

Learn about the differences between organic and conventional powdered sugar in our ingredient spotlight article here. You can do a deep dive into the subject in a great article by Stella Parks, aka Bravetart, here.


chocolate cupcake with pink American buttercream frosting

Ingredients & Special Equipment

  • 12 ounces unsalted butter, softened to about 65°F/18°C (3 sticks; 340g)
  • 12 ounces organic powdered sugar, preferably tapioca based, such as Wholesome; see note below (about 3 cups, spooned; 340g)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or 3/4 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 3 ounces (85g) heavy cream, straight from the fridge
  • Other extracts or gel-paste food coloring, such as Americolor or Wilton, to taste or 
  • Stand mixer, fitted with SideSwipe beater
  • Sieve
  • Spatula

frosting on small square cake


  1. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, then sift the powdered sugar on top.

  2. Attach SideSwipe or a flat paddle attachment, and mix on low until the powdered sugar is fully incorporated. Don't turn on higher powers, or you'll cause a sugar cloud.

  3. Add vanilla and salt, then increase speed to medium and beat until the frosting is airy and light, pausing along the way to scrape the beater (or bowl for flat paddle) as needed. This will take about 6 minutes, although the exact timing will vary depending on the power of your mixer. During this time, the mixture will have warmed to approximately 70°F (21°C).

  4. Reduce your mixer to its lowest speed, then drizzle in the cream while the mixer is running.

  5. When fully incorporated, scrape the beater and bowl if necessary, then continue beating a few seconds more on medium speed. Taste and adjust salt and vanilla as needed. You can also add whatever other extracts or gel colors are desired. Use immediately.

frosted cupcakes and frosting coming out of piping bag