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This perfect vanilla icing is a baking staple! Pourable with wonderful vanilla flavor, this icing is fantastic on cinnamon rolls, scones, muffins, cakes, and more. Use quality vanilla for outstanding flavor and heavy cream for a thicker consistency.

Drizzling vanilla icing on stack of scones on a white plate

Vanilla icing is the grand finale, the crowning glory, the pièce de résistance on thousands of different recipes including scones, cinnamon rolls, crumb cake, muffins, and so many more. It’s so simple, yet often overlooked. Don’t underestimate the power of a really good icing!

I have so many recipes that use this topping, so I decided it’s time to create a separate post. Vanilla icing, in all its dazzling drippy glory, deserves the spotlight today.

Whisking vanilla icing in a glass measuring cup

Vanilla Icing Vs Vanilla Buttercream

Let’s get one thing straight. What’s the difference between icing and buttercream? Like vanilla buttercream, vanilla icing is made with confectioners’ sugar, milk or cream, and vanilla extract. The differences are the ratio of ingredients and absence of butter. The terms icing and buttercream are often used interchangeably, but icing is typically light and liquid. Vanilla buttercream, on the other hand, is heavy and solid.

Does this vanilla icing set? Vanilla icing eventually sets as it dries. It doesn’t harden like royal icing, but if applied lightly, you can stack your iced baked goods on top of each other. Another way to guarantee this icing sets: whisking constantly, warm the vanilla icing ingredients together in a small saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Warming the icing before drizzling over baked goods promises it will set faster.

cinnamon roll sugar cookies on a red plate

Vanilla Icing Ingredients

You only need 3 ingredients. Could this BE any easier?!

  1. Confectioners’ Sugar: Sifting the confectioners sugar after measuring is always helpful because it breaks up any lumps.
  2. Milk or Heavy Cream: Use whichever you have on hand. Milk produces a thinner consistency and heavy cream produces a creamier consistency. Alternatively, you can use half-and-half. For lemon or orange icing, replace with fresh lemon or orange juice.
  3. Vanilla Extract: Pure vanilla extract masks the sometimes chalky flavor of confectioners’ sugar. I usually use McCormick brand vanilla extract or homemade vanilla extract. Always optional and delicious: seeds scraped from 1/4 of a vanilla bean.

Whisk these ingredients together. A fork or mini whisk is helpful since the mixture is so small. Give it a taste, then add a pinch of salt if desired. (I usually add a small pinch.)

Cinnamon roll with vanilla icing on a white plate

Control the Consistency

Stick with 2-3 Tablespoons of milk/cream and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract per 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar. This ratio of ingredients produces a wonderfully flavored and drizzle-able icing. But you have total control over the thickness!

For thinner vanilla icing: Use milk instead of heavy cream. Add more cream/milk or less confectioners’ sugar.

For thicker vanilla icing: Use heavy cream instead of milk. Add more confectioners’ sugar or less cream/milk. I prefer thicker icing for oatmeal cookies and sprinkle scones.

Old fashioned iced oatmeal cookies

overhead image of raspberry danish twist on a cake stand

Uses for Vanilla Icing

There are literally hundreds of uses for this topping!

Drizzle on blueberry muffins or star bread, pour over pound cake, or use as a topping for baked donuts, french toast, eclairs, croissants, sweet potato fries, and so much more.

Apple muffin with vanilla icing

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Cinnamon roll with vanilla icing on a white plate

Perfect Vanilla Icing

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Mixing
  • Cuisine: American


Vanilla icing is a baking staple! This recipe is perfect for cinnamon rolls, scones, muffins, cakes, and more.


  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted (sift after measuring)*
  • 23 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • optional: pinch of salt


  1. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, 2 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream, and vanilla extract together. Add another Tablespoon of milk or heavy cream to thin out if necessary. For thicker icing, add a little more confectioners’ sugar.
  2. Taste, then add a pinch of salt if desired.
  3. If not using right away, cover and store icing in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.


  1. This amount of icing is perfect for 1 batch of cinnamon rolls, scones, muffins, 1 cake etc. For a larger batch, recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
  2. Confectioners’ Sugar: I use and recommend Domino brand confectioners’ sugar.
  3. Heavy cream yields a thicker, creamier icing. Milk yields a thinner icing. Half-and-half can also be used.
  4. Flavor: Feel free to add more vanilla extract or even the seeds scraped from 1/4 of a vanilla bean. For lemon or orange icing, replace the milk with fresh lemon or orange juice.

Keywords: icing, vanilla

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. I was out of milk so I improvised and used French Vanilla coffee creamer instead. Talk about delicious!! Thanks for the recipe.

  2. Hi! If I use this to glaze muffins, will it set without being transparent? I was aiming for a glaze that is still white when it sets for looks. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Risse! Yes, the icing will dry white – you can see photos above. Adding more confectioner’s sugar will lead to a more white glaze (but be careful making it too thick). Enjoy!

  3. Do cookies frosted with this glaze have to be refrigerated because of the milk used in making the glaze?

    1. Hi Walda, iced cookies stay fresh covered at room temperature for 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

    2. Need to know if I need to refrigerate the baked goods after I drizzled with the powdered sugar, vanilla n heavy whipping cream recipe. PLEASE ADVISE!!

  4. hi sally i made your icing an used it as a dip for some fruit it was so good!

  5. i am ten i made your icing to dip with fruit it was so easy and yummy i will so make it again

  6. Love this recipe! I added a 1/2 tsp of maple flavoring after the vanilla and oh my!! Thank you!!

  7. Love this on cinnamon rolls, added maple and vanilla flavoring and Mmm!!! Thank you for the recipe!

  8. Wow. Words cannot describe. I made this with raspberry the first time and it was great, but just made it with homemade peach preserves and am in love! Highly recommend trying peach, but raspberry was great as well!

  9. I want to pre make the glaze so my question is, when I take it out of the fridge how long before I can use it because I assume I have to let it come to room temp to get the consistency I need? Thanks!! Glaze tastes great!

    1. Hi Marne! Let it come to room temperature and be sure to give it a good stir. Enjoy!

  10. gross. consistency and flavor completely off. not sure what they were thinking with the ratio of ingredients. keep looking for a better option

    1. Hi Fred, what brand of confectioners’ sugar are you using? I find that flavor can actually vary by brands– from very chalky and chemical tasting to smooth with no aftertaste. The consistency is in your hands. As the recipe suggests, you can add more liquid to thin out or more confectioners’ sugar to thicken back up.

    2. Be sure to buy confectioners sugar made from “pure cane sugar”. Some brands are made from beet sugars, which can be off tasting and have a granular consistency. Most brands are clearly marked as either beet or cane sugar. Hope this helps.

    3. maybe your ingredients weren’t fresh? That can make all the difference in cooking you should always make sure you have the freshest of ingredients each time you cook or bake. Most of us found the recipe completely delightful. Maybe one more try and things will work out better for you

  11. I ordered cinnamon twists for delivery but they forgot the icing. I looked up recipes and I had all the ingredients for this one( just basics) and tried it. 100% recommend. Possibly better than the original.

  12. I know from making this that the glaze is perfect, and very flexible as to the consistency desired. However, what I would like to know is if I can use it in between two layers of cake, like a regular buttercream icing, or if the layers will slide apart. Thank you!

      1. Hi Trina,
        Thanks for your reply. I realize I should have been more specific. I made the glaze previously to go with an apple spice Bundt cake, and it worked wonderfully for that style, but this time I made the cake in two 9″X5″ pans which the recipe said was fine to do. The cakes turned out beautifully, but I would like to layer them. Would you still recommend buttercream frosting rather than the glaze recipe?

      2. Hi Lesley! Thank you for the clarification, glazes are great for on top of bundt cakes, but in the middle for layer cakes. I recommend the buttercream recipe instead!

  13. I would Like to use this on cinnamon rolls but how would I add Cream cheese? I want to keep the consistency thin and make sure it doesn’t harden.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Nicole! The thick nature of cream cheese means that adding it to icing will thicken the icing. We suggest using this cream cheese icing recipe – feel free to add more milk for a thinner consistency.

  14. I had to use like 6 tablespoons of cream to make it pourable and not clumpy but the flavor was perfect!

  15. Hello! I was wondering if regular sugar of any brand can be used instead of confectioners sugar?

    1. Hi Patricia! Confectioner’s (or powdered) sugar is really best for this icing recipe – any other sugar won’t dissolve into a smooth consistency.

  16. Dear Grand Sage of All things baking,

    I have lots of hobbies and I’m real good at most. Mostly because I follow directions. Sally you write fantastic directions.

    Icing. I’ve been making the Cultures for Health “Long Ferment, sourdough cinnamon raisin rolls” for years without icing. Then your page for Perfect Vanilla Icing attacked my screen and I broke. It just too easy not to make. So so good.

    Live long and prosper

  17. Icing soaks into my donuts. Is there a way to keep that from happening? Maybe adding cornstarch?

    1. Hi Jen, You can certainly make the icing thicker so that it stays on top of the donuts. Use heavy cream instead of milk and you can add more confectioners’ sugar or less cream/milk until you reach your desired consistency.

  18. I made this recipe and it was delicious. I will be using this for my go to fast icing recipe.

  19. Does the zucchini need to be shredded? Could I pulse it in the food processor instead?


    1. Hi Tara, Are you making zucchini crumb cake? We don’t recommend pulsing the zucchini because it can quickly turn to liquid. But if you have a shredding attachment for your food processor, that would work.

  20. Tried today made in less than five min and was very happy with the outcome! Delicious! Will do again for sure, thank you so much!

    1. Hi Sawyer, there is no good substitute for powdered sugar in icing or frosting recipes, as it gives necessary thickness and texture.

  21. This is a really late question but can I use this for cakes? Or would it be too thin?

  22. Loved this recipe. I put them on vanilla cupcakes. While they were still warm I placed a big teaspoon on center and it spread over smoothly and silky. They look very professional!

  23. I just made a double batch using the tip for warming on the stove.
    Let me tell you, YES it works.
    Thanks Sally!

  24. hey sally ! i love your receipts and was wondering what could i sub w the confectioner sugar .. or if i just have to buy it ?

    1. Hi Alex, confectioners’ sugar is a must for this icing recipe. Anything else will be too grainy. Happy baking!

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