Why Is My Buttercream Frosting Runny?

When it comes to making the perfect dessert, not many things can be as important as the buttercream frosting. Now, while it’s okay to have a runny buttercream in some respects, buttercream frosting at its core should not really be like a soup! 

So, if you find that you have runny frosting, what exactly are you meant to do? Why exactly is your buttercream frosting so runny? 

Well, there are a number of reasons for this and normally it is related to temperature and using too much liquid. Of course though, there’s a lot more you’ll need to know here – including how you can fix runny buttercream.

Luckily for you, we’ve written this handy guide which will explain everything from why your buttercream frosting is runny, how you can fix runny frosting and get to your desired consistency – and some other handy tips and tricks.

So, if you’re ready to learn more – read on and find out everything! 

Buttercream Frosting Runny? Here’s Why

As we said, there’s some common reasons why your buttercream frosting might be runny. In fact, there are four very frequent issues that many bakers share. So, we’ve got what you need to know below.

[1] Too Many Liquid Ingredients 

If you have too much liquid in your mixture, you will find that your buttercream frosting becomes extremely runny. The typical reason for this is down to too much milk, but it can happen with other liquids.

Indeed, it perhaps comes as no surprise that too much liquid will change the consistency and cause runny buttercream. But this is precisely why you should follow the recipe instructions to the tee and ensure your buttercream frosting does not become ruined.

To make sure of this, you should use measuring cups and measuring spoons – in fact, this is the case any time you are baking cakes, especially using liquid ingredients. Too many liquid ingredients will almost always cause this sort of result.

So, to prevent your buttercream frosting becoming a buttercream smoothie, follow the recipe instructions and accurately measure your ingredients.

[2] Hot Kitchen 

If you have a hot kitchen, it’s quite likely that you’ll find your buttercream frosting becomes runny very quickly. You may be thinking – well, isn’t a kitchen always going to be hot? Yes, to an extent.

What we mean here is the kitchen has become incredibly warm and the heat is not escaping. When the room temperature continues to be so warm, then your desired consistency is at risk. Buttercream frosting will never do well at room temperature that is so high for so long. 

Remember, buttercream frosting is primarily just sugar and butter. Once the temperature is too warm, the buttercream frosting will begin to melt and therefore it will run. 

[3] Over-Beating The Mixture 

You are probably already aware that beating is a crucial part of the creation of buttercream frosting. However, you are much better off using an electric mixer because over-beating the mixture can quickly lead to runny buttercream and therefore a runny frosting. 

Once again, you are going to be advised to follow the instructions as carefully as possible so you can avoid runny buttercream as much as possible. 

[4] Warm Ingredients

The same as having a kitchen that is too warm, if you have warm ingredients, you’re going to find runny buttercream is quite common. As with your kitchen, you need to pay close attention to how warm your ingredients are.

This is anything from cream cheese, powdered sugar or icing sugar, whipping cream or butter cream. Every ingredient needs to be accounted for in terms of its heat.

How To Fix Runny Buttercream 

There are numerous things you can do to fix your problem and even prevent runny frosting. So, before you throw out your batch – follow some of these tips and turn your buttercream runny to perfect.

[1] Add Powdered Sugar 

Powdered sugar can make all the difference when it comes to the consistency of the buttercream. More powdered sugar can be just the thing you’re looking for to fix this issue.

The best way to do this is by adding one tablespoon of powdered sugar and mix. Add another tablespoon of powdered sugar and mix. Keep doing this until you’ve got what you’re looking for in terms of its consistency. 

Be sure to remember though if you need more powdered sugar, you’ll need to use the right powdered sugar. Some of this sugar will not work best with the mixture, so ask at the store if you are unsure. 

Corn starch or confectioners sugar can work okay, but once again you need to do this one tablespoon at a time and avoid a horrible and unpleasant starchy flavor. 

Why Is My Buttercream Frosting Runny

[2] Chill In The Refrigerator 

One tried and tested method to get the right consistency is not only to add more powdered sugar but also to use the refrigerator to cool the buttercream off in the refrigerator.

However, you should be aware that buttercream and particularly American buttercream can stiffen out the outside while the inside stays as more liquid. However, more liquid doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ruined.

Just scrape off the outside and allow the inside to be a little runny. The frosting in the fridge can solve it enough to be used.

Avoiding Runny Buttercream

To achieve the right consistency, there are some basic things you can do. Here’s some great ideas.

[1] Measure The Ingredients

Making frosting and using any other liquid ingredients can become problematic – but as long as you measure your ingredients one tablespoon at a time and are careful with the recipe, you should be fine moving forward.

[2] Cool The Kitchen 

You will likely want room temperature ingredients unless stated otherwise, so try to ensure you take steps to cool the kitchen down and achieve the perfect consistency. A good recipe is designed to be followed in ideal conditions.

If you get these conditions completely wrong, you could find your beautiful cake has quickly gone bad. If required, consider using an air conditioner or open a few windows – just don’t place the cake right next to the windows.

[3] Beware Of Over Mixing 

Over mixed ingredients for baked goods can significantly change your finished product. Indeed, any professional chef will tell you that a recipe needs to be followed to the letter, including the method.

This is especially true for people who think they are taking steps to thicken buttercream, because in reality – over mixing will provide the opposite effect.

[4] Use Cold Ingredients

Cold ingredients will always be better to use than warm ones when it comes to this sort of recipe. Even more so when we’re talking about using butter, cream cheese or other dairy products. 

Yes, avoiding hot ingredients means you will be less likely to make your buttercream runny and you should be able to make the frosting thicker as a result too.

Myths To Avoid 

There are some myths that are circulating on the web and through some amateur chefs. For example, many people have said that when making buttercream frosting and you notice it starts to go runny, adding butter or more sugar will automatically fix it.

The fact is, as we have shown above, it’s not always about the ingredients specifically – but sometimes about their temperature or using the wrong method, failing to follow the recipe etc. 

Other people have mentioned that you should add meringue powder or even melted chocolate to try to solidify the buttercream. There’s very little evidence for this and if anything, you could end up with a grainy frosting finish. 

Another myth is that exchanging cream cheese for a softened cream cheese or using sour cream can thicken the buttercream and make it more solid – but this isn’t always true either. 

Final Thoughts 

If you have a runny buttercream frosting, these tips above could help you to resolve the problem. However, you need to make sure you are trying to avoid the problem before it arises and always follow the instructions.

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Kathryn Sewell

Hi! I'm Kate and I have been baking and cooking for as long as I can remember. I like to share the most interesting tips and recipes I try here on What Kate Baked for you to enjoy. If you have a favorite recipe you'd like to share send it over on social.

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