Delicious old-fashioned frosting recipes for homemade cakes & cupcakes

Colorful frosted cupcakes against a white background

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Cakes look custom-made when they’re frosted

Frosting on the cake has come to mean an extra frippery or frivolity — something not necessary, but certainly enchanting.

Nowhere does the metaphor ring more true than in its realistic application to food. The plainest cake in the world — from mix, baker or home kitchen — becomes an impressive dessert with the aid of frosting and appropriate adornments.

This is what birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations are made of — cakes in ostentatious dress. A cake maker with a beaming smile and faith in the principle of feeding the eye before the palate often carries off a cake failure with frosting to cover the defects.

The perfect cake, elegant, fine-textured and delicious, becomes even more so with a proper frosting; And of course, the proper frosting frequently depends on taste.

Old-fashioned basic buttercream frosting (1975)

This basic buttercream frosting is just about as quick and easy as a frosting mix, but a lot easier on your budget. And you can make just about any flavor and color frosting you want, with your own pure ingredients.

Use one pound of powdered sugar with the remaining ingredients and beat on high speed for 5 minutes. You’ll get enough frosting to generously frost the tops and sides of a layer cake, top and sides of two 13 x 9 inch loaf cakes, or 36 cupcakes. (One tablespoon is ample for each cupcake.)

For the best look, use two thinner coats of frosting instead of one thick coat. Start with a crumb coat. This will provide a firm and crumb-free base for the second coat of frosting.

How to do a crumb coat: Remove a few tablespoons of the frosting to a small bowl and thin with a small amount of water. Additional sugar may also be added to this portion to help it harden better. Spread the thinned frosting over cake (doing sides first), then allow it to dry to the touch.

While working, slip strips of waxed paper under the bottom edges of the cake to keep the platter clean. After the final frosting sets, carefully pull strips out.

Old-fashioned basic buttercream frosting

4 cups (1 pound) unsifted powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup soft butter

Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy. Makes about 2 cups frosting.

Leftover buttercream frosting can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. Store in a plastic or glass container with a tight lid. Allow refrigerated frosting to warm to room temperature, then beat smooth with a spatula and frost your cake.

Buttercream variations: Chocolate & orange

The basic vanilla frosting can be flavored to make all kinds of frostings, either by using fruit juices, cold coffee, etc. in place of milk in the recipe, or by using your favorite flavor extracts in place of vanilla. Two examples:

Chocolate variation: Add 1/2 cup (sweetened) cocoa and substitute 6 tablespoons water for the 1/4 cup milk.

Orange variation: Add 1 tablespoon grated orange rind, and substitute 1/4 cup orange juice for the milk.

Buttercream frosting recipe above based on information from The Transcript-Bulletin (Tooele, Utah) April 19, 1974, and the Bernardsville News (Bernardsville, New Jersey) March 13, 1975

Frosting recipes from 1970

Buttercream, the smooth rich cream of professional bakers, can be frozen, thawed and then spread on cake or petits fours, a feature which makes it convenient for the dessert enthusiast with limited time.

Sugar is the most important ingredient in frosting. Make sure you use the proper sugar for the recipe or you are courting disaster.

The recipes here call for confectioners’ which is powdery, frosting sugar which is coarse but still somewhat powdery, and granulated sugar, which is the most common sugar used in cookery. Brown sugar is used in other frostings.

Basic confectioners’ sugar frosting

3 tbsp. soft butter or margarine
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tbsp. cream or milk

Cream butter in a deep bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar. Blend thoroughly. Add salt, vanilla, cream or milk and 1 cup more sugar. Beat thoroughly, then blend in enough more sugar to make of thin spreading consistency. This frosting stiffens on standing. Makes enough frosting for two 8-in. layers or 18 to 24 cupcakes.

Quick buttercream

4-1/2 cups (1 pkg.) frosting sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 cup soft butter or margarine
1 egg yolk, optional [Editor’s note from 2018: Using raw egg yolk in a recipe is not recommended]

Combine sugar, milk, vanilla and salt in a bowl. Stir until smooth. Add butter and egg yolk, if used, and beat until smooth. If too stiff beat in a few drops more milk. Use within an hour or cover tightly and store in refrigerator or freezer.

Let soften at room temperature and beat in a few drops of water if needed for easy spreading. Makes enough frosting for two 8-inch layers or 18 to 24 cupcakes.

Orange buttercream frosting

Add 1 tsp. grated orange peel to Confectioners’ or Buttercream frosting and substitute orange juice for milk or cream.

Mocha buttercream frosting

Blend 2 tsp. instant coffee with sugar for confectioners’ or Buttercream frosting.

Chocolate buttercream frosting

Melt 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate over hot water, blend with 2 tbsp. boiling water and use instead of milk or cream in confectioners’ frosting.

Girl frosting a cake in 1964

White mountain frosting (Boiled frosting)

2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan. Stir gently over low heat until sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Bring to a boil, cover and boil 5 min. Uncover and boil without stirring to the soft ball stage (240 to 242 degrees on a candy thermometer).

Meanwhile, beat egg whites until stiff. Add hot syrup in a fine stream, continuing to beat vigorously. Beat in vanilla and continue to beat until stiff and almost cooled. Makes enough frosting for two 8-inch or 9-inch layers, or 24 to 30 cupcakes.

See more recipes below!

Homemade cakes & cupcakes shine with delicious classic frosting on top

Old-fashioned frosting recipes from 1955

Mocha-marshmallow whipped cream frosting

Set in the refrigerator to chill a bowl, a rotary beater and 2 cups whipping cream. Heat together 16 (4 oz.) marshmallows 1/3 cup quick coffee beverage (4 teaspoons concentrated soluble coffee and 1/3 cup hot water) in top of double boiler over simmering water, stirring occasionally, until marshmallows are melted. Remove from heat. Cool; chill in the refrigerator.

When mixture is chilled, whip the cream, using the chilled bowl and beater. Whip 1 cup at a time until cream is of medium consistency (piles softly). Fold whipped cream into chilled mixture.

Makes enough to fill and frost two 8- or 9-in. round cake layers.

Maple sugar frosting

Set out a candy thermometer.

Combine in a medium-size saucepan 1 cup sugar, 1 cup firmly packed maple sugar and 1 cup thick sour cream. (If maple sugar is available only in solid form, grate, using a fine grater, before using. Or heat over simmering water until sugar is softened, then force through a fine sieve.)

Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and bring to boiling. Put candy thermometer in place. Continue cooking without stirring. During cooking, wash sugar crystals from sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cook until mixture reaches 238°F (soft ball stage, page 5; remove from heat while testing).

Remove pan to cooling rack and cool to lukewarm (about 110°F) without stirring or moving the pan. When cooled, beat vigorously with wooden spoon or electric mixer until mixture begins to lose its gloss and is of spreading consistency.

Spread on cake at once. If frosting becomes too thick to spread, beat in a few drops of cream or milk

Makes enough to frost sides and tops of three 8-in. round cake layers.

Brown sugar frosting

Follow the recipe for Maple sugar frosting, but substitute 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar for maple sugar. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract just before beating.

Decorating frosting

Cream together until softened 2 tablespoons butter or margarine and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Thoroughly blend in, in order: 1-1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon warm cream. Tint as desired with about 1 drop food coloring. Use for decorating Petits Fours.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups frosting.

MORE: Get the classic 7-minute frosting recipe, plus a dozen variations to try

Old-style buttercream frosting recipe

In top of a double boiler, beat 6 egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Add gradually, beating constantly, a mixture of 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch. Add 3/4 cup cream gradually and stir until well-blended.

Set over simmering water and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened (about 17 min.). Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Cover; cool slightly. Set in refrigerator to chill. When mixture is chilled, put into a large bowl 1-1/2cups firm, unsalted butter.

Beginning with medium speed of an electric mixer, and as soon as possible increasing to high, beat until butter is fluffy. Gradually add the chilled mixture to the creamed butter, beating after each addition just until blended. If necessary, set frosting over ice and water until firm enough to spread. If frosting should curdle, beat again until just smooth.

This frosting will keep several days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. Beat just until smooth before using. Enough to frost sides and tops of three 9-in. round torte layers.

Hazelnut buttercream frosting

Grate 1/2 cup (about 2-1/2 oz.) hazelnuts (about 1-1/2 cups, grated). Follow Buttercream frosting recipe above; blend the grated nuts into the frosting after blending in the egg-yolk mixture.

Mocha buttercream frosting

Put 1-3/4 teaspoons concentrated soluble coffee [instant coffee] in a small cup; add 1 teaspoon boiling water and stir until coffee is dissolved. Set aside to cool. Follow Buttercream frosting recipe, but omit vanilla extract. Blend cooled coffee into the butter.

Chocolate-mocha buttercream frosting

Melt 1-1/2 squares (1-1/2 ounces) chocolate, and set aside to cool. Follow recipe for Mocha buttercream frosting; gradually blending chocolate into whipped butter after adding coffee.

Basic buttercream frosting

Cream together 1/4 cup butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until butter is softened. Gradually add 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, beating well after each addition. Add 1 tablespoon milk or cream and stir in and beat to spreading consistency.

Makes enough to frost sides and tops of two 8-in. round cake layers or 2 dozen cupcakes

Lemon butter frosting

Follow Basic butter frosting recipe, but substitute lemon juice for milk and add 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel (page 4). If desired, add a few drops yellow food coloring.

Mocha butter frosting

Follow Basic butter frosting recipe. Sift 1 teaspoon concentrated soluble coffee with the confectioners’ sugar. Melt (page 5) and cool 2 sq. (2 oz.) chocolate.

Chocolate butter frosting

Melt and cool 2 squares (2 ounces) of chocolate. Follow Basic butter frosting recipe, and blend chocolate in after adding sugar.

Raisin-rum butter frosting

Follow Basic butter frosting recipe, but decrease vanilla extract to 1/4 teaspoon and add 3/4 teaspoon rum. Increase milk to about 2 tablespoons and add 1 drop red food coloring and 3 tablespoons finely chopped golden raisins.

Orange butter frosting

Follow Basic butter frosting recipe, but substitute 1 teaspoon grated orange peel (page 4) for the vanilla extract and 1 to 2 tablespoons orange juice for the milk.

Peppermint butter frosting

Cream together until butter is softened 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Gradually add 3-1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth after each addition.

Add 3-4 tablespoons milk or cream and beat until frosting is of spreading consistency. Tint to desired color with red food coloring.

Makes enough to frost sides and tops of two 9-inch round cake layers.

Lemon cream cheese frosting

Blend together 6 oz. softened cream cheese, 1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel. Add gradually and blend in 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar. If frosting is too stiff to spread, blend in milk or cream, 1 teaspoonful at a time, until easy to spread.

Makes enough to frost sides and tops of two 9-in. round cake layers.

Orange cream cheese frosting

Follow Lemon cream cheese frosting recipe, but omit lemon juice and lemon peel. Blend with the cream cheese 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons thawed frozen orange juice concentrate.Chill frosting in refrigerator until of spreading consistency (about 30 minutes).

Chocolate cream cheese frosting

Melt and set aside to cool 2 sq. (2 oz.) chocolate. Follow Lemon cream cheese frosting recipe, but omit lemon juice and peel. Blend with the cream cheese 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. After sugar has been added, blend in the chocolate.

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