This easy delicious cupcake frosting can be flavoured with a variety of things, from chocolate to zest to herbs. The possibilities and combinations are only limited by your imagination! There are many ways to adorn a cupcake, from ganache to whipped cream to glaze to sprinkles to nothing at all; but the most iconic topping for a cupcake has got to be a smooth and creamy frosting.

small cupcakes on platter with different colored icing

Growing up, the majority of my cake frosting experiences were of the Asian bakery sort. Which is to say, that it mostly consisted of stabilized whipped cream flavoured with vanilla or chocolate flakes or occasionally coffee. If you've never had a layer cake from an Asian bakery, I highly recommend giving it a try. They are usually very light texture-wise, not too sweet, and consist of layers of delicate sponge cake filled with fresh fruit or a fruit mousse/pudding, and covered in the aforementioned whipped cream. These cakes will always hold a special place in my heart. Actually, I had one of these cakes at my wedding! But being covered in whipped cream doesn't make for a cake that travels or keeps that well in a situation where ample fridge space is not available. And then buttercream came into my life.

small vanilla cupcakes on baking rack

In my last post, I shared an easy vanilla cupcake recipe with you and promised a post about what frostings I used. Well, here it is! Since I had made so many (48!!!) mini cupcakes, I decided it might be nice to break up the possible monotony by using three different flavours of frosting instead of just one. What I've come to understand about baking (and what's worked out for me) is that knowing some basic principles and recipes are very helpful. And creating different riffs from these staple recipes becomes much easier than trying to reinvent the wheel each time.

My usual frosting of choice for cakes and cupcakes is a Swiss buttercream. There are a few different kinds of buttercream: Swiss, French, Italian, and American. (If you know of any others, please let me know! I'm always ready to try new icing recipes). Swiss, French, and Italian buttercream all contain eggs or egg whites that are heated with sugar before being incorporated with butter and other ingredients. American buttercream does not contain egg or egg whites, so this is a good way to go if you've got a guest with an egg allergy.

The reason why I love Swiss buttercream is that it's fairly easy to make (if you have a hand or stand mixer) and it has a ethereal, silky texture that makes it perfect for decorating your favourite cakes or for sandwiching between two of your favourite cookies. It also is based upon a ratio that's easy to remember so it's a cinch to scale up or down as long as you have a kitchen scale. All you need to have in mind is 1, 2, 3. 1 part egg whites to 2 parts sugar to 3 parts (unsalted, very soft) butter.

Now on this specific occasion, I was in a hurry and by the time I realized I did not have enough butter to make my usual Swiss buttercream, it was too late. Oh, the horror! All right, I'll stop with the dramatics. All kidding aside, I was in a bit of a situation. Here I was, staring at a whole army of cupcakes lined up on my counter and I had no frosting. No. Frosting. It was time to come up with a backup plan... or rather, a new plan.

three cups of different colored icing

I had 1 cup of softened butter and some icing sugar. I also had milk. Bingo! American buttercream it is! Now, I don't usually make American buttercream only because on the occasions where I've had this kind of frosting on cakes, I've found the texture to be a bit gritty and not as smooth as a Swiss buttercream. But when you've painted yourself into a corner, you can't be too choosy. Besides, maybe it was just those particular American buttercream I had that were of that gritty nature. No sense giving the entire idea of American buttercream a bad wrap just because of a few iffy experiences. And thus, this easy delicious cupcake frosting was born!

I figured there must be something I could do to minimize the grittiness and to make sure the frosting was as smooth and silky as possible. The first thing is to make sure that the butter you're using is suuuuuuuuuuuuper soft. Like, mayonnaise soft. You should be able to cut through it with your finger if you had to. I also sifted my icing sugar to get as many of the lumps out as possible before I added it to my butter.

I ended up using a stand mixer for this easy delicious cupcake frosting recipe, even though I could have made it with just a bowl and a spoon. But I really wanted to make sure it was as smooth and evenly mixed as possible. I also enjoyed having both hands free while the frosting was being mixed so I could gradually add the milk while the mixer was running. What I ended up with was a wonderfully smooth and creamy frosting that definitely earned its title. Like I said, it comes down to personal preference if you want to make this frosting by hand or not, but either way, it doesn't get any simpler than this. If you can put stuff in a bowl and mix it together, you can make this frosting!

putting green icing on cupcake

So remember what I said earlier about having staple recipes up your sleeve that you can adapt and play with and scale up or down at a moment's notice? This easy delicious cupcake frosting recipe is one of them. Starting with the base frosting, you can add just about anything to it to complement the flavours of your cake. In this case I made a trio of flavours: vanilla lemon, classic chocolate, and matcha tea. Once I made the base icing, I divided it into thirds to make the flavours I wanted. I ended up with about a little over 1/3 of a cup of each flavour. Since I was frosting mini cupcakes with just a light layer of frosting, this amount went a long way. This frosting is flavourful without being too sweet, which is what I prefer. But if you're palate leans towards more sweetness, go for it by adjusting the amount of icing sugar in the recipe. Just know that you'll have to compensate for the high amount of icing sugar by adding more milk. You may also notice that the frosting will crust over after a bit if you increase the amount of icing sugar. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on what you're looking for. Either way, give this easy delicious cupcake frosting recipe a try and then play with it to find what works for you!

three cupcakes on plate with different colored icing

Easy Delicious Cupcake Frosting

frosts about 50 mini cupcakes

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 scant cup icing sugar, sifted to remove lumps

pinch of salt

2 to 3 tablespoons of whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

grated zest from 1 small organic lemon

2 tablespoons good quality dark cocoa powder (I used Rodelle)

1 tablespoon good quality matcha tea powder

In a medium bowl (or bowl of your stand mixer), whip the softened butter until light and fluffy.

Add the sifted icing sugar and mix well to incorporate. Look for lumps. You'll want to squish (a super technical term, I know) those!

If you're using a stand mixer, leave it running and add in one tablespoon of milk. If mixing by hand, add one tablespoon of milk and mix well. You should start to see the frosting increase slightly in bulk and fluff up more. Add the next tablespoon of milk and mix well again. You should have a smooth and fluffy frosting. If you need to add more milk, add it one tablespoon at a time.

Once your frosting base is ready, you can either flavour the whole batch one single flavour, or divide it into smaller bowls to mix individual flavours.

I divided the batch into three small bowls and mixed the vanilla and lemon zest into one, the cocoa powder into another, and the matcha powder into the last. Frost your cupcakes with as much frosting as you desire. Keep in mind though that I frosted my mini cupcakes fairly lightly with an offset spatula. If you're planning on piping the frosting onto your cakes, you may want to double or even triple this easy delicious cupcake frosting recipe to ensure that you have enough for your purposes. You don't want to run out of frosting part way through. It sucks. Trust me.

three cupcakes on plate

Other flavour combination ideas are:
  • peanut butter
  • shredded coconut
  • pistachio butter
  • almond extract
  • strawberry preserves
  • cinnamon and other spices
  • salted caramel swirl
  • vanilla and lavender
  • orange zest and rosemary
  • melted white/milk/dark chocolate
  • fresh fruit purées
  • marmalade
What other flavour combinations do you want to try? Let us know in the comments below!

If you give this easy delicious cupcake frosting recipe a try, leave a comment below or share with us on Instagram by tagging @pepperwsalt in your photos.

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