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. Delicious! This will be my go to scone recipe for sure. Thanks, Sally

  2. Catherine C. says:

    Hi Sally,
    Just have to say I’ve been a fan of your recipes for years – every recipe I’ve tried has turned out perfectly! Your detailed instructions and tips are so helpful, and I love your variety of recipes! 🙂
    I’m wondering if you have a chocolate equivalent of this vanilla frosting? Could I substitute cocoa powder for some of the confectioners sugar?

    1. Hi Catherine! You are so kind, thank you so much! I haven’t tried making a chocolate variation of this vanilla icing, but substituting cocoa powder for some confectioners’ sugar is a great starting point. I’m unsure of the exact amount, but maybe start with subbing 3 Tablespoons of it with unsweetened cocoa powder.

      1. I’m going to be decorating Christmas Cookies tomorrow with grandkids. Can we add food coloring, or will need to make adjustments? Thank you!

      2. You can add food coloring, yes! You may want to use my easy glaze icing though– this would be a little too thin.

  3. Tracey Fritz says:

    Delicious like all of Sally’s recipes!

  4. Incredible!!!! Served without the buttercream icing. Perfect crunch and soft interior.

  5. I added french vanilla creamer instead of milk

    1. that sounds DELICIOUS

  6. This recipe is absolutely amazing! I have finally found a glaze recipe that tastes good!

    1. Kaitlyn Kaylor says:

      This recipe was amazing I put it over my brownies and it turned out perfectly thank you

  7. Caroll D Reimer says:

    I experiment with homemade beer bread with vanilla icing drizzle…PERFEKT!

  8. Can this icing be used on a cake stored at room temp?

    1. Yes, that’s no problem.

  9. Charles Hopper says:

    Thank You!

    1. You are welcome!

  10. Hi Sally,

    Can this be made ahead of time and stored at room temperature?

    1. Sure can! But for best freshness, I recommend storing in the refrigerator.

  11. used on my mothers mince meat bar recipe. a great compliment for them. I doubled the recipe and used heavy whipping cream. fantastic taste!

  12. Frankie Di Modica Jr. says:

    I’m going to try this with cranberry juice. Any thoughts?

    1. You can replace the milk with cranberry juice.

    2. Good Idea I will try the cranberry juice next time I have it

      1. Frankie Di Modica Jr. says:

        Ethan it works fine and the color is nice

  13. Chanasya Verma says:

    Thanks so much! Me and my mother have been looking for an easy recipe for a long time.. and this really helped! Thanks! Love your recipes

  14. Hi Sally, I’m looking for a sugar cookie icing recipe that isn’t royal icing? I don’t stock meringue powder and I’m not very keen on the idea of raw eggwhites 🙂 Could this recipe work? Any advice on how to tweak it to be thicker without making it overly sweet? Thanks ♡

    1. Absolutely! Add a bit more confectioners’ sugar to thicken it up if desired.

  15. You can add a little sour cream to cut down on the sweetness

  16. Why would you use salt? Is it to cut down sweetness? Thanks

    1. Yes, here the salt can help to cut the sweetness as well as “brighten” up the flavors of the other ingredients!

  17. Hey Sally!!
    I tried this recipe for topping my cinnamon rolls but it turned tooo watery and did set like urs…. Though it tasted good ,it didn’t look so good , Any idea what i might have done wrong

  18. Perfect! Easy to follow directions 🙂 I used half and half because that’s what we had, and it was yummy!

  19. Any tips for getting the glaze to be the bright white color? Tastes good, but often comes out off white and not as pretty.

    1. Hi Nick! Feel free to use clear vanilla extract or add more confectioners’ sugar.

  20. Can you use food coloring to make the icing different colors?

    1. Definitely!

  21. Arundathi Krishna says:

    I’ve tried so many glazes using confectioners sugar, milk and vanilla and they turn completely transparent when poured onto my warm cinnamon buns! What am I doing wrong? It just never stays white?

    1. Hi Arundathi, A white glaze comes from a few things: a higher ratio of sugar to milk/cream, using a higher fat liquid like heavy cream instead of a lower fat milk, and even from using brown vs clear vanilla. For cinnamon buns you can use a bit less liquid to keep the icing thicker and letting the buns cool down a bit before adding the icing.

  22. Is there a non dairy option?

    1. Nondairy milk or canned (unsweetened) coconut milk work.

  23. the icing was delicious! i think it will go well with the cake i baked! since i cant go to stores that often, i havent been able to get butter. i have been searching the whole internet for a cake frosting without butter and here i am! thanks for making everything so simple, Sally!

  24. Jacki Gansch says:

    I need a butterscotch icing for Danis coffee cake. I need to get brown sugar into the recipe. Would I reduce the Confectioner’s sugar? Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Jacki, I suggest my Salted Caramel Frosting which is made with cooked brown sugar, or the brown sugar cinnamon frosting (you can leave out the cinnamon if you wish but it would be wonderful on a coffee cake) from my Snickerdoodle Cake.

  25. The instructions were easy to follow and thorough… But it still tasted a bit chalky to me. So I added more vanilla but then it tasted too much of alcohol. Although, on my raspberry bars it tastes good! I added some cinnamon to it to match the dish. Turned out good!

  26. Debbie Walker says:

    I noticed someone commented on using sour cream to cut down on the sweetness. How much would you recommend?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Debbie, we haven’t tested this recipe using sour cream. If you try it, let us know how it goes!

  27. Love this recipe. I opted for the icing and it made a delicious and beautiful fall dessert

  28. This really is the best recipe!!!

  29. This recipe is so easy, it’s also easy to whip up another batch if I need more, and it goes great with pancakes!

  30. Question
    If you use heavy cream for the oatmeal cookies do you have to refrigerate them right away or no? Thanks in advance.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Shana, You can leave the iced oatmeal cookies covered at room temperature for 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

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