Buttercream Consistencies

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Buttercream is a sweet, sugary substance used for frosting cakes, as well as making decorations.  You can create many designs using only a spatula, though there are many tools designed to spread the frosting into predetermined patterns.  Each use has a particular consistency of frosting that is necessary to successfully complete your project.  For this reason, its important to be familiar with the different consistencies of buttercream frosting, and how to achieve them.  These techniques apply to cupcakes equally as well as to cakes.

The incorrect consistency may result in unsatisfactory performance, as well as hindering your ability to create intended decorations.  Fortunately, most errors in preparation (such as adding the wrong amount of milk) are easily remedied.

There are 3 types of Buttercream consistency: Stiff, Medium and Thin.


Stiff consistency is used to make three-dimensional decorations, such as individual roses for a cake, or flower designs on top of a cupcake.  If the consistency of your icing is not firm enough, your petals aren’t going to have the proper shape and/or won’t remain in the desired position.

This consistency is thick to the point that, if you stick a spatula into the bowl of buttercream at 90° (a vertical position), it won’t move.  It should look like this:



Medium consistency buttercream is used between cake layers, since it needs to be soft enough to spread, but hard enough not to be compressed out the sides.  Its also great for making patterns and small decorations, such as stars, zigzags, swirls, rosettes and drop flowers.  Medium consistency buttercream is also useful for cake borders.

To achieve this type of consistency, add 1 tablespoon (tbsp.) of milk for each cup of stiff consistency buttercream and mix until uniform.  To confirm that your consistency is correct, repeat the spatula test.  This time, the spatula should lean slightly, without touching the edge of the bowl.  It should look like this:



Thin consistency buttercream is used to frost cakes, as a base for covering a cake with fondant, writing on cakes or cupcakes, and for small details like the leaves of a flower.

To achieve this consistency, add 2 Tablespoons (tbsp.) of milk for each cup of stiff consistency buttercream and mix until uniform.  To confirm that your consistency is correct, repeat the spatula test.  This time, the spatula should quickly lean until it completely touches the edge of the bowl.  It should look like this.


There are many brands of ready-made buttercream on the market, the most commonly used is the Ready -To-Use Buttercream Frosting from Wilton

Crema De MantequillaWilton Ready-To-Use Icing For Cakes

  • The largest package (4.5lbs) is a medium consistency, perfect for placing between your cake layers.
  • The smallest package (1lb) is a firm consistency, ideal for piping roses.

If you prefer to make your own, you can find my recipe here: Vanilla Buttercream Frosting


Remember to write the date that you prepared the buttercream on the container, for food safety reasons. You can prepare this recipe ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in your refrigerator for upto a week.

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7 thoughts on “Buttercream Consistencies

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