I'm looking for a frosting I can leave on the counter (under a cover of some kind) for a few days.

What kind of frosting (for a cake or cupcakes) would stand up to this?

Ideally, I would like this to be something that I could make from scratch.

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    I like this question. Most frostings are made with things that one would think microbes would love to eat, but are routinely left out at room temperature. Is this acceptable because the sugar concentration is so high they can't eat it? Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 23:41

5 Answers 5


Whipped vegetable shortening with powdered sugar. I can make it up a week in advance, probably even longer, and keep it in an airtight container in a cool place. And it has the advantage that it's pure white (if you use imitation vanilla extract, or lemon extract), so you can get vibrant colors on whatever you're decorating.

If you make too much, you can then make flowers and let them dry out, then store those for a year or more.

Here's the recipe I use, that I got from Jane who taught two of the cake decorating classes I took (and who decorated cakes professionally):

4 lb powdered sugar
1 TB cream of tartar
1 1/4 c. of white shortening (crisco ... the sticks are easy to measure)
a pinch of salt
1 TB extract of your choice
3/4 to 1c. of water (maybe more depending on humidity)

Put all ingredients except the water into a mixer. Add 3/4 c. water, and slowly add more to make the consistancy of your choice. Mix on low speed 'til mixed, then on #6 or 8 for 6 to 7 minutes. Consistency should be "creamy" -- like cream cheese when soft. Stiff icing should be creamy also.

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    If it's just for a few days, I'd use butter over the shortening as butter is definitely not going to go bad in that time frame and it will taste a zillion times better than crisco.
    – Allison
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 14:49
  • @Allison : I've been surprised at how many people comment on how good the icing is, even when I'm using imitation clear extract so I can match colors. I guess too many people are used to the stuff in a can at the grocery store. But it does have the advantage that it's a little more tolerant of heat than butter.
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 15:53
  • I guess it depends on the palate of the tasters and what they're used to... afterall plenty of people like "Cool Whip" even though I think it's revolting and don't understand how anyone could accept it as a substitute for real whipped cream! :) My experience is that at "room temperature", butter icing is fine, but if you plan to have your cake in a warmer environment or direct sunlight, melty icing might indeed be an issue.
    – Allison
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 11:35
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    @Allison : it's like American fast food -- if you put enough fat and sugar in it, people will like it ... I don't know if it's a physiological thing (you're naturally inclined to like those flavors, as they're useful for survival), or what. As for the Cool Whip -- there's some of us who can't do dairy, so I admit, I even had some the other day when whipped cream (admittedly, from a can) was an alternative.
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 14:01
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    If anyone is working in commercial qualtities, there are shortenings purpose made for cakes and icings that work great. One that comes to mind is Sweetex, but there are others. I've never found these specialty shortenings in retail.
    – Paulb
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 17:01

I've never had a buttercream frosting consisting of nothing but butter, powdered sugar and vanilla (and often cocoa or coloring) go bad. Even when it's got a little milk in it. There are two reasons for this. One, it doesn't last long enough. Hey! Where'd that last piece of cake go? Two, though I'm no expert, I think it is the high amount of sugar as Michael alluded to. I've had the infrequent cake with a piece or two that have hung around for a week without any problems other than a little drying.

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    growing up we did not refrigerate our butter, we kept it in a butter dish in the pantry. Now, this was salted butter and we went through a stick a week, so I have no idea if it would eventually go bad. Butter is a pretty safe bet though
    – Manako
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 15:07
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    @Manako: People used to keep their eggs out on the counter, too. But they were going straight from the chicken to the pan within several days - not spending a few weeks who knows where. We keep our unsalted butter out now after having grown up on refrigerated butter and margarine. My grandmother used to keep a little container of bacon drippings right next to the stove (I keep mine refrigerated). Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 17:32
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    @Manako Traditionally, butter and eggs can indeed be kept at room temperature. The length of time does depend on temperature. Traditionally, bacon grease will last quite a while at room temperature due to its high salt content. Just be sure not to mix other oil/grease types with the bacon grease.
    – JS.
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 23:11

Homemade? A buttercream frosting made with water instead of milk will last for a couple of days.

I imagine the canned stuff you can buy in a grocery store will last longer due to preservatives.

As an alternative you could just make whatever frosting you felt like, and keep it refrigerated until you needed to use it.


If you have a buttercream recipe that calls for milk, substitute it with water, and if it calls for butter substitute it with shortening. Shortening is generally kept on the shelf, so it doesn't need to be refrigerated.

Basically whatever ingredients you add in, if they generally need to be refrigerated, then it can't be left out.


I would think any of the store bought icings (like Duncan Hines), which are basically 100% hyrdogenated oil + sugar would keep for a day or two once opened (maybe much longer).

Anything you make yourself using real ingredients, like butter, is going to go rancid pretty quick.

  • What is a "real" ingredient? Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 0:12
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    As opposed to imaginary ingredients, @Mike. Everyone knows that Unicorn Lard lasts forever, but it's hard to come by.
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 2:30
  • lol - uh, I meant in the general sense of "not-processed". If it's processed, like Hydrogenated Oil, it's usually designed to have a long shelf-life. So real = butter, eggs, milk, lard. Not real = high fructose corn syrup, guar gum, crisco, etc.
    – Rake36
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 23:16
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    Not to be a pedant, but butter, milk, and lard are all "processed". Butter and lard via purification processes that extract the fat from the raw ingredients; milk via skimming, homogenization and pasteurization. Guar gum is no more processed than white flour. HFCS and hydrogenated oils are admittedly somewhat more processed than some other ingredients, but they are unhealthy not because of the processing, but because of result of the processing. "Natural" sources of hydrogenated oil wouldn't be any healthier.
    – Eclipse
    Commented Dec 6, 2010 at 16:58
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    Butter, especially salted butter, does not go rancid that fast and certainly not in the "few days" time frame stated in the question.
    – Allison
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 11:38

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