6 Secrets for Perfect Buttercream | Handle The Heat

6 Secrets for Perfect Buttercream

January 15th, 2018

Although buttercream is super simple, it’s surprisingly easy to mess up. So today I’m sharing my 6 secrets to PERFECT buttercream that’s ultra light, smooth, not too sweet, and holds up even on a hot day.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy.

Buttercream, frosting, or icing… no matter what you call it when it’s not quite perfect it can ruin an entire cake! So today I’m sharing my best tips for making perfect buttercream.

You’ll also see some answers to common questions I’m asked about buttercream in the video below!

If you want my Best Buttercream Recipe, as well as tons of flavor customization directions and other tips, be sure to download my Best Buttercream Cheatsheet!

1. Use the right powdered sugar the right way.

Use 10x finely ground powdered sugar for the silkiest smoothest buttercream. On the package of powdered sugar it often says how finely ground it is. 10x is the finest, and what you want to use in any type of frosting. 5x is more coarse, and is what you’d want to use if you’re sprinkling powdered sugar onto something as a garnish and don’t want it to melt into the food.

The right way to use powdered sugar is to ALWAYS sift it before adding it into your buttercream. Most recipes are written like this, “3 cups powdered sugar, sifted.” Which means you measure the sugar first THEN sift it before adding it in.

2. Beat, beat, beat the butter!

For buttercream that’s so velvety smooth it melts in your mouth, don’t rush beating the butter. First, start with cool room temperature butter. You don’t want it to be so warm that it’s greasy. Use an electric mixer, either hand held or standing, and beat it with the sugar until combined. Then increase the speed to medium and beat until it lightens in color and looks fluffy in texture. Give it a taste, it should melt on your tongue and not feel heavy or dense in the slightest. This will take about 3 to 4 minutes of beating.

3. You can use cream OR milk, just use the right amount.

Although it’s called buttercream, you can usually get away with using milk instead of cream if your recipe calls for it. The milk will be a little less rich and creamy, but should still work.

The best tips, tricks, and secrets for making perfect buttercream!

4. Adjust the sugar to your preference.

Add the sugar in gradually, and taste it as you go. I personally prefer my buttercream a little less sweet. So I might cut half the liquid in the recipe, or omit it altogether, in order to reduce the sugar. This will allow me to keep the same consistency without adding in so much sugar that it’s all you taste.

5. Never add too much liquid to your buttercream.

Adding additional liquid to your buttercream, such as flavorings or purees, can make it far too liquidy to come together nicely. And you don’t want to have to add a bunch of powdered sugar to thicken it up, because then it will be far too sweet. So add flavors with potent extracts, jams, or non-liquid ingredients.

This can go for food coloring as well. Gel food coloring allows for vibrant colors without adding too much extra liquid.

By the way, I have TONS of flavor customization ideas and directions on my free Best Buttercream Guide, which I’ll link to below.

6. Prevent your buttercream from melting on a hot or humid day.

If you’re making a cake or cupcakes for a party or picnic that’s outside, or it’s a particularly hot or humid day, the last thing you want is melted messy buttercream. Especially if you went to the trouble of decorating with it. What I like to do is store the cake or cupcake the fridge just until you set up for the party or picnic. By the time everyone is ready for cake later in the afternoon, it should be the perfect temperature without running the risk of melting.

You can also use half shortening in your buttercream to make it more stable and less likely to melt. Check out this post the differences between butter and shortening, and why I usually opt for butter.

BONUS TIP: Make your buttercream ahead of time

Buttercream can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 1 week, or in the freezer for 3 months. Let it come to room temperature then re-whip with an electric mixer until light and fluffy again.

Tessa Arias
Author: Tessa Arias

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Find Tessa on  

Leave a Comment & Rating

Add a Review or Question

*Please select a rating to complete your comment.

  1. #
    Angelique Lafreniere — March 18, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Hello I have a recipe for butter cream frosting and it asks for 6 cups of powdered sugar. Can I cut the amount of sugar in half and still keep the other ingredients the same.

    • #
      Tessa — March 19, 2021 at 8:56 am

      Hi Angelique, I discuss adjusting sugar to your preference in this post. I can’t speak for recipes I haven’t created, but I probably wouldn’t cut the sugar in half unless you’re adjusting the liquid in the recipe as well. It might change the end result too much. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  2. #
    Rukeweh — July 29, 2020 at 11:48 pm


  3. #
    Manisha — July 17, 2020 at 8:21 am

    I followed all the above instructions but my buttercream is still grainy.why?

  4. #
    f .r — June 25, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    More beautiful than yourself. More beautiful than your sweets and cakes. Thousands of kilometers away from me, I love you thousands of times.

  5. #
    Lyn — February 15, 2020 at 9:28 am

    I have a recipe for butter cream using 1 kg icing sugar adding 4 RAW EGGS when mixed add 2 lbs butter whip till fluffy
    Flavor of your choice. My questions is how do you deal with the RAW EGGS AND. SALMONELLA how can I heat the eggs without the icing sugar as there is no other liquid in it should I put it on a double boiler and heat to what temperature to kill the bacteria without scramble eggs. Thank you. [email protected]

    • #
      Abbie — July 3, 2023 at 2:42 pm

      Lyn, you may have already found the answer to this, but if anyone else is worried about buttercream recipes that call for raw eggs, you can buy pasteurized liquid whole eggs in a carton (near the carton egg whites, or egg substitute cartons in the refrigerated dairy section).

  6. #
    Janet — February 10, 2020 at 9:53 am

    I was going to make the beautiful chocolate cake with strawberry buttercream this weekend, but ended up making vanilla cupcakes and raspberry buttercream! LOL! I followed your recipe and instructions for buttercream to the letter, and it turned out amazing! I’ve been baking for many, many years and I’ve never had these kind of results. My family was bowled over by the texture, taste, and loved it! Thank you so much for sharing your techniques!

  7. #
    sophie — July 28, 2019 at 2:04 am

    what is the softness of my butter supposed to be because my buttercream is oily…

  8. #
    Denise — June 17, 2019 at 4:15 pm

    Hi Tessa,

    So excited to have found your site! I bake quite a lot, the kitchen is my happy place – LOL – but there’s always something new to learn! My question for you today is about buttercream. I love that it doesn’t need to be refrigerated (buttercream that isn’t made with egg whites of course), but sometimes it gets hot in the kitchen so I need to pop it in the fridge for a bit. The problem is that I don’t like that, while it hardens, it seems to take quite a while to soften. Since it’s already on cupcakes or a cake, I’m not able to rewhip to make fluffy again. Any suggestions or is this just normal for buttercream? Perhaps I’m not patient enough and not allowing enough time to soften.


    • #
      Shivani Vohra — February 10, 2021 at 7:08 pm

      Hi Tessa,

      I have the same issue as Denise.

      Could you please let me know how to avoid the hardening of icing once the cake is refrigerated?

      Thanks heaps

  9. #
    Vanessa — May 21, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    Pls, is it powdered sugar used for buttercream icing or icing sugar, am a little confused

    • #
      Laura — June 24, 2023 at 5:23 pm

      If your in England or British, my Aussie ex used to always call it icing sugar. In America we call it confectioner’s sugar. Also, I recently bought a popular brand and I could not find a !0X or any X on it, but it had a buttercream icing recipie on the side of the box. So, I’m going to use it for making buttercream. In the past, there did used to be an obvious 10X on the front of the box (maybe even part of the product name, I think), but milling has changed somehow so they must feel they cant technically call it 10X any more or something.

  10. #
    Thuy — November 12, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    I experience the same thing, Lian. I’m a little discouraged but don’t want to give up yet. I’ll try all the things I can. Like replacing my baking soda and baking powder and then next time trying to take care to cream the butter and sugars properly to the right texture (maybe I haven’t been doing this so far). I also don’t have a stand mixer but I’d like to think you can still make buttercream without a stand mixer. Praying!

  11. #
    Lian Bernadeth — August 19, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    I tried many times but still grainy. I’m feeling frustrated during my grandmother’s birthday. I didn’t serve the cake because it’s grainy and runny. How can I fix my buttercream?

    • #
      Makaila Robson — December 4, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      What I find works amazing is
      Take 5-6 cups of icing sugar/powdered sugar and mix in 2- 2 1/2 cups warm heavy whipping cream with 2 tsp of clear vanilla and mix till smooth no sugar grains then place in the fridge for 2 hrs then place 4 cups butter in a stand mixer whip on medium/high for 7 mins till tripled in size white and fluffy then slowly 1/4 at a time add the sugar mixture.. whip whip and whip some more and I promise it tastes and feels like Swiss Meringue buttercream but doesn’t have eggs!

  12. #
    Gary and Sachie — April 13, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    We live in Hawaii and that means too hot and too humid sometimes. One of our favorite recipes uses a Lilikoi (Passion Fruit) butter cream filling. Our current recipe sometimes get runny or wets the cake sometimes. We are going to try your tip of using some shortening which might help. We will let you know how it works.
    My question is about Lilikoi. We have our own fresh lilikoi and we prepare it in three ways:
    1) Lilikoi pulp (you add water in equal parts to pulp to make juice),
    2) My secret method of reducing the pulp further to a concentrate (sorry, I won’t give the secret away).
    3) Lilikoi butter – tart and heavenly…
    Which would you recommend for making buttercream your way?

    Gary and Sachie

  13. #
    Donna Kadi — March 21, 2018 at 4:42 am

    During a snow day today I was gonna “practice” making cookie monster cupcakes for my great nephews 1st birthday coming up in May. Just realized I don’t have cream so is it possible to use almond milk? I’m only making a 1/2 recipe since I’m just practicing. Hope you say yes since I cant run to the store because of snow and I really want to practice. BTW I love your videos

  14. #
    Kelly Bennett — January 17, 2018 at 8:03 am

    Thank you for all the helpful hints !

Join the Handle the Heat Community

Cookie Customization Chart
Do you want a more delicious life?
Instead of digging through cookbooks and magazines and searching the internet for amazing recipes, subscribe to Handle the Heat to receive new recipe posts delivered straight to your email inbox. You’ll get all the latest recipes, videos, kitchen tips and tricks AND my *free* Cookie Customization Guide (because I am the Cookie Queen)!
As Seen On....
NPR People Time Glamour Readers Digest The Huffington Post BuzzFeed