How to Make Cupcake Icing

Three Methods:Basic ButtercreamFlour ButtercreamCream Cheese Icing

Most chefs call thick cupcake toppings frosting, but the word icing is used as well in many regions.[1] These three recipes all provide a tasty topping thick enough to cover in sprinkles.


Each recipe is enough for 6 heavily frosted cupcakes, or 12 lightly frosted.
Basic Buttercream

  • 1 cup (230 grams) unsalted butter
  • 3–4 cups (375–500g) powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) heavy cream
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla extract (or other flavor extract)
  • Fine table salt, to taste

Flour Buttercream
A less sweet buttercream that resists hot or humid weather.

  • 6 tbsp (45g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (240 mL) whole milk
  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (125g) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla extract (or other flavor extract)
  • Pinch of fine table salt

Cream Cheese Icing
No good for decorating, but delicious on red velvet, chocolate, or pumpkin cupcakes.

  • 8 oz (225 g) cream cheese
  • 6 tbsp (85g) unsalted butter
  • 2½ cups (315g) powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract (or other flavor extract)
  • ½ cup (120 mL) strawberries or other fruit, mashed (optional)

Method 1
Basic Buttercream

  1. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 1
    Cream the butter. Beat the butter with a whisk or electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Stop once the butter is smoother and lighter in color. This takes a couple minutes.
    • If using an electric mixer, beat the butter straight from the fridge.[2] If beating by hand, cut it into small pieces and let it soften for 10–15 minutes first.
  2. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 2
    Mix in the sugar. Slowly pour in 3 cups (375g) powdered sugar as you keep beating the butter. This completes the creaming process, adding air bubbles that make the icing fluffy. When ready, the mixture will look lighter and larger in volume. It will also coat the sides of the bowl, with the mixer's paddle scraping ridged patterns into it.[3] If you don't see this, or if you like extra-sweet icing, add up to an additional 1 cup (125g) sugar.
    • Powdered sugar is also called confectioner's sugar and icing sugar.
    • Too much beating can make your butter melt and collapse the icing.
  3. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 3
    Add the other ingredients. Reduce to medium speed and mix in the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Once thoroughly combined, taste the icing. If it's too sweet, mix in a pinch of fine salt. Salt has a complex effect on taste, but a small amount should cut the sweet taste a little.
    • Add more cream if the icing is too thick. Add more sugar if it is too thin.
  4. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 4
    Serve at room temperature. If chilled, the butter in the icing becomes firm and heavy. In hot weather, it melts into a greasy mess.[4]Pipe or spread onto your cupcakes, then keep them at room temperature in an airtight box.

Method 2
Flour Buttercream

  1. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 5
    Whisk together sugar and flour. Do this in a medium saucepan, but don't turn on the heat. This reduces the risk of flour lumps forming, and will help the sugar dissolve.[5]
    • Use granulated sugar, not powdered. Powdered sugar will make slightly "rough" icing when used in cooked recipes.
  2. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 6
    Mix in milk and heat. Pour in the milk as you whisk. Turn the heat to low and keep whisking. Bring to a boil. Cook and whisk until it thickens into a pudding. You should be able to see the bottom of the pan when you push the sauce away.[6]
    • Smash apart flour lumps with a rubber spatula.
  3. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 7
    Cover and chill. Move the pudding base to a plate with deep sides. Cover with plastic wrap tightly, pressing against the mix. This will prevent a skin from forming. Move to the refrigerator to chill while you start on the next step.
  4. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 8
    Beat the butter. Cream the butter by beating until it is smooth and lighter in color. If using an electric mixer, use butter from the fridge and beat at medium speed for a couple minutes. If beating by hand, cut the butter into pieces and let soften slightly before beating.
  5. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 9
    Add the cold flour mix, vanilla, and salt. Beat the flour mix in one spoonful at a time. It may look lumpy at first, but after a few minutes it should become silky and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and a pinch of salt as well.

Method 3
Cream Cheese Icing

  1. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 10
    Combine cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Mix these in an electric mixer or by hand until smooth. If whisking by hand, let the butter soften at room temperature first. Cutting the butter into small pieces will speed this up greatly.
  2. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 11
    Slowly add sugar. Pour in the sugar while whisking at low speed. Keep whisking until smooth.
  3. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 12
    Mix in fruit (optional). Blend strawberries or your favorite fruit in a food processor. Drain off the juice and measure the solid fruit. This recipe can take up to ½ cup (120 mL) of blended fruit. You may want to add this bit by bit, as the icing can easily get soupy.[7]
    • You can use fruit preserves instead, for a sweeter taste and less liquid.
  4. Image titled Make Cupcake Icing Step 13
    Serve from the fridge. The icing should last in the fridge for several days. If you make this in advance, you may need to beat it again to make it lighter before spreading on cupcakes.[8]


  • Use a high quality brand of butter. Do not use margarine, or butter with a high percentage of milk solids or water in the ingredients.
  • Mix in cocoa powder to make easy chocolate icing.
  • Add food coloring a drop at a time to change color. You may need to add a spoonful of powdered sugar to balance out the liquid.


  • Children under 12 may require supervision if using electric mixer.

Article Info

Categories: Frosting Icing and Fondant