How to Make Buttercream Frosting Less Sweet

If you know me you’d know I love cakes and cupcakes. Truth is, that wasn’t always the case. When I first started baking cupcakes back in middle school, I was so put off by the sweetness of buttercream that I stopped making them altogether. 

It wasn’t until a few years and many youtube videos later that I finally familiarized myself with the wondrous world of buttercream – realizing that American buttercream isn’t the only way to make buttercream frosting. There are in fact so many other techniques. Many of which are more complex in flavor but more importantly, less sweet. 

I’m Angie, I’m a baker of over 10 years specializing in cupcakes and custom celebration cakes. Half of the time I receive orders, I get asked by a client if I can make the buttercream less sweet. Of course, the answer is always yes. And in this article, I’ll show you how you can make your buttercream less sweet as well.

Let’s get started!

What is Buttercream Frosting Made of?

Buttercream frosting is a combination of butter and a sweetener, used as a topping for cakes and other sweet treats. There are many types of buttercream frosting, but the most popularly used and familiar to us is probably the simple American buttercream.

American buttercream is made from butter beat at a high speed with icing sugar. The process aerates the mixture and gives it a light fluffy texture. The icing sugar gives the frosting more structure and helps it stay stiff enough for piping, but because it is added in such large quantities, American buttercream tends to be extremely sweet. 

Understandably, you can’t simply take away the icing sugar, not by much at least, otherwise, it will affect the hold of your buttercream.

So what could you do then, if you want a less sweet buttercream frosting?

Lessen the Sweetness of Buttercream Frosting

Here are three ways you can lessen the sweetness of your buttercream frosting.

Method 1: Increase Fat Content

Since removing sugar isn’t an option, try increasing the amount of butter you put in your buttercream. Set at room temperature, your butter should stay soft without melting. You can also add shortening instead for a more neutral taste. 

For this method, you’ll need to have some softened butter/shortening on hand. Add them a tablespoon or two at a time and mix at high speed until it is well incorporated before adding in more. 

Method 2: Add Flavour

This one is kind of a cheat. You are not actually lessening the sweetness of your buttercream, but adding something extra to distract others from the sweetness. 

This can be extracts, lemon juice, alcohol, or as simple as a pinch of salt. Having another flavor in your frosting that isn’t just sweet will help balance out the intense sweetness from the icing sugar.  

A sour or citrusy flavor is a great way to go because sourness complements sweetness. Used in a balanced manner, you’ll find that your buttercream tastes lighter and more refreshing. 

Method 3: Use Dark Chocolate

Continuing from my last point, the addition of any other flavor will help tone down the sweetness of the buttercream frosting. Dark chocolate of course only works if you’re making a chocolate buttercream frosting.

There are two reasons why dark chocolate makes a great addition to your buttercream frosting. 

  • It will make your frosting more smooth without resulting in it losing structure or hold. This is because chocolate, like butter, is solid at room temperature. 
  • Chocolates with above 50% cocoa tend to carry a bitter cocoa taste. The higher the percentage, of course, the more bitter your chocolate will be. Sugar balances out the bitterness of chocolate which makes them more palatable and vice versa. 

And if you’re already making a chocolate buttercream frosting, opting for dark chocolate will make sure your chocolate buttercream is less sweet. 

Less Sweet Buttercream Frosting Options

While American buttercream is the most simple to make, it is no doubt the sweetest of all buttercream. If you prefer a less sweet option, try one of the following!

Ermine Buttercream

Ermine buttercream, also known as “flour buttercream” or “boiled milk frosting”, is an old-fashioned French buttercream made with flour, sugar, milk, and butter. The flour and milk in ermine buttercream recipes help give it structure without having to add too much sugar. 

Start by making a roux by whisking flour and milk together and bringing it to a boil. Once it comes together and thickens, remove it from the heat and whisk in your flavoring. Rest it until it’s completely cooled. 

Beat together your butter and sugar. Once the mixture has become light and fluffy, add your roux in a tablespoon at a time. You should end up with a light, soft frosting.  

Here’s a detailed recipe for ermine buttercream frosting. Definitely give this a go!

Meringue Buttercream

Meringue buttercreams are the ones I use the most in my recipes. I alternate between Swiss and Italian meringue buttercream. Both are made with sugar, cooked egg whites, and butter but made with a slightly different technique.

To make swiss meringue buttercream, you will need a double boiler aka a bain-marie. Sugar and egg whites are cooked on the bain-marie until the sugar has fully dissolved, and the mixture is then beaten until glossy peaks form. 

For Italian meringue, you first have to boil your sugar with some water to make a very hot syrup. Once the syrup has reached 235-240F, you can pour it into your beaten egg whites and keep beating until stiff peaks form.

From this step forward the steps are the same for both Italian and swiss meringue. You wait until your meringue has completely cooled down to room temperature and then start adding softened butter to it a tablespoon at a time, beat it until everything is emulsified. 

The addition of egg whites gives your meringue buttercream added flavor and a marshmallowy texture. The elimination of powdered sugar makes sure that your buttercream is not gritty and is less sweet.

Preppy Kitchen has my all-time favorite Italian meringue and Swiss meringue buttercream recipe so make sure to check it out for a more detailed guide to making the perfect meringue buttercream.

Cream Cheese Buttercream

Cream cheese buttercream is a classic pairing for carrot and red velvet cakes, but its tangy flavor and extra creaminess pair well with more than just the two. Adding a bit of dark chocolate to your cream cheese buttercream and you have yourself a delicious chocolate cream cheese buttercream. 

Traditionally speaking, cream cheese buttercream is made by beating cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar together. The tanginess from the cream cheese definitely helps make the buttercream taste less sweet. 

That said, my perfect cream cheese buttercream frosting uses cold, sweetened condensed milk instead of powdered sugar. The result is, in my opinion, an even more delicious, silky, milky, and less sweet frosting. 

Here’s the recipe for a condensed milk cream cheese buttercream. 


Here are some commonly asked questions regarding the sweetness of buttercream frosting.

How do you fix sugary icing?

By sugary I’m assuming you mean gritty. When making buttercream with icing sugar, sometimes the sugar granules won’t melt which will result in a grainy or gritty buttercream. 

You can remedy this by adding a bit more liquid which will help melt the sugar. Otherwise, you can leave your buttercream out to rest for a few hours. Beat it until fluffy again when you’re ready to use it and it should dissolve better. 

What is the least sweet buttercream?

From my 10 years of experience making buttercream, I would say that cream cheese buttercream, specifically as mentioned above, is the least sweet. To make it even less sweet, I simply reduce the amount of condensed milk in the recipe which doesn’t drastically change the consistency of the buttercream.  

How can I thicken buttercream without icing sugar?

Adding more fat will help thicken your buttercream. Follow method 1 above for more details.

Final Thoughts

Cakes and cupcakes simply aren’t complete without a nice dollop or a swirl of buttercream. It’s what makes them special! If you’re not a fan of overly sweet buttercream, I hope this article has taught you ways to reduce its sweetness and helped you find some alternatives.

Have you tried any of the methods I mentioned? If so let us know which one’s your favorite!

About Angie
I am a self-taught baker. I’ve been baking for over 10 years and started my own home baking business as a side hustle. I was born in Hong Kong and spent a pretty big chunk of my life in Canada. If you’re ever looking for me, I am probably there whisking vigorously away in the kitchen.

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  • Ralph Hunt

    Hello. Can you please provide the recipe for your condensed milk cream cheese buttercream frosting and indicate what size cake the recipe will cover? The article I have does not include the recipe.

    Thank you in advance for your time and attention.