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Not Too Sweet Buttercream

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This twist on American buttercream frosting stands up to a warm day, is perfect for piping, and it’s not too overly sweet.  It the perfect buttercream for summer.

Mixer paddle filled with perfect not too sweet american buttercream, ready to be used on a cake.

Serving frosted cakes and cookies during the summer can cause a lot of anxiety for bakers. This recipe uses several tricks to help it hold up in the heat as without just adding more powdered sugar, so it’s not too sweet.

This frosting does it all without making your teeth ache. When decorating cakes in the heat and humidity, you have to break out a few tricks to make it work.

My family prefers American buttercream to egg based buttercreams like Italian meringue buttercream. So, I have to use those tricks when I am making cakes for their special occasions.

I am sure you all know I don’t need much of an excuse to play with frosting. It’s one of my favorite things after all.

So I studied a variety of recipes, read up on the tips of a variety of people who bake for a living, and tinkered. This recipe has now been used for several summer weddings.

I used it on both cupcakes and a cutting cake for my brother’s outdoor wedding. We kept everything inside for as long as possible, because it was a 100°F day.

However, they still held up nicely once we moved everything into the barn reception area. And believe me, it was hot in there!

Tips for Making Buttercream That Holds Up to Heat

After consulting with bakers and the internet, everyone suggested shortening as a base to hold up to the heat. Of course that makes sense, the melting point of shortening is higher than that of butter.

However butter based buttercreams taste better, and we prefer their texture. Using half butter and half shortening allows you to get the best of both worlds.

Ingredients including powdered sugar, butter, shortening, vanilla, almond extract, meringue powder, lemon juice, and milk, ready to be made into buttercream.

The next tip is tons of powdered sugar.  Of course that’s kind of a must with American buttercream anyway, but a nice high ratio of sugar helps promote the crust which helps your designs hold their shape in the heat.

I was all for that, but didn’t want the frosting to be too cloying. So I used some lemon juice as part of the liquid.

Not enough to make it taste like lemon, just enough to counteract some of the sugar. A tablespoon in about 6 cups of frosting doesn’t give a detectable lemon flavor.

Mixer bowl filled with smooth perfect not too sweet buttercream and the mixer paddle.

A hearty pinch of salt helps balance out the sugar even more and helps give flavor to the almost flavorless shortening.

I like adding a little bit more flavoring than I do in a standard buttercream too. I almost always add 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

You just use vanilla extract if you would like. However, I think it’s nice to use a second complimentary flavor to the frosting.

Just a few drops of almond or lemon extracts, or a bit of an emulsion like princess or creme bouquet can make a big difference. It will make it taste like the buttercream came from a bakery,

Plate of soft rounded sour cream cookies topped with buttercream frosting.

Or use some butter extract to deepen the butter flavor. It sounds strange, but it can take the frosting from good to great.

The next tip was to use some meringue powder to help take the crust to the next level. It gives that little bit extra insurance that I am happy to take when making a cake for an outdoor wedding.

Once the frosting comes together, mix it on low for several minutes to improve the texture and keep from whipping in too much air.

layered cookie cake frosted with watercolor buttercream

Of course no butter based frosting is going to hold up to the heat forever. Chilling the cake before you take it into the heat and limiting the time it spends in the heat is going to be key no matter the recipe.

I can say however, I was really pleased with how this recipe has held up to Mother Nature every time they have come in contact!

What are your best tips for making heat resilient frosting?

Frequently Asked Questions

How much frosting does this recipe make?

This recipe makes just shy of 6 cups of buttercream. That is enough to frost an 8 or 9 inch layer cake with extra frosting for piping on decorations. It is enough to frosting a 10-inch layer cake without extra piped decorations. It can generously frost 4-5 dozen cupcakes depending on how much frosting you pipe on each cupcake.

Does this frosting form a crust.

Yes, this buttercream recipe forms a crust. Putting frosted cake or cookies in the refrigerator for a little bit will help to set the frosting faster and will hasten the formation of the crust.

If you are a frosting fanatic like me, check out my Frosting 101. It goes through the different types of frosting and links to all sorts of delicious recipes!

Sour cream cookies topped with swirls of perfect not too sweet buttercream.

Not Too Sweet Buttercream

This twist on American buttercream frosting stands up to a warm day, is perfect for piping and it's not too overly sweet. It the perfect buttercream for summer!
4.63 from 62 ratings
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 36 About 6 Cups
Calories 202 kcal


  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 pounds powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons meringue powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon other flavoring see notes
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2-3 Tablespoons milk or cream


  • Beat butter and shortening until light and creamy.
    1 cup unsalted butter, 1 cup shortening
  • Add about a cup of powdered sugar, the meringue powder and salt. Mix until incorporated.
    2 Tablespoons meringue powder, ½ teaspoon salt
  • Continue to add the powdered sugar, a bit at a time and mix well between each addition. Be careful to only beat the mixture on medium-low speed, allowing it to run for as long as it takes. You don't want to incorporate too much air.
    2 pounds powdered sugar
  • Once the powdered sugar is all added, mix in the flavorings and lemon juice. Beat on medium speed for a couple of minutes.
    2½ teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon other flavoring, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • Add the cream a little bit at a time, mixing well between additions, until you have the consistency you'd like.
    2-3 Tablespoons milk or cream
  • Store any extra in an airtight container and whip a bit to fluff before using.


I like using a mix of flavorings to give the frosting more depth of flavor. The vanilla is good mixed with almond extract, lemon extract, princess or creme bouquet. 
Buttercream can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or two. It can be refrigerated for up to a week. Or frozen for several months. If chilled, bring it back to room temperature and give it a stir before using.
This recipe is enough to frost an 8-9 inch layer cake with extra frosting for piping on decorations. It is enough to frost a 10 inch layer cake without extra decorations. Or it can be used to pipe swirls on about 5 dozen cupcakes.
You can cut the recipe in half if you don’t need 6 cups of frosting.



Serving: 1ServingCalories: 202kcalCarbohydrates: 25gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 45mgSugar: 25g
Tried this recipe?Mention @carleecooks or tag #cookingwcarlee!

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Recipe Rating


Sunday 23rd of April 2023

I made your amazing wedding cupcakes so I had to try your buttercream frosting. Omg this will be my only recipe I use from now on. I followed the recipe exactly how it was. It was perfect. Great flavor and definitely not too sweet. Perfect amount of sweetness. It piped great too. Thank you. You are a life saver


Sunday 23rd of April 2023

That makes me so happy!! Thanks for letting me know you liked it.


Saturday 4th of June 2022

i have tried many buttercreams and i cant seem to get the consistency right for piping i hope this is the one i made the condensed milk frosting wow really to sweet but i did the corn flour and that helped but not the nicest frosting ,spread excellent though wish me luck Im just starting out


Saturday 4th of June 2022

Good luck!


Friday 6th of May 2022

The yield states "36 servings" with no indication of serving size. Would you please add some information about how much frosting this recipe creates, such as enough to cover 12/24/etc cupcakes, or 1 two-layer 8" cake, or even the number of cups it produces? It's difficult to figure out from the list of ingredients because some things dissolve into one another, and then there's volume that's created during mixing. It would be very helpful for novice bakers like myself. Thanks.


Monday 15th of June 2020

Hi, how many cups does this make? Thank you


Saturday 28th of December 2019

Why is the powdered sugar listed in pounds? So does that equal to about 8 cups? Not quite sure as that sounds like an awful lot of powdered sugar for a not so sweet buttercream recipe.I use Australian metric cups and want to get the amount of sugar right.


Saturday 4th of June 2022

@Carlee, i was thinking the same thing i will let you know lol


Sunday 29th of December 2019

In America powdered sugar is generally sold in 1 pound boxes or two pound bags, so this is saying to add the whole bag... no measurement required. However, it would be in the 6-8 cup range depending on how fluffy your powdered sugar is. It is a lot of sugar, but it is a really big batch of frosting as well. Enough to easily coat and decorate a large layer cake. You could easily half the recipe for a smaller cake.