Silky White Butter Frosting… Perfect for a Birthday Cake

I use this smooth-as-silk vanilla butter frosting, often, on cakes and cupcakes. I love to spread it inside and out of my kid’s birthday cakes. When making cupcakes, I make a batch of both, the vanilla and chocolate variation and split the batch between them. Actually, when feeling playful, I’ll make a double batch of vanilla frosting and divide it into four or more bowls. Then, I use a craft stick to stir a drop or two of a different pastel food coloring into the bowls, leaving one portion white.

This recipe purposely provides a generous amount of frosting, so you’ll have enough to be really generous with cupcakes or to accommodate two cake layers (after dividing each one horizontally), and also pipe on a decorative border on both, the top and bottom of the assembled cake, after frosting the outside. Although the listed meringue powder is optional, I do like the way it flavors and helps to stabilize the frosting.

18 to 24 cupcakes or two 9-inch layers

For the frosting

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups sifted powdered sugar (sift before measuring)
  • 2 rounded tablespoons meringue powder
  • Up to 3 tablespoons milk
  • Pastel food coloring, as desired (optional)
  • Assorted candy decorations

Kid & Adult Friendly Cake Decorating Ideas

  • Once you’ve frosted your cakes or cupcakes, there’s no need to stop! It’s such fun to apply a variety of different whimsical embellishments. Here are some of the things you can use:

    Finely ground chocolate wafers, vanilla shortbread cookies or toasted nuts: after applying frosting, sprinkle the tops generously with one of these or a mixture.

    Pulverized cupcakes: Grind one or two cupcakes in the food processor. Use alone, or mix these crumbs with the above mentioned cookies and sprinkle them on top of glazed or frosted cupcakes or to generously coat the sides of a frosted cake.

    Coconut (shredded and sweetened): Use toasted or un-toasted sweetened coconut alone, or combine both to give a two-toned look to your garnish. To toast shredded sweetened coconut, place it in a single layer on a shallow, heavy-aluminum (not dark) baking sheet and bake it in a 300oF oven, for 10 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to redistribute. When done, the shreds should be uniformly golden, but not at all scorched.

    Whole baby Oreo cookies or tiny chocolate chip cookies: Just stick them into the frosting.

    Assorted sprinkles and candies: candy-coated jumbo almonds (pastels, silver, gold), nonpareils, Necco wafers, M&M’s, gummy bears/worms, gum drops, jelly beans, Sweet-tarts, chocolate kisses, malted milk balls, Junior Mints, chocolate-covered espresso beans or chocolate mocha beans, crushed peppermints, etc.

    Cautionary Note Regarding the Use of Edible flowers: Only use unsprayed, organically grown flowers that are known to be safe for human consumption, albeit in small quantities. Eat only the petals of these flowers and, if you suffer with allergies, hay fever, or asthma, it’s best to avoid edible flowers completely. To learn more about the flowers appropriate to eat, or to order these by mail, go to http://www.squidoo.com/EdibleFlowers

Any time I’ve suggested a tool, a piece of equipment, or a culinary term that’s unfamiliar to you, you can go to Learn to Cook for more information.

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Dairy & Eggs
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Up to 3 tablespoons milk

Dry Goods
2 rounded tablespoons meringue powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar (sift before measuring)
Assorted candy decorations

Spices & Baking
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pastel food coloring, as desired (optional)

To make the frosting

Use an electric mixer to beat the softened butter with the vanilla and salt. When the butter is light, add the sifted powdered sugar in 1/3-cup increments, stopping the machine before adding more and beating well after each addition. Beat in the meringue powder, then add 2 tablespoons of milk and beat the frosting until the consistency is very light. If not fluffy enough, beat in another tablespoon of milk. Be patient–this could take 3 to 5 minutes in a heavy-duty mixer. If planning to tint the entire frosting with a color, add two to three drops of a pastel color, when adding the milk. If planning to make a variety of colored frostings for cupcakes, divide the frosting between several small bowls and stir 1 or 2 drops of an assortment of pastel food colors into each one.

To frost a cake

First divide, fill and stack the layers according to the directions on recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes. Keeping the assembled cake on a rotating cake stand, use a long metal icing spatula or a table knife to apply a thin but even layer of frosting to the sides of the cake, beginning on the bottom, using an upward motion. Run the blade around the sides, to smooth them. Apply a thin but even layer of frosting to the top, smoothing it out. Allow the cake to sit, uncovered for several minutes, to allow the first layer to “set.” Now, apply a more generous amount of frosting to the sides, using the same upward motion, then place a large dollop of frosting on the top of the cake and either use the tip of the spatula to make dips and swirls, so the cake is covered with lovely soft peaks, or (when making a birthday cake) smooth the frosting completely, so you can apply your decorations and written message. To get the smoothest finish on the top of a frosted cake, once the top is coated evenly, run the clean blade of your spatula over the top, just once, then clean off the blade (scrape it onto the side of the bowl containing the frosting) and smooth the top again and again, cleaning the blade after each stroke. (Try not to get obsessive, though. After all, this is a homemade cake…).

To pipe frosting onto the cake, insert a star tip into a pastry bag and place the bag into a tall drinking glass. Spoon some of the remaining frosting into the bag, filling the bag only 3/4- full. Use your working hand to twist the bag at the top, then cradle the tip end in your nonworking hand. Apply pressure at the top of the bag, while directing the tip, over the spot where you want to apply the frosting. Always keep the area being piped, directly in front of you and keep the tip 1/4 inch up from the surface of the cake. Pipe a border of frosting around the top and bottom of the cake, then if desired, decorate the inside of the top and bottom border with your favorite colorful candies.

Chocolate Butter Frosting Variation

Follow the recipe for the vanilla frosting, with the following exceptions: After beating in the meringue powder, beat in 4 ounces each: chopped and melted unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate. Omit the milk and, of course, the food coloring. This frosting is a light chocolate brown (similar to mocha), preferred by adults and children who find dark chocolate frosting too rich. Yield: This will make enough to frost and fill a 9-inch 4-layer cake or 28 cupcakes.

Timing is Everything

Either variation of frosting can be made three days ahead and kept in the refrigerator, well covered. Let it come close to room temperature before rewhipping it until spreadable.

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