If you’ve done your fair share of baking, you may already know that there are many types of frosting. However, that doesn’t mean you know all of them or what sets each one apart. Many baking recipes require some sort of frosting, and they taste that much better when you make it from scratch. Prepare yourself for your next sweet endeavor or Christmas cookie marathon by learning a little bit about all of the different frosting types and why icing is a whole different ball game.
Frosting vs. Icing: What’s the Difference?
When it comes to identifying frosting versus icing, the biggest indicator is consistency. Frosting is generally thick and spreadable, while icing is thinner and must be piped or drizzled since it hardens when it cools. Royal icing is the classic variety that you would use for decorating Christmas cookies and other similar treats, not to be confused with glaze, which is simply liquid and confectioners’ sugar, making it the thinnest dessert topping of all.
By far the most common frosting category, buttercream is made from combining some type of fat, like butter, with sugar. It may also include other ingredients like eggs for a fluffier texture or cream, which is used to make this vanilla buttercream recipe extra rich and smooth. The classic simple buttercream, or American buttercream, is essentially a mix of butter and confectioners’ sugar, potentially with additions like eggs, milk varieties or flavor extracts.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Otherwise known as Swiss buttercream, this type of frosting is a bit more complicated to make. It requires separating egg whites and whisking them with sugar to form the meringue base, cooking that mixture and then whisking until you achieve stiff peaks. Then, slowly adding cubes of butter once it's cooled, until the stiff peaks return. It’s a bit less sweet and more subtle in flavor, commonly used to frost fancier bakes like wedding cakes.
Italian Meringue Buttercream
Similar to Swiss buttercream but even more involved, Italian buttercream is also frequently used for upscale events and is less prone to melting in warmer weather. Egg whites are first beaten with salt and cream of tartar before incorporating the sugar, heating the mixture, cooling it, and adding the cubed butter.
The richest of all the buttercream frosting, French buttercream uses egg yolks instead of whites for a thick and creamy frosting that usually leans more yellow in color. Since it’s softer and doesn’t hold its shape very well, it tends to work best as a filling, base or cupcake topper. Make sure you use pasteurized eggs if you’re not planning on cooking a classic French buttercream so that it's safe to consume.
This frosting is a bit more unique but may be fun to try if you're a more experienced baker and tired of traditional buttercream. The recipe involves heating milk and eventually mixing with cornstarch, sugar, eggs and butter to create a custard-like frosting that’s best suited as a pastry filling.
If you’ve ever eaten pre-packaged supermarket pastries, you’ve likely tried ermine buttercream (aka boiled milk frosting or cooked flour frosting). It’s an eggless alternative to traditional buttercream frostings, made with flour, sugar, milk and butter.
Cream Cheese Frosting
An easier option with a slightly tangy flavor, cream cheese frosting calls for beating cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar together until smooth. This vanilla cream cheese frosting recipe adds a bit of vanilla extract to the mix and serves as a particularly delicious topping for red velvet and carrot cakes.
Whipped Cream Frosting
This type of frosting, also referred to as chantilly cream frosting, is the lightest and fluffiest so far. It’s basically whipped cream with the addition of smooth mascarpone cheese to create a more stable spread for strawberry shortcakes and other summery desserts.
Seven Minute Frosting
You could probably guess that this old-fashioned frosting gets its name from the amount of time it must be mixed. It’s similar to meringue in consistency but lacks butter, making it a bit more airy and light. The standard recipe will have you mix sugar, cream of tartar, egg whites and water, heat it until frothy and then beat (for approximately seven minutes) to get those stiff and sturdy peaks.
The first inherently chocolate of these frosting varieties, ganache is a versatile dip or drizzle with a consistency that resembles a cross between frosting and icing. You simply heat chocolate and heavy cream separately, then combine and whisk. To achieve a more thicker frosting, you can either spoon it onto a cake or cupcake and allow it to cool, like in this chocolate ganache recipe, or continue whipping until it turns fluffy.
Sweet and decadent, a fudge frosting is generally spread over more mild sponge cakes or tart desserts for balanced flavor. You can use cocoa powder or chocolate bars, usually mixed with butter, powdered sugar and milk until it’s creamy and spreadable.
If you’ve ever watched a baking show, you’ve likely heard of fondant. It’s actually quite difficult to make, calling for gelatin, powdered sugar, corn syrup and shortening. Fondant is most commonly used for decorating cakes, since it’s essentially a sugar paste that can be rolled into sheets and molded for a smooth, professional-looking coating.
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