Anyone who has made frosting before knows that it can get runny or dried and crumbly depending on if you added too much or too little liquid. In many cases, you need only about a tablespoon or two of milk in your frosting or buttercream, so exceeding that can make the frosting runny. But runny frosting can also be caused by butter that is too soft or warm.
So how do you fix it? You can fix buttercream and other frosting types by adding more of your dry ingredients, each of which requires something different. For more ideas on how to fix runny or thin frosting, keep reading!
Double-Check Your Recipe
Before you try some of these tips, it’s a good idea to go back and look at your recipe. This will help you determine which dry ingredient or binding ingredient can help thicken your frosting, then refer to the corresponding ingredient in this list post.
Also, see if the recipe has tips that can help you. Perhaps it needs more mixing than you thought, and they have already told you.
Perhaps your frosting recipe is meant to be runny, and you didn’t know, as there are many different recipes and textures in the world of frosting. But you wouldn’t know if you are following a special recipe or the wrong recipe unless you read through it once more. You can also determine if your frosting has ingredients like flour, corn starch, powdered sugar, etc., for you to add that will make it less runny.
Remember that some of the ideas below will not help turn royal icing into a creamy frosting for cupcakes, so double-check your recipe and see if you have been preparing the wrong type of frosting for your dessert.
1. Add Powdered Sugar
The first and simplest way to fix runny frosting is by adding more powdered sugar. Frosting is pretty forgiving, and it is easy to make without any exact measurements. You just need to beat butter for multiple minutes, add your powdered sugar, add a bit of vanilla extract, and potentially some milk, and you will have a delicious frosting.
So, if your frosting is runny, add powdered sugar in small increments and see if it fixes the issue. This solution will work for any and all frostings unless you are using a powdered sugar-free recipe.
If you are out of powdered sugar and cannot add more to help stiffen your runny frosting, know that powdered sugar is easy to make. All you need is a blender and regular granulated sugar. Simply blend your sugar until it looks like powdered sugar.
2. Add Butter
Butter can thicken runny frosting, especially if you are making buttercream. If you added too much milk to your buttercream, simply add more butter and whip it until the butter is fully incorporated. Then add more powdered sugar.
This solution should also work for almost all frostings, but if you are making cream cheese frosting or another kind that may not include butter, we don’t recommend you try this solution. Basically, the trick is to follow the recipe and continue adding the recipe’s dry or wet ingredients, depending on how runny the frosting is.
3. Add Flour
If you do not have powdered sugar, you can add a tablespoon of flour to your runny frosting. This will help thicken the frosting. However, if you add too much flour, it can change the taste and consistency of your frosting. If you just add a small amount, you shouldn’t be able to taste it because of all the butter and powdered sugar already in it. Flour can be a good substitute for finishing off your buttercream because it is not grainy. It is a smooth and powdery dry ingredient that can do what powdered sugar does, just without the added sweetness.
If your recipe already calls for flour or adding another dry ingredient does not thicken your frosting, you should separate out your frosting into 2 bowls. By dividing it, you can add flour (about half a tablespoon) to the first bowl, then taste-test the frosting. If the frosting tastes like the flour has overpowered the sweetness, you can add frosting to the mix from the other bowl.
Repeat this process of tasting, adding flour, and adding frosting to the mixture until you get the right consistency and taste. This can keep you from using too much flour in the whole mixture by adding a smaller amount of flour to a smaller bowl of frosting. You can use this idea for any frosting that calls for powdered sugar or flour in the recipe.
4. Add Some Cornstarch
Just as you can add flour, you can add about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to your frosting and whisk it to thicken up the frosting. I recommend tasting as you go along and adding more corn starch as needed. Only add about half a tablespoon at a time.
If your frosting is still somewhat runny, but you are afraid of adding more cornstarch because of the taste, put the frosting in the fridge for a few minutes. Then, mix the frosting once more and see if chilling the mixture with the cornstarch helped to thicken and fluff your frosting. This can be used for any frosting recipe that has powdered sugar. Just remember to add small amounts of cornstarch at a time.
5. Add Cocoa Powder for Chocolate Frosting
If your chocolate frosting is runny, add cocoa powder to it. The dry powder will absorb some of the excess liquid. Typically, this is for a chocolate frosting recipe that already calls for cocoa powder. Taste it before you add cocoa to see if the amount of cocoa already added is enough, but if you think it can take more, go ahead and add a teaspoon or two at a time.
This trick only works on chocolate frosting, and remember not to add too much, or it will become too chocolatey, and you’ll then have to take a few more steps to balance out the chocolate taste, experimenting with butter, milk, and other wet ingredients.
Related The 6 Best Cocoa Powders for Cake.
6. Add More Cream Cheese for Cream Cheese Frosting
If you are making cream cheese frosting, try adding cream cheese to thicken the frosting. But unless you are making a large batch of cream cheese frosting, I don’t recommend adding a whole packet of cream cheese to your runny frosting.
You should open the packet, cut off about 1 tablespoon of cream cheese, and add it to the frosting. Distribute the cream cheese into the frosting using your hand mixer, whisk, or standing mixer, then add more as needed.
Cream cheese frosting can handle being whipped, so don’t be afraid to keep mixing it together.
7. Add Unflavored Gelatin
If your recipe already has unflavored gelatin as an ingredient, add an extra small amount to thicken your runny frosting. If your frosting does not call for this, you can add about 1 tablespoon of gelatin to the frosting. Remember that gelatin should dissolve in a bit of water before being used.
In a small, separate bowl, mix a tablespoon of gelatin into a half tablespoon of cold water until the gelatin is mostly dissolved. Then whisk this mixture into the frosting to see if it does the trick, and repeat as needed. Gelatin absorbs water/liquid content, so if you have too much water or milk in your frosting, this can help. If you use smaller amounts at a time, it can work for buttercream recipes, but do not add too much.
8. Add Marshmallow Fluff
If you happen to have marshmallow fluff at home, add some to your runny frosting, as it can thicken the frosting and allow it to set. Plus, the ingredients include sugar and egg whites, which makes it fluffy, sweet, and firm.
Also, when you add marshmallow fluff to your frosting, you can rest assured that this won’t change the overall taste of the frosting because it is sweet, just like your frosting. Use this method in buttercreams and other classic frosting recipes.
9. Add Heavy Whipping Cream
In a bowl (not the bowl that your frosting is in), pour in a bit of heavy whipping cream and begin to whip the liquid together until it has stiff peaks. Always start mixing the whipping cream on a low-speed setting. Because the heavy whipping cream is a liquid, starting at a high speed will cause it to splatter.
You are essentially adding a ton of air into it and allowing it to hold its form. After it is whipped, add it to your buttercream frosting. Then continue beating/whisking the frosting together in a stand mixer at a low speed. You can increase the speed if needed after the whipping cream and frosting are fully combined. This works best with buttercreams and other frostings that have buttery, creamy consistencies.
10. Refrigerate or Chill Frosting
Putting your frosting in your fridge to chill can really help if your frosting is runny because it is too warm. If your home is warm, your frosting or the buttercream in your frosting will become warm and will no longer hold its shape. Your frosting could also become runny if your butter was too warm to begin with. If you left it on your counter and it was a warm day, or if you over-microwaved it, your frosting won’t be fluffy.
Buttercream in your frosting can also become warm after being mixed for a while. So, although you need to mix it for a while to add air and combine the ingredients, this can also create heat, which melts and thins out the frosting. So, after mixing it for a while, the frosting will not look like it is forming any shape because it got too warm. Simply chill it for 10+ minutes and then begin mixing it again to retain the fluffiness of your frosting.
If you are piping your frosting, it can also become warm from the heat in your hands, so if your beautifully piped designs are coming out runny, you need to put your piping bag of frosting in the fridge and allow it to chill for about 5-10 minutes or until it reaches the desired consistency.
11. Keep Mixing
If you are not very experienced with making frosting, you might be surprised to know that it needs to be mixed for a while. You should start your buttercream by mixing your butter alone for multiple minutes. You need to aerate the butter so that it becomes creamy, airy, fluffy, and ready for other ingredients. If you did not mix your butter for long or did not mix it first and then add other ingredients, you will need to keep mixing the frosting. Mixing adds air to the frosting and combines the ingredients.
If you want to get an arm workout in, you can spend this time mixing with a whisk mixer. But it may be easier to leave that to a stand mixer if you have one. Just keep mixing your frosting until it reaches the thickness that you desire.
12. Use a Whisk Attachment
Another thing you can try to get the liquid ingredients to bind with the dry ingredients is to use a whisk attachment if you’re not already using one. The only equipment you need is a stand mixer or a hand mixer. If you are using a stand mixer, you should be using a whisking attachment, and if you are using a hand mixer, you will want to use regular beaters. If you were using other attachments to make your frosting, you might need to change them out to ensure the ingredients are combined properly.
By the way, the value of a good whisk, like the simple but effective one I use, found on Amazon, cannot be overstated. In fact, it might be my favorite tool in the kitchen and is great for tasks like this!
Once you do, your frosting should aerate better, and once more air is mixed in, it should become less runny. Your other mixing attachments should be used when making different doughs and thicker mixtures, but make sure you are using the whisk attachment for frosting and other, more liquid mixtures and batters.
Hi, I’m Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page.
I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.