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What Are the Different Types of Frosting for Cupcakes?

Cupcake frosting is the crowning glory that adds texture and flavor, transforming a simple treat into a divine dessert. From the classic buttercream to rich cream cheese, silky Swiss meringue, and decadent ganache, each type offers a unique twist to your cupcake experience. Curious about how to elevate your baking with these frostings? Let's whisk into the sweet details together.
Amber Eberle
Amber Eberle

Cupcakes are individual desserts that are usually topped with a sweet frosting. There are several frosting recipes that work well for icing and decorating these little cakes. Many types of icings can have flavorings or colorings added to them. Buttercream, cream cheese, whipped cream, ganache, and meringue options are all popular frosting options. The type of topping used is a matter of personal taste, but can also depend on how one plans to decorate the cakes.

Buttercream is a very popular frosting for cupcakes. This kind of icing has a rich, sweet taste that many people enjoy and can be used in many different decorating techniques. There are a number of recipes to make buttercream, but the main ingredients of this frosting are butter and sugar. Flavorings can be added and it can also be tinted with food coloring. Buttercream frosting can be piped onto cupcakes using a frosting or pastry bag, or it can be spread on to a cupcake using a rounded knife or small spatula.

A frosted cupcake.
A frosted cupcake.

Cream cheese frosting is made by mixing cream cheese and powdered sugar until it is smooth and fluffy. The flavor of the cream cheese usually makes this type of frosting less sweet than others and is a good frosting for cupcakes that are themselves very sugary. The frosting can also be colored and flavored as desired.

Whipped cream frosting is very light and creamy in texture and is easy to make by combining whipping cream and powdered sugar. Care must be taken to not over-beat the mixture, however. This type of frosting should be used immediately after it is made, and leftover cupcakes topped will this kind of frosting must be refrigerated. Coloring can be added to whipped cream frosting but the results are usually only pastel shades as opposed to vibrant hues.

Fondant frosting may be used for decorating cupcakes.
Fondant frosting may be used for decorating cupcakes.

Ganache is a rich frosting made by melting chocolate with cream and butter. When it is warm, it can be poured over the top of a cupcake, or it can be chilled until it thickens and then spread onto the cakes. This frosting for cupcakes has a shiny appearance.

Meringue frosting is also commonly called seven-minute frosting or cooked frosting. The main ingredients of a meringue version are egg whites and sugar, which are cooked in a double boiler while being constantly mixed. For best results, an electric mixer should be used to create a light and fluffy icing. When using meringue frosting for cupcakes, it is recommended that the treats are served or consumed on the same day because the topping may deflate if kept too long. A meringue powder, which can usually be found at baking supply stores, can be used in place of the egg whites.

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Discussion Comments


Whipped cream frostings are great, but they don't hold up for very long outside the refrigerator, which is something to remember.

Ganache is my particular favorite frosting for nearly anything. It doesn't take long to make, goes on easily and always looks smooth and finished. Plus, it's chocolate. Doesn't get much better than that! Chocolate frosting goes with nearly any flavor of cupcake: yellow, white, chocolate, marble -- you name it. A splash of rum in the ganache gives it an upscale flavor. Or, you can try peppermint extract, too. Ganache is a good choice for cake or cupcakes, either one.


Cooked frostings are just so temperamental. I've never had any luck with them unless it was cold outside, with low humidity. Same criteria as making fudge. It has to be cold and dry outside, or the candy (or frosting) just won't set properly.

A no-cook buttercream is much less ornery. It's easy to make and easy to use. The cook just creams butter and powdered sugar and then adds a little milk and desired flavorings or colors. It's just a good recipe.

Cream cheese frosting is easy too, and works along the same lines as the buttercream. It's probably best for either spreading on a cupcake, or just piping with a big tip, since it tends to be a stiff frosting.

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    • A frosted cupcake.
      By: Ruth Black
      A frosted cupcake.
    • Fondant frosting may be used for decorating cupcakes.
      By: BigKnell
      Fondant frosting may be used for decorating cupcakes.
    • Cocoa can be added to a basic recipe make chocolate buttercream frosting.
      By: aaa187
      Cocoa can be added to a basic recipe make chocolate buttercream frosting.
    • Cream cheese may be used as frosting on snickerdoodle cupcakes.
      Cream cheese may be used as frosting on snickerdoodle cupcakes.