This Easy Sugar Cookie Frosting Recipe is based on my favorite vanilla buttercream recipe. It’s a frosting that hardens as it dries, which makes it the best recipe for decorating cutout cookies.
Best Sugar Cookie Frosting Recipe
If there’s one recipe that we all need in our tried and true recipe arsenal, it’s vanilla buttercream frosting for cookies.
(my favorite easy sugar cookie recipe), sandwiched between cookies (like these Lemon Sugar Cookie Sandwiches), etc.
Whether you’re looking to make elaborately decorated sugar cookies with frosting, or simply looking to frost sugar cookies with a knife and top with sprinkles, this is the the best easy recipe.
I know, I know—I’m outwardly biased about this recipe, but if you’ll stick with me, I’ll share all the reasons why this vanilla buttercream frosting for cookies is the best you’ll have.
Why This Sugar Cookie Buttercream Recipe Is Perfect:
- Flavor: The most important aspect of making frosting for sugar cookies is flavor. A frosted sugar cookie is only as good as it tastes. This is a vanilla frosting recipe, but it also has hints of almond extract. It adds a little something extra and is the perfect compliment to vanilla.
- Simple Ingredients: What’s better than an Easy Sugar Cookie Frosting recipe? Only a few basic ingredients stand between you and the best sugar cookie frosting, and it tastes way better than store bought frosting (plus, it’s such an easy recipe).
Soft Yet Hard: Once this vanilla buttercream frosting dries, it does harden to the touch. However, even though this is a cookie frosting that hardens, it’s soft when you bite into it. The frosting hardens only on the outside, like a protective shell. When you bite into it, get ready for silky smooth, soft buttercream.
- Versatile: Because this is a vanilla frosting, it’s white in color, which means you can use food coloring to make colored frosting. Also, whether you’re looking for soft sugar cookies with frosting or cutout sugar cookies with frosting, you can use a knife to spread the frosting or use a piping bag to add intricate designs.
Let’s Talk How To Make Frosting For Sugar Cookies
- unsalted butter: Use unsalted butter because it allows you to control how much salt you want to add into the frosting. Additionally, make sure you use room temperature butter.
- powdered sugar: Icing sugar and confectioners’ sugar is the same thing as powdered sugar.
- vanilla extract
- almond extract: This is an optional ingredient, but I highly suggest using it. It adds an extra something to the frosting without overpowering it.
- heavy whipping cream: If you don’t have heavy whipping cream, you can use whole milk or half & half.
- pinch of salt: Salt offsets the sweetness of the frosting, but a little bit goes a long way.
How To Make Sugar Cookie Frosting Steps:
- Step 1: Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment), cream the unsalted butter until it is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. It seems like a long time, but it’s important to get the butter really nice and fluffy in order to achieve a very fluffy frosting.
- Step 2: Add in the powdered sugar with the electric mixer on a low speed. I like to start with half of the powdered sugar, reserving the remaining powdered sugar until I know if I need it or not.
- Step 3: Add in vanilla extract, almond extract, and 2 Tbsp of heavy whipping cream. Beat the mixture until combined and fluffy.
- Step 4: If the frosting is too thin, add in the remaining cup of powdered sugar. If the frosting feels too thick, add in more heavy whipping cream. This will help you achieve the right consistency for frosting.
- Step 5: Add in a pinch of salt if the frosting tastes too sweet.
- Step 6: If desired, add different liquid food colorings or gel food colors to your frosting. Remember to start with a small amount first, as a little goes a long way, especially with gel food coloring.
- Step 7: Pipe the frosting on top of the cookie, or frost cookies with a butter knife or spoon.
- Step 8: If you plan on making a large batch of cookies, you might need to double this frosting recipe. That will also give you a lot of frosting to work with, especially if you want to decorate your sugar cookies with many different colors.
How To Frost Sugar Cookies (Decorating Tips):
Learning how to make frosted sugar cookies is so simple. With a basic and easy frosting recipe, all you have to focus on is actually adding frosting to your sugar cookies.
- Spread: The easiest way to make frosted sugar cookies is to spread your vanilla buttercream on your cooled cookies with a butter knife or even the back of a spoon. It’s a classic and easy way to produce a simple sugar cookie decoration, and it’s an easy way to involve your kids in the process.
- Pipe: If you’re looking to make a fancier cookie, you can use a piping bag and a tip to pipe the frosting on top of your cookies. You can get as elaborate as you want, (i.e., using different food coloring and tips), or you can do as I did, and use a star tip and keep the sugar cookie buttercream frosting white.
- Dip: Finally, you can actually melt this frosting recipe in the microwave (slowly—only put it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time until it’s thinned out and is at a dipping consistency). Dip your cookies, then let the frosting harden before eating.
What’s The Difference Between Buttercream Frosting, Icing, and Royal Icing?
A buttercream cookie frosting is a creamy frosting that is made with butter, powdered sugar, and milk or heavy cream. It makes for really thick frosted sugar cookies, and it’s a vanilla frosting that can be used on cakes, cupcakes, cookies, etc.
A lot of people consider buttercream frosting the same as a homemade sugar cookie icing, and I disagree a little bit. To me, an icing is much thinner and is more like a glaze. If you melt this sugar cookie buttercream frosting, it will thin out into a sugar cookie icing. However, in it’s classic form, it’s a thick butter-based frosting recipe.
Royal Icing is made with meringue powder, typically. It’s the intricate type of sugar cookie icing you see on a lot of elaborately decorated sugar cookies for holidays, weddings, baby showers, etc.
- Frosted sugar cookies can remain at room temperature for 3-4 days in an airtight container. You can also store the cookies in the fridge if you prefer. Most soft sugar cookies and cutout sugar cookies will stay very soft in the fridge.
Soft Sugar Cookie Frosting That Hardens:
All right, let’s talk about how to make a frosting that is soft when eaten, yet still hardens and is able to have other cookies stacked on top of each other.
Once you have frosted your cookies, you need to let the frosting dry completely before putting them in an airtight container. When you gently touch the frosting and it’s hard to the touch, you can put the cookies away in an airtight container.
How To Stack Frosted Sugar Cookies:
- Regardless how hard your frosting is, I don’t suggest stacking the cookies more than 2-3 cookies deep. The extra weight cant cause the frosting to get smushed.
I usually stack my cookies 2-deep with parchment paper or wax paper between the cookies. This helps protect the cookies a bit more. I begin with a single layer in the bottom of my air-tight container, place a piece of parchment paper on top, then place another single layer on top.
Quick and Easy Tips for the best Sugar Cookie Frosting:
- Food Coloring: If you want colored frosting for sugar cookies, all you need to do is add a bit of food coloring. You can use liquid food coloring or gel food coloring—either will work. Remember, for best results, begin with a small amount.
Flavor: I use vanilla extract and almond extract. You can omit the almond extract if you prefer, but it does enhance the flavor without making it taste like almonds. It’s the secret ingredient to making the best sugar cookie frosting, hands down. Pro tip: If you want very stark white frosting, use a clear vanilla.
- Pipe or Spread: Again, when it comes to making the best frosting for sugar cookies, flavor is more important than looks. Of course, you can use a piping bag and tip to make the cookies extra fancy, but you can also just use a knife to spread the vanilla frosting on top.
- Hard Cookie Frosting: It can take a couple hours for the frosting to harden once it has been piped on top of the cookies.
Other homemade frosting recipes to use on your favorite sugar cookie recipes:
- Lemon Buttercream: Instead of sandwiching the frosting between cookies, spread it on top.
- Cream Cheese Frosting: This is my go to cream cheese frosting recipe and it works great on cookies, cakes, breads, etc.
- Strawberry Buttercream: This strawberry buttercream is pretty in pink and full of strawberry flavor (thanks to the freeze dried strawberries).
- Royal Icing: This is a super easy royal icing recipe for beginners. Plus, it actually is a sugar cookie icing that tastes good too!
This Easy Sugar Cookie Frosting Recipe is based on my favorite vanilla buttercream recipe. It’s a frosting that hardens as it dries, which makes it the best recipe for decorating sugar cookies.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
- 2-4 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
- food coloring, if desired
- pinch of salt
- raw sugar, for sprinkling
- With a standing mixer or hand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes--it seems like a long time, but it's worth it!).
- Add in powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time (beginning with only 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar), beating well after each addition.
Add in vanilla extract, almond extract, and 2 Tbsp of heavy whipping cream, beating well.
- If the frosting seems too thin, add in the remaining powdered sugar. If it's too thick, add in the remaining heavy whipping cream.
Add in a pinch of salt to offset the sweetness of the frosting.
- If desired, add food coloring.
Spread or pipe onto cookie.
If desired, add a sprinkle of raw sugar on top. It makes the frosting shimmer a bit, but it's completely optional.
- If making ahead of time, keep frosting in the fridge, and then let the frosting come to room temperature before spreading onto cookies.
*Allow the frosting to dry (10-15 minutes or so) before stacking in an airtight container.
**You can omit the almond extract if you prefer.
***Finally, to make a pure white frosting, I recommend using a clear vanilla extract.
Here are some other recipes you might like:
Originally posted in 2018. Updated 2022.