Whether you’re frosting a cake or piping decorations, the consistency of the frosting is key to getting the right results. Thankfully, it’s easy to take your buttercream from stiff to soft consistency, and the other way around!

Buttercream frosting has so many wonderful qualities. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also easy to customize with gel food colorings or flavor extracts. It tastes great with any cake flavor and can even be used to ice cookies, brownies and donuts.

The key to buttercream success is knowing if your frosting is at the right consistency. Depending on your recipe or project, you may need your buttercream to be soft, medium or stiff consistency. Knowing the difference between these three consistencies will help you create amazing buttercream designs that are sure to impress!

How to Make Buttercream Frosting

Buttercream frosting is the traditional choice for bakers and decorators because it’s quick and easy to make. The basic recipe includes shortening, butter, sugar, milk and vanilla, but you can alter it however you’d like! Add chocolate, peppermint extract or fruit to change the flavor of your buttercream.

For a simple and delicious recipe, check out our Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. It’s easy to change the consistency of the frosting using this recipe, so it’s perfect for beginners and decorators of all skill levels.

White cake with red poppies

Stiff Consistency Buttercream

Stiff consistency buttercream is used for dimensional decorations that need to retain their shape when piped. This includes buttercream roses and flowers that have upright petals.

To make your buttercream stiff consistency, prepare the vanilla buttercream frosting recipe as directed. This should result in stiff consistency buttercream. However, if your buttercream isn’t stiff enough, gradually add more powdered sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until your frosting is thick but still pipeable. If you stick your spatula into the buttercream, your frosting should maintain a stiff peak.

If your buttercream is too thick and can’t flow through a piping tip, add more milk – about 1 teaspoon at a time – to slightly thin it out.

You can also purchase Wilton White Decorator Icing, which is already at stiff consistency.

Medium Consistency Buttercream

Medium consistency buttercream is the most versatile of the three. It’s often used for borders such as stars, dots and shells, as well as other decorations that will remain relatively flat.

It can also be used to pipe cupcake swirls and dam borders around cake layers.

To achieve a medium consistency, prepare the vanilla buttercream frosting recipe as directed. Once all the sugar has been added, add 1 teaspoon of your liquid ingredient (milk, cream or water) for each cup of stiff frosting.

You can test your buttercream by doing a similar spatula test. When you lift the buttercream out of the bowl with the spatula, it should have a slight curve in the peak.

If you’d rather use store-bought frosting, our Creamy White Decorator Frosting is medium consistency and ready for piping and decorating! You can also add milk or water to the White Decorator Icing to thin it out to medium consistency.

Thin Consistency Buttercream

Thin consistency buttercream is mainly used for crumb coating your cake or piping lines and lettering. This consistency should have a droop when lifted with a spatula.

Begin with the standard vanilla buttercream frosting. Once all the sugar has been added, add 2 teaspoons of your liquid ingredient for each cup of buttercream frosting.

If you’re using your thin consistency buttercream for lettering, use light corn syrup as your liquid. Writing will flow easily and won’t break.

Helpful Tips for Getting the Right Buttercream Consistency

When it comes down to it, buttercream consistency is a delicate balance between your thickener (powdered sugar) and your thinner (milk, cream or water). Even adding liquid extracts to your frosting can thin it a bit…so have some extra powdered sugar and liquid on hand to get just the right consistency!

Temperature also plays a part in achieving the right buttercream consistency. If your butter is too soft or your kitchen is too warm, your buttercream may have a hard time getting to stiff or medium consistency. If your buttercream looks like it’s melting, place it in the refrigerator for a bit to harden before beating again.

Buttercream Frosting Recipe

Medium Buttercream Frosting Consistency

Medium consistency buttercream is the most versatile of the three. It’s often used for borders such as stars, dots and shells, as well as other decorations that will remain relatively flat. It can also be used to pipe cupcake swirls and dam borders around cake layers.
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Course Dessert

Equipment

  • Electric Stand Mixer or Hand Mixer
  • Spatula

Instructions
 

  • Prepare the vanilla buttercream frosting recipe as directed. Once all the sugar has been added, add 1 teaspoon of your liquid ingredient (milk, cream or water) for each cup of stiff frosting.
  • You can test your buttercream by doing a similar spatula test. When you lift the buttercream out of the bowl with the spatula, it should have a slight curve in the peak.

Video

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