pounds sifted powdered sugar (about 8 cups)
Food coloring (optional)
Soften the butter by bringing it to room temperature. Soft butter will ensure that it easily blends with the other ingredients, giving you a smooth frosting. Meanwhile, sift the powdered sugar. Note: Never used melted butter when a recipe calls for softened butter. The frosting will not mix properly and the texture will thin out and act as more of a glaze than a thick, luscious frosting. In a large mixing bowl beat the softened butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well. Slowly beat in 1/3 cup milk and the vanilla. Gradually beat in the remaining powdered sugar. You want a frosting that will spread effortlessly. If the frosting is too thick, beat in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach a thick but spreadable consistency. Make sure the milk is fully incorporated before adding the next teaspoon: Just a teaspoon or two is sometimes all you need to go from too stiff to the perfect texture. If your frosting gets a bit too soft, put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes or stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup more powdered sugar to firm it up. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring or flavorings (see "How to Add Flavor to Frosting," below) to tint or flavor the frosting. Incorporate these flavorings for a spin on traditional vanilla buttercream frosting: Almond: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon almond extract for the vanilla. Garnish frosted cake or cupcakes with toasted sliced almonds. Milk Chocolate: Melt 1 cup milk chocolate pieces; cool. Beat chocolate into the butter before adding the powdered sugar. Strawberry: Beat 1/3 cup strawberry jam into the butter before adding the powdered sugar. Spice: Add 1 to 2 teaspoons apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice with the powdered sugar. Peanut Butter: Beat 1/2 cup peanut butter into the butter before adding the powdered sugar. Garnish frosted cake or cupcakes with chopped peanuts. Irish Cream: Substitute Irish cream liqueur for the milk. Peppermint: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract for the vanilla; if desired, tint with red food coloring. Top garnished cake or cupcakes with peppermint candies. Dark Chocolate: Substitute 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar. Coffee: Add 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or coffee crystals, or substitute brewed coffee for the milk. Citrus: Substitute lemon or orange juice for the milk; stir 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange peel into the finished frosting. Garnish frosted cake or cupcakes with thin strips of lemon or orange peel.