For us this Easter, it's all about the frosting. Our homemade frosting is so fast, flexible, idiot-proof and so utterly fantastic, you'll wonder why every bake sale and birthday party isn't dripping with it.

The word homemade doesn't always fit with our desperate lifestyles, and it's true that canned frosting is easier. So here's our rationale: A homemade buttercream frosting could probably transform a slab of cardboard.

Buttercream takes only six minutes start to finish, so we'll save time with a cake mix and spend our energy where it counts. It's a very sweet secret.

You can morph today's recipe into a host of flavors. Here are some of our favorite variations:

• For citrus: Instead of the milk, use 3 tablespoons fresh lemon, lime, orange or Key-lime juice. Omit the vanilla extract, and if desired, stir in 1 teaspoon of grated zest from the citrus of choice.

• For pineapple: Omit the milk and use 3 tablespoons unsweetened canned pineapple juice. Use only 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. (Garnish with toasted flaked coconut for an island-inspired delight.)

• For mint: Omit the vanilla and use 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract (or more to taste). Tint with green food coloring, if desired.

• For cinnamon: Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or more to taste) along with the vanilla.

• For almond: Use 2 teaspoons pure almond extract instead of vanilla.

• For coffee: Omit the milk and use 3 tablespoons very strong brewed coffee, refrigerated or at room temperature. (Do not add hot coffee.)

Easter falls the earliest this year since 1913, so we'll need all the extra time we can get. With Our Best Basic Buttercream Frosting, no one will notice if we don't get around to baking from scratch.


Start to finish: 6 minutes

Cook's note: If you are not accustomed to using butter, this recipe will work with a stick of margarine.

The consistency of the frosting does not have to be exact, and can vary depending on how much moisture various brands of butter contain and what type of milk or other liquid is used. Also, individual preferences vary. If the frosting seems too thin, beat in additional confectioners' sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. Likewise, if it is too thick, beat in additional milk (or any other liquid you're using) 1 teaspoon at a time.

1 stick butter, at room temperature (see Cook's note)

3 tablespoons milk

3 cups confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Food coloring, if desired

Place the butter and milk in a mixing bowl. Place 2 cups of the confectioners' sugar into a sifter, and then sift it directly into the bowl with the butter. Mix well with an electric mixer. Sift and mix in the remaining 1 cup sugar. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Add the vanilla, and beat with the mixer until the frosting is fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula again as needed. (See Cook's note about frosting consistency.) For colored buttercream, mix in food coloring as desired. Use at once or refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month. Bring back to room temperature and stir well before using.

Makes 2 cups (enough to frost most 2-layer or Bundt cakes or 2 dozen cupcakes)

Approximate values per tablespoon: 70 calories (37 percent from fat), 3 g fat (2 g saturated), 8 mg cholesterol, trace amount protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 0 g dietary fiber, 21 mg sodium.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap.Fast.Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at © United Feature Syndicate Inc.