Oh, buttercream frosting.

Now, most people are under the impression that “real” buttercream includes these ingredients: butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, maybe a little milk.  It’s “real” because it uses butter instead of shortening.  Only, it isn’t.  That version is a “quick buttercream” and it is extremely high sugar: usually 4 – 5 cups per cup (1/2 lb.) of butter!  It does make a good decorator’s frosting because it can be made very stiff.  But is it, in any way, “healthy?”  Not a chance.

Real buttercream frosting is very different.  It’s a cooked frosting, made with beaten eggs (or sometimes just egg whites), a small amount of sugar, and of course, butter.  But it is truly delicious, and has an amazing texture.

I’ve studied real buttercreams for awhile.  I even tried making some once, almost 10 years ago.  I knew nothing about baking or cooking and tried to follow a recipe, only to end up with slightly sweetened butter.  Now, a good buttercream is sort of like that anyway, by its nature.  But it should be more than that.  I was disappointed and never used it.

I tried another recipe around Christmas last year.  It was good, not the best.  I sampled a few from local bakeries.  I knew I had to make one that was good!  I read every recipe I could get my hands on, and tried to learn how and why they work.  Eventually, I figured out what the goal was, method-wise.  Then I went into the kitchen to create.

What came out was, in my opinion, the best buttercream ever.  If you’ve only had powdered-sugar frosting, it’s not like that at all.  It’s completely smooth, buttery, sweet, and rich, without being that overly-sweet, gritty, heavy frosting.  You just have to try it.  It’s amazing.

The best part?  Per pound of butter (2 cups!), it uses less than 1 cup of sugar, yet is still plenty sweet!  That’s 10% as much as your standard powdered sugar version.  Not bad, for a real food dessert. :)

Read the recipe carefully — several times.  I’ll note all the spots that were tricky for me so that hopefully you can make it without problems.  Then enjoy!


  • ¾ c. sucanat or organic cane sugar (you could use honey or maple syrup too — just follow the directions but skip the water)
  • ¼ c. filtered water
  • 2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks (room temperature)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 lb. unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
You will need:
  • Large glass bowl (or stainless steel bowl from a stand mixer)
  • Stand mixer or hand-held mixer with whisk attachment
  • Small saucepan
  • Candy thermometer


Gather up all your supplies now, because you won’t have time to do it as this is happening.  The temperature of the eggs and butter is very important, so set them out ahead of time.  A stand mixer will make this quite a bit easier, but it is possible to do it with a hand mixer — I did.

In your saucepan, add your sugar and your water.  I wanted a “pure” vanilla flavor, so I’m using organic cane sugar.  I have used sucanat before too and it is yummy, it just adds a definite “flavor” to it.  Attach your candy thermometer to the pot so that it is in the sugar but not touching the bottom.  Turn it on medium high.  Do not stir.

Meanwhile, add your eggs and yolks to a large glass bowl and add a pinch of salt, maybe 1/8 tsp. if you like measuring.  I don’t.

While your sugar syrup is cooking, whip your eggs until they are thick, quadrupled in volume, and almost gelatinous — they should form very soft peaks, though because of the yolks they will never be a “meringue.”  This is okay.


You are waiting for your syrup to reach 240 degrees, the “softball” stage.  Watch the thermometer.  Mine’s not quite there in the picture below, but almost.  This process took 15 – 20 minutes.

When your sugar syrup reaches 240, remove the candy thermometer.  If using a stand mixer, turn it on low so it’s constantly beating the eggs.  If not, then grab your hand mixer in one hand and turn it on (in the eggs, please, so there’s not a mess!) and grab the pot handle in the other hand.  You are going to pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl.

Notice how close to the edge I am.  This is important.  Running it down the side lets it cool off slightly before hitting the eggs, making it less likely to cook them.  It prevents it from splashing up and burning you.  It also allows it to incorporate slowly.

Beat the egg mixture constantly as you add the sugar syrup.  It is cooking the egg proteins gently, making them fluffy.  Once the sugar syrup is all in, the mixture should resemble marshmallow in taste and texture.

I stopped my mixer just to taste it and play with it for a minute. :)  Keep beating it, though, until the mixture is cooled down to room temperature — this should take less than five minutes.  And it is important.

Now, it’s time to add your butter.  It’s important that it be room temperature and very soft (like mine above).  We are creating an emulsion here, and if the ingredients are vastly different temperatures, it will not happen.  It will fall apart into a soupy mess (which is possible, though annoying, to fix).  If the egg mixture is too hot, it melts the butter and separates — put it in the fridge for a few minutes and resume beating.  If the butter is too cold, it doesn’t incorporate well and you have the same issue — place it over a pot of simmering water to heat it up and then keep beating.  Or, make sure your ingredients are the right temperature and skip all that. :)

Start adding butter, a couple tablespoons at a time.  Your mixture will deflate and become very runny and strange looking — that is normal.  It will stay thin and odd-looking until you are adding the last 1/2 cup of butter.  Then, suddenly, it will thicken and whip up nicely.  Frosting!

At this point, add your vanilla and mix again, briefly.  It’s done!  Transfer to a glass storage dish and keep in the fridge for a week or so, or in the freezer for a month or more.  You will need to let it soften before you can frost a cake with it.

Store frosted cakes in the fridge or freezer.  Try the chocolate cake I posted last week.  I covered the outside of mine with sliced almonds!

**This post has been entered in Healthy 2day Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday.**

What’s your favorite use for frosting?

This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (6.5), Daniel (5), Jacob (3), and Nathan (1.5). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a popular book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. She also recently released Healing With God's Earthly Gifts: Natural and Herbal Remedies, which teaches people to use natural remedies to keep their families healthy. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children.

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  1. Katie, I have two questions. Could I substitute mint extract for the vanilla? I’m making chocolate cupcakes and wanted mint icing to accompany them. That being said, I have never used buttercream icing before. Will it work on cupcakes? I read some comments that made me think that it would not be firm enough to sit on the cupcakes. I hope it will because I have been looking for a great icing recipe that doesn’t involve so much sugar and I am hoping this is it!!


    • Hi AJ,

      Sure, you can use mint extract instead of vanilla. You might need a little more of it, but can add to taste. It is firm enough to sit on cupcakes, but not firm enough to use for decorating (like if you wanted to pipe flowers). You *can* use it for decorating if partially refrigerated but you have to be really careful. Normal icing though is fine!


  2. […] A short clip about artist and maker Zina Nicole Lahr. SO inspiring! – Recipes: amaretto snowballs, refined-sugar free vanilla buttercream, superfoods hot cocoa (and the most adorable mug warmers), almond sunny seed crackers, gluten free […]


  3. Hello, I just purchased your ebook and there was a link from the Orange Medallion cookies to this frosting. However, do you happen to have a Paleo version of frosting that would go with these cookies?

    By the way LOVE the book, Baking with Coconut Flour.
    Thank you.


  4. I want to make strawberry frosting for my sons birthday but want it to be low sugar. Do you think it would work to fold in some strawberry puree at the end?


  5. So I used salted butter, and forgot, and added my pinch of salt. Probably won’t do that next time. 1/2 cup of maple, 1/4 cup of honey, it was pretty good! Can’t wait to put it on the flour-less brownies I just made. Thank you for this recipe (along with non-refined sugar options)!


  6. […] frosting, follow the directions here, but cook the sugar at a higher temperature and allow it to caramelize.  Watch […]


  7. Hai Sweetheart :)

    Superb way to have it less sugar and i just love your video. Thanks. Just wondering….in Malaysia the climate is a bit warm here….dose the buttercream can melt little bit if its on a warm weather here.
    Appreciate your feedback ya.
    Thank you,dear.


    • Hi Lynn,

      I would probably keep the buttercream itself, or anything frosted with it in the fridge if it’s warm, because it could melt and would be ruined.


  8. […] tastes terrible, so you have to find a good balance and I think this will work. This recipe from Modern Alternative Mama is a real food buttercream that you could try substituting the water for tonic water, but you may […]


  9. Thank you for sharing! I linked to this post in my Glow Party series.


  10. Hi Kate, I look forward to trying this. I was planning on using it for carrot cake but wanted first to make sure that I could safely substitute the vanilla for lemon juice/zest or just something more carrot-cakey. Thanks for the recipe!


  11. Hi there, I am wanted to do a refined sugar free smash cake for 1 year old I was hoping to do decorative roses all around would this froating work for that? I am having the hardest time finding frosting that doesn’t use sugar but could still be stiff enough. Any suggestions?


    • Hi Jami,

      Yes, “but” lol. You could use this, but it will be very soft and you will have to work with it when it’s still rather cold (but not too cold) and once the roses are made, keep it frozen. Alternately, you could frost the cake with this and make the roses inedible. OR if you do the swirly sort of “roses” as the cake frosting, this would definitely work for that.


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