Brown Butter Vanilla Frosting

Sweet, smooth and packed with notes of caramel and vanilla, this frosting recipe will be your new favorite! This brown butter vanilla frosting is perfect for icing cakes, piping on cupcakes or just eating by the spoon!

Ever since I was little, I have loved frosting, whether it be vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cream cheese or a combination of those flavors. I was the kid that licked the frosting off of the cupcakes at birthday parties and hoped when the cake was cut that I would get the corner piece! Not gonna lie, I still secretly wish for the corner piece… I mean, who likes the cake better anyway? I know some of you disagree, but I still stand by frosting. Skip the cake and hand me a spoon!

Although I love all kinds of homemade buttercream flavors, a new favorite of mine is brown butter vanilla. Vanilla frosting is delicious, but brown the butter and you take it to the next level! Now don’t be intimidated by browning butter. I promise it’s super simple and I will walk you through the steps below so that you have perfectly browned butter on your first try. All that being said, let’s jump right into making this delicious recipe!


Butter~ The main component of American Buttercream is, no surprise, butter. For this recipe I use unsalted butter, but you can also use salted butter and omit the salt in the recipe instead. If you need a dairy-free option, you can use plant based butter sticks (like Country Crock Plant Based Butter Sticks). I have browned plant butter before, but is definitely different from browning dairy butter because it takes much longer and the color difference is more subtle. Just keep that in mind if you choose to make substitutions. Oh, and please do not substitute with margarine!

Confectioners Sugar~ Also known as powdered sugar, this ingredient is imperative for achieving a smooth frosting. Using granulated sugar will result in a gritty texture, so be sure to only use powdered sugar.

Vanilla Extract~ In frosting, I love using homemade vanilla because the flavor is so much better. And the vanilla bean specks are pretty as well. Good quality vanilla extract from the grocery store also works great too. I would avoid imitation vanilla as it can give an artificial taste to your icing.

Salt~ I think that salt adds so much flavor and helps cut the sweetness of the frosting. Unless you are using salted butter, do not omit this ingredient.

Milk (not pictured above)~ I usually need to add a few tablespoons of milk to the frosting as I beat in the powdered sugar so that it doesn’t end up too thick to spread. I use fat-free dairy milk, but any dairy or non-dairy milk will work too.

The Dance

The first step to making brown butter vanilla frosting is to brown the butter. To start, you will need to cut your sticks of butter into chunks before adding them to a medium size saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and melt the butter.

After a few minutes the melted butter will begin to develop a foamy layer on the top. Continue to stir constantly with a spoon or whisk as the butter heats. Once it begins to bubble, you’ll notice that it changes from a light yellow to a darker yellow color. The butter will stay in this stage for a minute or two before starting to brown. When you start to see brown specks floating in the butter and the color has gone from dark yellow to a light caramel color, immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a heat-proof dish. You should also smell a nutty, caramel-like aroma.

Place the container of melted butter into the fridge to cool down. You will want to partially re-solidify the butter; it needs to be soft, not hard, not liquid. This will take about one to two hours in the fridge, but you can also speed up the process a bit by placing the butter in the freezer instead.

Once the butter has solidified, scrape it into a large bowl and use an electric hand mixer or stand mixer to beat the butter for about one minute. Add the vanilla extract and salt and one cup of powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. Continue to add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, adding milk as needed, until all of the sugar is incorporated. Make sure to beat the frosting between each addition of sugar until smooth. You should have a thick, yet spreadable frosting that is easy to pipe.

And that’s all there is to it! Use this frosting for your favorite cupcakes or anything else your heart desires. Also, make sure to be looking out for next week’s recipe; we’ll be using this frosting on something absolute delicious! But, until then, grab a spoon and lick the icing off the cupcakes. I won’t judge. 🙂

Featured Image

Brown Butter Vanilla Frosting

Sweet, smooth and packed with notes of caramel and vanilla, this frosting recipe will be your new favorite! This brown butter vanilla frosting is perfect for icing cakes, piping on cupcakes or just eating by the spoon!
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Butter Cooling Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 3 cups*


  • stand mixer or electric hand mixer


  • 1 cup unsalted butter 2 sticks
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3-4 tbsp milk


  • Start by browing one cup of unsalted butter in a medium size saucepan. View step by step instructions in the above post for details. This process should take only about 5-7 minutes total.
  • Place browned butter in the fridge and refrigerate 1-2 hours or until the butter is semi-solidified. It should be solid, yet soft enough to beat with a mixer.
  • Place the soft butter into a large bowl and add the salt and vanilla extract. Beat for one minute on medium speed.
  • Add the confectioners sugar one cup at a time, beating the frosting each time you add the sugar. Alternate adding milk one tablespoon at a time as needed. Continue this process until all the sugar is incorporated. Your frosting should be thick, smooth and fluffy.
  • Use frosting on cake, cupcakes, cookie sandwiches or eat by the spoon!


*Makes approximately 3 cups of frosting which is enough to frost a small layer cake or large sheet cake.
**Store leftover frosting in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. After one week, place in the freezer and freeze for up to three months. Be sure to thaw frosting overnight in the fridge before using.

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