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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

Print
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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

Description

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


Ingredients

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

Instructions

  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.

Notes

  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. It may separate a bit after thawing, but you can a little more confectioners’ sugar to thicken/bring it all together if needed.

  1. I’ve made this recipe several times now using currants and then blueberries with vanilla icing. The first time was for a ladies’ tea at our church. EVERYONE has loved them!!! Now that fall is upon us (Maryland), I want to try the pumpkin scones! Your recipes and instructions have been easy to follow . . . . . video helps too! Thank you for putting this all together!

    1. Hi Sandy! We haven’t tried making a chocolate variation of this vanilla icing, but substituting cocoa powder for some confectioners’ sugar is a great starting point. We’re unsure of the exact amount, but maybe start with subbing 3 Tablespoons of it with unsweetened cocoa powder.

    1. Hi Rae, we haven’t personally tried it but we can’t see why not. Start with 2 tablespoons and then increase if needed to get your desired icing texture. If it’s too thin, add more confectioners’ sugar. Enjoy!

  2. I didn’t read the directions in full before I started making this so when it came to the chopped apples I ended up mixing them in with the batter. I was worried the cake wouldn’t set up right, but it came out perfectly. I made a basic icing to drizzle on top cause I like a little ooey gooey. It is so delicious!

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