Simple buttercream icing is typically flavored with vanilla extract to add something beyond the sugar and butter flavors. However, you can make frosting without vanilla extract or substitute something else for a different flavor.
You can still use the icing to top cakes, cupcakes, cookies and more. It might be best to make your icing recipe without vanilla extract altogether if you want don't want to compete with a flavorful cake, such as spice cake, but just want to enhance it with a sweet topping.
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To change up the flavor of your buttercream icing, skip the vanilla extract or sub in a different flavor to add variety.
Step 1: Whip the Butter
Whip softened butter with an electric mixer until creamy. It takes 1 cup of butter to yield 3 cups of icing. While buttercream is widely used, you can still make white frosting without butter.
Instead, you can skip the butter and make a thin, pourable icing that you might pour over homemade donuts or use for dipping French toast sticks. Skipping the butter significantly reduces the amount of fat in your topping. According to the USDA, 1 cup of butter contains 176 grams of fat.
Step 2: Mix in Some Flavor
Mix your choice of flavoring with the creamed butter, if desired, using about 1 teaspoon of a flavor extract, such as almond or lemon, to yield 3 cups of frosting.
Mix in 1/4 cup of cocoa powder or 3 ounces of melted chocolate to make a chocolate buttercream icing. If you prefer, skip the flavoring altogether to make plain buttercream icing.
Step 3: Add Powdered Sugar
Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, and mix it well at medium speed until it is well-incorporated, thick and dry. You'll need 4 cups or about 1 pound of powdered sugar to yield 3 cups of frosting.
Step 4: Slowly Add Milk
Mix in milk 1 tablespoon at a time at medium speed, using 2 to 4 tablespoons to yield 3 cups of icing. Mix the icing for about five minutes until it becomes light and fluffy. The amount of milk varies, so add 1 tablespoon at a time until soft peaks form.
If you skipped the butter and plan to make thin, pourable icing, use even more milk until you achieve a thin consistency that easily drizzles from a spoon.
If you aren't going to use your icing right away, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, as recommended by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, or freeze it.
Read more: How Do I Make a Cake Extra Moist?
Add Some Variety
If you want to make a crusting buttercream icing that holds the shape of flowers and other decorations well, you can substitute vegetable shortening for at least half of the butter in the icing, as instructed by Harford Community College. Vegetable shortening stays solid at room temperature and won't melt as easily as butter.
You can add 1 to 2 tablespoons of a range of different liquids to flavor frosting without using vanilla extract. Try orange juice, espresso, coffee liqueur or mint liqueur. If you choose this flavor option, subtract the amount of orange juice or espresso from the total amount of milk in the icing.
Things You'll Need
Flavor extract or chocolate (optional)