crusting buttercream icing for sugar cookies

Perfect Vanilla Crusting Buttercream Icing for Sugar Cookies

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When we think of a recipe for icing to decorate cookies, our minds typically go the route of hard royal icing. I want to share with you that there’s a better, tastier, faster, and easier way to decorate sugar cookies – with buttercream. Yep, the same buttercream frosting that you would use to frost a cake is arguably even cuter on cookies. You don’t need to bite into pretty-but-rock-hard cookies just to get cute treats for your parties. All you need is the perfect crusting buttercream recipe.

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If you are a typical royal icing cookie decorator, I encourage you to branch out to the tastier side! There is a common misconception that you can’t get pretty, detailed cookies with buttercream. But that is so wrong! You can use small tip sizes to get micro-details. You can paint on buttercream. You can smooth buttercream icing. You can package buttercream cookies. And the best one yet, you can get amazing texture for florals, furry animals, and more.

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I’m sharing all about buttercream icing for sugar cookies so you can be confident in your buttercream cookie decorating skills. Follow along!

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Of course, if you’ve never decorated sugar cookies with buttercream icing before, please check out my beginner’s course! This course is designed for the ABSOLUTE beginner who wants to learn my techniques for decorating the most delicious and too-pretty-to-eat buttercream sugar cookies. Check it out here:

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*This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.*

Crusting Buttercream Icing for Sugar Cookies

First, I want to address what I mean by “crusting,” because that’s not the prettiest word. All it means is that the outside layer of buttercream will form a slight crust. This allows the cookies to be lightly touched without getting messed up. You can package them and transport them as well.

For a crusting buttercream, you will need room temperature butter, vegetable shortening, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and some room temperature milk or cream. Yep, that’s it! You can totally change out some of the vanilla extract for a different flavor as well.

To create beautiful colors of buttercream icing, I prefer to use the Wilton brand of gel colors. Always remember that as the buttercream sits, the colors will deepen. If you need a black, red, dark blue, dark purple, really any deeper color, allow the frosting to sit overnight on the counter. This will deepen up the shade without having to add a ton of gel food coloring.

I like to use the Challenge Butter brand because it is more white than other butter brands I’ve seen in my local market. The whiter the butter, the whiter the buttercream frosting.

The first step is to cream together a cup of room temperature butter and a cup of vegetable shortening in your stand mixer.

crusting buttercream icing for sugar cookies recipe

Next, put about a pound of powdered sugar into the stand mixer and slowly mix it in. You don’t want to overbeat the frosting, so mix until there isn’t a big powdery mess about to fly out. Keep adding powdered sugar slowly until all of it is mixed in just enough.

crusting buttercream icing for sugar cookies recipe

Add in the two teaspoons of vanilla extract and two to four tablespoons of room temperature milk or cream. I like to use artificial clear vanilla extract so that the frosting is even whiter. You can also mix in some of these liquids while adding in the powdered sugar if the mixture is getting too thick.

I like to keep the icing on the thicker side if I know I’m doing a lot of florals or textures in a set. But if it’s a typical set with more line work or smoothing that needs to be done, go with a consistency like peanut butter.

If your set is a mixture of both florals/textures and smooth areas, go with a thicker frosting. There is no need to make different icing consistencies for decorating cookies for one set. That is something that needs to be done for royal icing with flood consistency and outline piping consistency. Just keep it all the same for buttercream.

crusting buttercream icing for sugar cookies recipe

crusting buttercream icing for sugar cookies

All American Crusting Buttercream Frosting Recipe

Leah Buehler
I recommend using a crusting buttercream when decorating buttercream sugar cookies. This allows the buttercream to form an outside crust, giving them a bit more protection from getting accidentally squished. This is essential if you plan to transport these cookies from your house to another location or if you want to stack or seal them.
Prep Time 1 hr
Mixing Time 5 mins
Total Time 1 hr 5 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Equipment

  • Stand Mixer with Paddle Attachment
  • Measuring Spoons & Bowls

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening such as Crisco
  • 2 lbs. plus 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. clear vanilla extract I use artificial
  • 2-4 tbsp. give or take room temperature whole milk

Instructions
 

  • In your electric mixer, use the paddle attachment to mix the butter and vegetable shortening together. 
  • Slowly mix in the powdered sugar, only adding as much as your electric mixer can handle at a time.
  • Mix in the vanilla extract and 2 tbsp. of milk. If the mixture is too stiff, add more milk. I prefer a consistency of smooth peanut butter for cookies that have a lot of line work and a slightly stiffer consistency for piping flowers.

Notes

This recipe will store nicely in the fridge for a few weeks in an airtight container. You can also leave your decorated cookies at room temperature for several days, as the frosting will be shelf-stable due to the mixture of sugar and fat.
Keyword Crusting All American Buttercream Icing

Frequently Asked Questions About Using Crusting Buttercream Icing for Sugar Cookies

How do I prevent my buttercream from becoming grainy?

To fix grainy buttercream icing, there are a few tips I want to share with you. First, make sure that you’ve added enough liquid. You want the frosting to be a smooth peanut butter consistency for the majority of your decorated sugar cookies. Again, if you need a lot of florals, it can be a bit stiffer, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be grainy.

Sometimes, just adding in the gel food coloring adds enough moisture back into the frosting. If the buttercream is still grainy, allow the frosting to sit at room temperature for a bit, possibly even overnight. Because we added powdered sugar with liquid, the powdered sugar needs to have time to incorporate or melt into the liquid.

Be careful with the temperature. If the buttercream frosting is too cold, the powdered sugar has a hard time mixing in with the butter and vegetable shortening. This can cause a grainy buttercream. Remember, the fats (butter and vegetable shortening) should be room temperature, or around 70 degrees.

The last tip I have for grainy buttercream is to make sure you are using the correct type of sugar. Avoid using powdered sugar made from beet sugar, which doesn’t blend very well. Use powdered sugar made from cane sugar instead.

My buttercream icing is too sweet, how can I make my icing less sweet?

Crusting buttercream does need quite a bit of powdered sugar in it to create a buttercream icing that hardens. However, if you want a less sweet tasting buttercream, substitute the unsalted butter for salted butter. The salt can help offset that sweet taste.

I would encourage trying the too-sweet buttercream on your sugar cookies prior to making adjustments, however. I have found that the sugar cookie recipe I use is the perfect balance with this buttercream icing recipe.

Remember too, if you are taking a spoon of icing to test-taste it, it will be sweet. When you are decorating sugar cookies, there will be less frosting on the cookie. Unless, of course, you are making cookies covered in florals, which will have quite a bit of icing. But, typically, the amount is less than the thickness of the actual sugar cookie.

My black/red/blue buttercream frosting isn’t getting dark enough, how do I create dark buttercream icing colors?

To create dark buttercream colors, you do not need to add in a whole tube of gel coloring. Instead, add in an amount that gets you about 3/4 of the way to your desired shade. Then, cover the icing with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter overnight. Don’t worry the high sugar-to-fat ratio keeps the buttercream frosting shelf stable.

After the frosting has sat out for 8 hours or longer, check the top of the frosting and use that as the test. Remember, when you decorate with crusting buttercream, the outside layer crusts, and it will deepen in color a bit. If the frosting is still too light, mix in a bit more food coloring. Allow it to sit for 30 minutes and see what the frosting looks like again. Repeat this process until you get your desired shade. I find that just allowing 8 hours overnight is perfect.

One last tip I have is if you know you are needing cookies well in advance, mix all of your icing shades and put them into the icing bags. Place the icing bags into the freezer for up to two weeks. The night before it is time to decorate your cookies, move the icing into the refrigerator to defrost. Your frosting will likely be darker in color than when you first mixed it.

The colored buttercream in my icing bag is separating, how do I fix this?

This is actually normal and expected due to the mixture of water from the milk and the fat of the butter & shortening. Remember from our science classes that water and fat do not mix very well. All you need to do is massage the bag with your hands. The warmth will help to get everything incorporated again.

If that didn’t work as well as you wanted, the icing probably has a lot of liquid in it. You may need to remix the icing and add a bit of powdered sugar back into it.

My buttercream icing isn’t crusting but I followed the recipe, what went wrong?

Sometimes the buttercream frosting won’t harden if the air temperature is too hot. If your house or event is warm, the frosting will remain soft. Try to get the cookies into an area with room temperature. You can also place the cookies into a refrigerator or a carefully packed ice chest until they crust.

I heard that you can’t package buttercream sugar cookies, is that true?

You probably couldn’t package sugar cookies decorated with non-crusting buttercream. However, you can definitely package and transport buttercream iced cookies using crusting buttercream. For more on this, check out my post, How to Package Buttercream Sugar Cookies.

I heard that you can’t get a smooth buttercream iced cookie for fun details, is that true?

It is not true. You can for sure achieve a smooth buttercream icing for decorated sugar cookies. This is great if you like the look of royal icing but want a tastier option. You can also add painted details onto a smooth surface. Check out my post here for how I achieve smooth buttercream icing on sugar cookies, How to Smooth Buttercream for Cookies.

Save the Recipe for Crusting Buttercream for Later

If you want to decorate the perfect “too-pretty-to-eat” sugar cookies for your parties, make sure to save this recipe! You can pin the image below to your Pinterest account or use the social sharing icons on the page.

crusting buttercream icing for sugar cookies recipe

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22 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This was so helpful! I decorate cakes and usually use a pure buttercream icing for that. I used to use one similar to this recipe and I had forgotten that it crusted and sat better at room temperature. There is a lot of helpful information here on how to make buttercream icing. I found the part about how the colours become more dark as they sit very interesting.

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      I love that you decorate cakes! Cakes are soooo hard for me. Yes, the colors deepening as time goes by is a wonderful benefit!

  2. 5 stars
    This was such an interesting article! As much as I love the look of royal icing, I much prefer the taste of buttercream and I’m thrilled that we have this tasty but pretty alternative!

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      Yes, royal icing cookies are no doubt beautiful. I’m happy to provide a tastier alternative!

  3. 5 stars
    This is my new go-to recipe. Thank you!!!

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      You are welcome!

  4. 5 stars
    You are a true expert, and your cookies are tiny edible pieces of art! It seems buttercream cookies fall into a specific branch of baking, with specific a specific dictionary even – today, I’ve learnt about crusting.

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      Right? Crusting is a good thing here 🙂 And thank you so much!

  5. 5 stars
    Thanks for the recipe, I always wanted to try buttercream icing. Your’s look so pretty. The recipe is not as difficult as I thought. I need to try it.

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      You are welcome! I hope you get the chance to try it out soon for some delicious cookies!

  6. 5 stars
    This is an awesome post! I prefer buttercream on my sugar cookies, since I find the royal icing gets too solid after sitting for a bit. Thank you for all the great tips, for sugar cookie buttercream icing 🙂 Can’t wait to try them this Christmas!

  7. 5 stars
    This looks like such an easy buttercream frosting to make. I’m looking forward to decorating some cookies with the kids. The hawaiian flower one you made is so beautiful!

  8. 5 stars
    It so happened I have all the ingredients and Im keen to try. One question can I use plantbased milk like almond or oat? Thanks!

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      That’s a great question Jeannie! I haven’t tried it with plant based milk, so I’m not entirely sure what it would end up like. If you wanted a vegan or vegetarian option, I would use all vegetable shortening instead of butter and then mix with water instead of milk. I’ve done that before and it was an awesome crusting buttercream.

  9. 5 stars
    What an in-depth post on buttercream frosting for sugar cookies! Your frosted cookies are truly a work of art! I have saved this recipe to come back to later! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      Thank you Jeri!

  10. 5 stars
    Thanks for this recipe (both for the cookies and the frosting). I only tried decorating sugar cookies once…to a moderate success, they will get better with practice. I have one question though. I found that the icing was not sticking to my cookies. The only way I could get them to stick was to put a thin layer of icing on the cookie first. Any thoughts as to how to combat this?

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      Hi Cindy! I have had this happen a few times, each time it was because the buttercream wasn’t wet enough. Add a bit more milk and the frosting should stick to the cookie without having to put some down first. And yes, keep practicing. I’m sure they look great!

  11. 5 stars
    A tip that I learned recently to get your buttercream whiter…if your butter was too yellow, is to add a touch of purple dye, and it will counter out the yellow- to get a beautiful Snow White color. 🙂

    1. Leah Buehler says:

      Yes, works great! Thanks for leaving a tip for everyone!

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