Light and fluffy, Healthy Buttercream Frosting is what any cake or cupcake needs to make it perfect. It’s an ermine icing made with flour, sugar, milk and butter, whips up silky smooth and does not taste overly sweet!
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Healthy frosting may seem like an oxymoron, but I assure you it doesn’t have to be that way! Healthy buttercream frosting contains no powdered sugar, is light and fluffy and won’t weigh down your baked goods.
This French inspired ermine frosting is as firm as a traditional buttercream homemade icing but with a much less sweet taste. It’s pipeable, spreadable and it’s airy texture makes it the perfect pair for healthy desserts including healthy birthday cake, cupcakes, cookies or brownies!
Why Is This Healthy Frosting?
- Lighter: Traditional American buttercream made with just butter and sugar can be quite heavy vs. this flour buttercream which gets thickened with a flour, sugar and milk mixture.
- Delicate flavor: Ermine buttercream does not have that super sweet taste like traditional icings. This light, not overly sweet taste is why this healthy buttercream frosting is perfect for healthier desserts.
- Healthier: At the end of the day icing is icing, but when making comparisons to traditional icing, this healthy frosting recipe contains fewer calories, less sugar and less butter.
- Tastes amazing: Because we still want something that tastes delicious! It is also such a beautiful fluffy buttercream frosting which makes it a treat for the senses!
Ingredients for Healthy Buttercream Frosting
- All purpose flour: This makes your frosting thick and dreamy and is the base of your ‘roux’. While I advocate for whole wheat flour/spelt flour in many of my healthy muffins and quick breads, and almond flour is another go-to for healthier bakes, I do not recommended using either of those flours for this healthy buttercream frosting. It will affect look and texture.
- Cane or regular sugar: Granulated sugar is best in this recipe for how to make frosting without powdered sugar!
Is there any difference between cane and regular sugar? While both are types of granulated sugar, cane sugar is made from sugar cane while regular sugar is often made with sugar beets. Either can be used here, although you may find that pure cane sugar has more depth of flavor.
- Milk: While any milk will work, using a higher fat percentage of milk will have creamier healthy buttercream frosting results.
- Pure vanilla extract: Pure for best taste.
- Butter: Salted or unsalted.
- Salt: Just a pinch and only if your butter is unsalted.
How to Make Frosting without Powdered Sugar
- Make ‘roux’: Healthy buttercream frosting starts with making your ‘roux’. Add flour and sugar in a small pot. Place on medium heat and cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Slowly add the milk to avoid lumps. Cook until the mixture thickens into a smooth thick roux, stirring all the time. The mixture will resemble a thick pudding.
Whisk constantly! The key to this step is ensuring the sugar has ‘melted’ into the flour and milk, otherwise you risk having a grainy frosting.
- Cool your roux mixture: Turn off heat and let mixture cool in the pot uncovered for 20 minutes. Transfer into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Your roux should be room temp by the time it has cooled down, so not too cold, and not too warm, but just right.
- Whip butter: In a large bowl, add softened butter and beat with an electric mixer for 3 minutes, until butter becomes more pale and white. Feel free to beat longer, just don’t beat less. The whipping of both the butter and when you slowly add the roux is what makes this healthy frosting so airy!
- Add room temp roux: One tablespoon at a time and continue to beat.
Adding only a tablespoon at time, allows the roux to fully be mixed in. This not only leads to light and fluffy buttercream frosting, but also if you add it all at once you risk the mixture separating.
- Add vanilla (and salt if using): Then once again continue to beat with your mixer for 2-3 minutes until a stiff peak in the icing forms. Do you sense a theme with making your healthy buttercream frosting? Just keep beating!
- Your ermine frosting is ready to use: Spread with a knife or put in a piping bag. Frosting is best used immediately while it is still light and airy.
How much does this healthy buttercream frosting make? It will generously frost 12 cupcakes with tall swirls (liked pictured), or 24 cupcakes swirled on with a knife, or a two or three layer 20 – 23cm/8-9″ cake.
Optional Add-In’s and Variations
- Vegan ermine frosting: Swap your dairy butter and dairy milk for non dairy versions. Taste and texture may be different, but your healthy frosting should still be delicious.
- Sugar free frosting: Use a granulated monkfruit/erythritol blend of sugar free replacer. Again, taste and texture may be different.
- Gluten free frosting: Although it has not been tested, I think a 1:1 all purpose gluten free flour could be used.
- Infuse roux with flavor: You can use flavored powders to infuse the milk mixture. Use a 1/4 cup of berry, peanut butter, espresso, cocoa etc.
- Add zest when beating butter: 1 Tbsp of orange, lime or lemon zest.
- Use other extracts: Almond, coffee, peppermint, lemon or your favorite.
- Colored frosting: Add food coloring at the end and stir until incorporated.
If you are in need of a pure white healthy frosting, try to swap the dark vanilla extract for a clear vanilla extract. If it is still not as white as you want, add a tiny (and I mean tiny!) amount of violet food coloring and stir gently to incorporate.
Tips For Best Results
- Butter needs to be softened not melted: Melted butter leads to runny frosting. While there are many methods out there to soften butter quickly, the best method is to let it soften outside of the fridge for 45-60 minutes. Note: This may take longer if you live in a cooler climate or it is winter.
- Test thickness of roux mixture: Run a spoon down the middle of the pan, if the mixture separates then slowly comes back together, it’s ready.
- Seal roux mixture: This is to prevent a film from forming on the top.
- Room temperature roux: It’s worth mentioning again, roux must be room temp. Placing in the fridge is great to speed up the cooling process, just set a timer for 30 minutes so you don’t forget to take it out!
- Piping tip: To remove air bubbles from the icing, while it is still in the bowl, gently press the icing against the sides of the bowl with the spatula.
A few reasons this could happen include: your sugar did not completely dissolve in the roux, your butter was too cold or your roux was too cold. Keep whipping with the mixer and it should come out fine!
The likely culprit is your butter or roux was too cold. Keep whipping, it will eventually ‘uncurdle’. If that doesn’t work, you may need to warm it up. Place the bowl in a pan with simmering water (just watch it!) for a few minutes to warm it up or scoop out a small amount of frosting, warm it up in the microwave, place it back in the mixture and continue to beat with mixer.
Your butter or roux was too warm. Place the whole bowl, whisk and beaters and all, in the fridge for 15-20 minutes, then whip again.
The best way is to let it sit out for a while to come back to room temp. It will take some patience. Next time you make this healthy frosting recipe, set a timer when you place the roux in the fridge.
How to Use Fluffy Buttercream Frosting?
- Healthy vanilla cupcakes
- Almond flour brownies
- Healthy sugar cookies
- Almond flour cake, chocolate almond flour cake or almond flour carrot cake
- Healthy chocolate cake (swap chocolate icing for buttercream)
- Carrot cake
- Healthy carrot cake bars (instead of healthy cream cheese frosting)
How to Store Homemade Icing Recipe?
Store: Refrigerate frosted baked goods for up to 3 days. Refrigerate frosting (not on baked goods) for up to a 1 week. Rewhip before using.
Make ahead: The flour roux can be made a day ahead and refrigerated covered (to avoid a thin film from forming on top). Take it of the fridge 1 hour prior to mixing into the buttercream.
Freeze: Freeze healthy buttercream frosting in an airtight container or up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight.
More Healthy Desserts to Try
Healthy Buttercream Frosting
- In a small pot, add flour and sugar. Place on medium heat and cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.
- While whisking, slowly add the milk to avoid the lumps. Keep whisking all the time.
- Cook until the mixture thickens into a smooth thick roux, stirring all the time. Then turn off heat and let cool in the pot uncovered for 20 minutes.
- Transfer into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- In a large bowl, add softened butter and beat with an electric mixer for 3 minutes, until butter becomes more pale and white.
- Then while running the mixer on highest speed start adding the roux 1 heaping tablespoon at a time until all added. Then add vanilla and salt (if using) and beat for 2-3 more minutes or until buttercream is thick and holds the peaks. Now it's ready to use!
- Use it like any other frosting on healthy cupcakes and cakes – spread with a knife or put in a piping bag. The frosting itself is best used immediately – most fluffy. On a warmer day, frosting will hold at room temperature for about 1 hour. On colder days 3-4 hours – remove from the fridge 1 hour prior to serving to let frosting warm up.
- Makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes generously with tall swirls (pictured), or 24 cupcakes swirled on with a knife, or a two or three layer 20 – 23cm/8-9″ cake.
- Store: Refrigerate frosted baked goods for up to 3 days. Refrigerate frosting (not on baked goods) for up to a 1 week. Rewhip before using.
- Make ahead: The flour roux can be made a day ahead and refrigerated covered (to avoid a thin film from forming on top). Take it of the fridge 1 hour prior to mixing into the buttercream.
- Freeze: Freeze frosting in an airtight container or up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight.
- Flour: I think you can use all-purpose gluten free flour, I haven’t tried though. I do not recommend to use whole wheat or spelt flour as you will be able to see the bran in frosting. Also almond flour might make the frosting gritty and might not thicken. Do not worry, you will not taste the flour at all!
- Sugar free replacement: You can replace sugar with monk fruit extract or erythritol on 1:1 ratio.
- Softened butter: When you touch the butter, your finger should leave an indent that isn’t glossy. So butter should be soft but not melted soft.
- Vegan butter: I do think it will work! Also I used salted butter (not vegan) and frosting came out delish!
- Milk: I used homo milk. You can use any fat % but keep in mind frosting will be less creamy. Dairy free milk will work as well.