“Less-Sweet” Cooked Buttercream Icing

I have a confession to make: I hate buttercream icing. It’s just too sweet and sickly. The only time I like it is when it’s chocolate, because I can replace some of the icing sugar with cocoa powder. Other times, buttercream, for me, is just to cover and decorate cakes.

Cooked Butterceam Frosting

That was until I stumbled upon the concept of cooking icing. It produces a very fluffy, light, but strong icing that’s not very sweet at all! In fact, it’s just like stabilised whipped cream, but tastier. This is the icing I’ve been waiting for.

The only cooking you do is to create a thickened milk paste using corn starch or all-purpose flour. I prefer corn starch because it thickens at a lower temperature than flour, i.e., it cooks faster. But if you want to use flour (or only have that in your kitchen), then just use double the amount as for corn starch.

Just like the standard fat-sugar ratio in traditional buttercream, I believe that for every cup of milk used, there should be an equal weight of fat (butter or shortening) to caster sugar. Oh, did I mention that you use caster sugar instead of icing sugar in this recipe? That’s another great perk of this icing.



1 cup milk
3 tbsp corn starch
200g caster sugar
200g unsalted butter (or vegetable shortening; or combination or both)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Makes enough to ice cake sizes of 6 to 8 inches.


Step 1: In a saucepan, mix the milk and cornstarch until dissolved. Heat the milk until it thickens to a paste consistency. Cool to room temperature.

Milk paste

Step 2: Cream the sugar, butter and salt together. Add the vanilla and cooled milk paste and beat until the mixture is smooth and light. Use to ice and decorate cake.

Frost cake


And that’s about it really. This cooked buttercream icing never hardens in the fridge. It’s always soft and fluffy. Your mixer will have to work a little bit harder to make sure all the sugar has dissolved, but the end product is so light and glossy that the (little) time and effort you put in to making it is more than worth it.

I’ve had polarised views on this icing from some of my friends. Some adore it because it’s the first time they’ve tasted icing that’s not sickly sweet; another group thinks it’s not sweet enough. If you want this icing to be slightly sweeter, just simply add more sugar!

UPDATE! (March 30, 2014) If you want this icing for piping, it’s possible but you will have to make a few easy changes. If the cake is going to be sitting in warm place, replace some or all of the butter with shortening. Then, replace all of the caster sugar with an equal amount of icing sugar. Icing sugar contains some cornstarch to prevent clumping, so it’ll help your icing crust over a bit. Make your icing and if it’s still not stiff enough to your satisfaction, simply keep adding more icing sugar and mixing until you get what you want. Obviously it’ll be less “less-sweet”, but that’s just what you have to do! I find actually, if you add about 25% to 50% more sugar, the icing is already pretty good for piping.

21 thoughts on ““Less-Sweet” Cooked Buttercream Icing”

  • Hi Ana, did you make sure that your cooked cornstarch/flour + milk mixture cooled completely before using it? Also, your butter, while it needs to be soft enough to be beaten, cannot be so soft that it’s impossible to pick up with your hands. Or perhaps switch to shortening, because it’s much more stable at warmer temps. Anyway, if your icing breaks again, try refrigerating it for an hour or so, add a little more icing sugar and beat again. Good luck!

  • Hi i just tried this recipe but it ends up with a runny broken butter-cream 🙁 Do over-beating causes this problem? It can’t thicken up in anyway, please advice! Thank you xxx

  • Hi Angela,
    The simple answer is: yes, the buttercream is fine at room temperature overnight. The more complicated answer is it depends on (1) the temperature of your room, (2) what you piped with the icing and (3) the composition of the fat in your icing. Naturally if your house gets really hot and stuffy at night, I wouldn’t trust any sort of icing outside of a fridge. If you’ve piped intricate decorations like rosettes, a fridge is a must to preserve the details. And lastly, it’ll depend on the type of fats you use: more shortening will last better at room temperature, though you’ll sacrifice some flavour that butter has. Hope that helps! -Dan

  • Hi Dan,
    Do you have to keep this buttercream in the fridge or can you leave it in the room temperature overnight? Thanks

  • Hi Lyssa, I’ve never used coconut oil before so I’m not 100% sure, but I think coconut oil behaves quite similarly to butter. So in theory, you can substitute coconut oil for butter quite nicely. I suspect though, you’ll get a strong coconut flavour in your icing that’s going to be difficult to mask (unless that’s what you want). I also can’t be sure of the texture of a coconut oil icing, but if it’s too soft, just add more icing sugar, and if too stiff, you can add a little milk to thin it. Good luck!

  • Hey there i really enjoyed the article. still have to try the recipe. I am a food technologist and believe it or not i was thinking of experimenting with buttercream to lessen the sugar content. its amazing i fell across this post. i’m definitely going to try this recipe and experiment a lil.
    thanks 🙂

  • Hi Megha, I use unsalted butter (sorry, left that word out in the list, have amended it already). That way I can control the amount of salt in the recipe.

  • Sorry Sabrina! Just saw your comment. I’ve not tried it before, but I think this icing will not be sticky enough to use under fondant. This cooked icing has more of a marshmallow, fluffy texture.

  • hi dan …
    this recipie was a life saver …i made this fr my daughters b day …my 1st ever thing with frosting …i lessened the sugar even more and increased the cornflour a bit ..bingo light fluffy and less sugared frosting ready,i made petals with them…and i had made the cake with only 50 percent sugar …the overall effect was my son ate 4 huge piece!!!!

  • For icing that stands up to warm weather, try swapping out all the butter in the recipe for shortening. The other option for you is to use a swiss meringue buttercream icing. (Sorry, I don’t have it on my site yet so you’ll have to google that.) Good luck!

  • Hi Steph,
    Thanks, it’s a great icing recipe because it’s not tooth-achingly sweet! It should be okay to pipe, but just in case, I’d use 100g butter and 100g shortening for the fat portion of the recipe just to make it firmer for piping. In any case, if it’s too stiff, you can just thin it out with milk. Let me know how you get on!

  • This sounds like a great recipe! Exactly what I am looking for. Can you pipe with this? ie ‘roses’/swirls on a giant cupcake? from your pic it looks firm enough
    Thank you!

  • Hi Hannah, you can use this “less sweet” cooked icing, but substitute half or more of the butter for an equal weight of shortening. The combination of butter and shortening should give you a “stiffer” icing. But don’t expect it to crust like a normal buttercream icing.
    You can also try a Swiss or Italian buttercream. (Just Google a recipe.) Those aren’t as sweet and hold their shape well because the icing is held up in part by egg whites. I haven’t attempted those yet because those icings involve sugar syrup boiled to a specific temperature and I’m just confident of that yet. Might try though, in the future.

  • Will this icing be sturdy enough to do a rose obmre cake? I am looking for an icing recipe that is not overly sweet but will be sturdy enough to hold the shape of the roses. Everyone keeps recommending cream cheese frosting but it is just so sweet.
    I was thinking of trying to substitute baking flour for some of the sugar but wasn’t sure how that would turn out. Any recommendations?

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