What Is Buttermilk Frosting?

Nicole Long

Buttermilk frosting is used to frost a wide array of deserts and baked goods. While recipes will vary, most buttermilk frosting recipes consist of sugar, butter, and buttermilk. The basic recipe is versatile and can be easily adjusted for a variety of tastes and preferences by adding ingredients, such as cocoa powder and vanilla.

Chocolate buttermilk frosting on a cake.
Chocolate buttermilk frosting on a cake.

Novices and professionals alike use frosting to decorate a variety of baked goods. Traditionally, this type of icing is used to decorate cakes and cupcakes, however, it can also be used to decorate breakfast pastries, such as cinnamon buns. Besides spreading the frosting to glaze or cover a cake or pastry, buttermilk frosting can also be placed in pastry bags to make it easier to pipe on designs, such as flowers and stars.

A cupcake with buttermilk frosting.
A cupcake with buttermilk frosting.

The ingredients that go into the recipe are basic, making it ideal for those looking for an easy-to-make frosting. Variations exist depending on the recipe, however, most call for sugar or powdered sugar, buttermilk, and butter. In addition, some recipes may require light corn syrup and baking soda.

Most recipes will require a stove top and saucepan, at minimum. Typically, ingredients are placed in a saucepan and mixed until boiling. Recipes with powdered sugar instead of the traditional granular sugar will instruct the cook to remove the saucepan from the heat and then add the powdered sugar gradually, while stirring. Additional mixing and stirring should bring the mixture to a desired consistency.

While making buttermilk frosting is simple, some tips can be applied to help make the cooking process easier. Stirring continually while bringing the mixture to a boil will help keep the ingredients, especially the sugar, from burning. In addition, when using a recipe that calls for powdered sugar, sifting it beforehand can help keep lumps from appearing in the icing.

Versatility is a hallmark of this popular icing. Simply adding cocoa powder to the mixture can create a chocolate buttermilk frosting. Flavorings are another common addition, especially vanilla extract. Other options for livening up the basic recipe include adding chopped nuts or pieces of candy brittle.

Buttermilk frosting is very similar to another common frosting for cakes and baked goods — buttercream frosting. The differences between the two are minor but important to note. Buttercream frosting uses milk in place of buttermilk, and almost always calls for confectioners’ sugar instead of granulated sugar. In addition, buttercream frosting is typically prepared at room temperature without the need for heating on the stove.


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