Perfect Vanilla Icing

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
  • 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. Heavy cream yields a thicker, creamier icing. Milk yields a thinner icing. Half-and-half can also be used.
  3. 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


  1. Loved this recipe, thank you! I halved all the ingredients for my 7×7 baking pan, added reeses peanut butter chocolate chips and added apple pie spice with the cinnamon. Had to cook 20-25 minutes longer. Will be making this again!

  2. Shirley Barlow says:

    Sally you are the best. Thank you Every recipe that I have made using your information have been perfect. I have used a lot of your recipes, love them all. Thank you

  3. I enjoyed making these and I think they were delicious. I have a question: I didn’t have a box shredder so I used more of a hand-held zester which gave the frozen butter a finer texture. How do you think that affected the outcome? I would say they were a bit more likely to fall apart, but not terribly. Is that what you’d expect?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Pat, You don’t need butter for this icing, but did you mean to ask this about scones? If so, butter that fine may not have stayed frozen (you don’t want it to melt while you work with the dough), but if it was cold enough then there wouldn’t be too much of a difference. The center of the baked scones should have creating air pockets that create a flaky center.

  4. Help! Forgot to sift the sugar!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Emma, it may be a little grainy but it should turn out! Let us know how it goes.

  5. Hello! I have some creme fraise I’d love to use up. Would it be possible to use it in this to replace the milk/cream? Thank you!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Una! We haven’t tested it so can’t say for sure. It may need to be thinned. Let us know if you give it a try!

  6. My little sister and older brother LOVED this! I made sugar cookies! YUM! One thing, Make sure to say powdered sugar because this recipe was a BIT too crunchy… But DELICIOUS!!! Great job About sally

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jessica! Confectioner’s sugar is another name for powdered sugar – sorry for the mix up. We’re so happy to hear this icing was a hit with your family!

  7. Ok these were amazing! I lessened the sugar a wee bit and added a vanilla glaze! HUGE hit with the family!

    1. Suzan Walker says:

      Added a bit of cocoa powder then poured it over a bundt cake. Ut was beautiful and delicious. Ny family devoured it! Thanks so much. Will definitely make again soon.

  8. Do you think I could add cream cheese after making icing for carrot cake?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Natalie! For a cream cheese frosting, we’d recommend following our favorite cream cheese frosting instead. Enjoy!

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

  10. 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. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      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!

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