What are the Seven Different Types of Icing?

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Fudge icing is thick and has a rich chocolate flavor.
Fudge icing is thick and has a rich chocolate flavor.

Many types of cake, cookie, cupcake and dessert are covered with icing. It can be used to decorate a variety of pastries and baked goods, and adds flavor and texture, as well as enabling a chef to decorate her creation so that it is a treat for the eyes as well as the palate. There are seven basic types of icing: buttercream, flat, foam, fondant, fudge, royal, and glazes.

Buttercream icing has a sweet flavor and a smooth, fluffy texture.
Buttercream icing has a sweet flavor and a smooth, fluffy texture.

Buttercream icing is one of the most popular types for cakes. It is easy to spread, has a sweet flavor and a soft, smooth texture and is simple to make. Buttercream is made with a type of fat, often butter, and sugar. It can also contain eggs or milk to change the texture and thickness. Most icing found in the supermarket in the cake mix section is basic buttercream.

Flat icing is one of the most simple types. The basic ingredients are powdered sugar and water. Simple flat icings form the glaze on rolls, danishes and other pastries and can be flavored with fruit or spices to add a new taste to the pastry.

Milk is a key ingredient in buttercream icing.
Milk is a key ingredient in buttercream icing.

Foam icing comes in a variety of flavors and has a soft, fluffy appearance. A meringue is made of whipped egg whites with a flavored syrup added. Marshmallow foam is a common variety, but other flavors such as chocolate or vanilla can also be added to the meringue.

Fondant gives a cake or pastry an elegant appearance and is popular for wedding cakes and other show pieces. This type is simply sugar and water, with either glucose or cream of tartar used to produce the proper crystallization to give it a smooth, almost porcelain look.

Mint is often added to fudge icing.
Mint is often added to fudge icing.

Fudge icing is thick and rich with a strong chocolate flavor. Other flavors, such as almond, peanut butter or mint, are often added. Using both butter and shortening, corn syrup, sugar and a variety of other ingredients, this type can be somewhat time consuming to prepare, but the finished product is stable and can be refrigerated and used at a later time.

Glazes form a hard shell when poured over baked goods.
Glazes form a hard shell when poured over baked goods.

Royal icing is similar to the flat variety, but adds egg whites to produce a thicker product which hardens to a brittle texture. It can be used to make beautiful, artistic decorations because it hardens when dried, but the same property makes it less enjoyable to eat. Royal icing is used primarily for decorative additions to cakes and for show work such as sugar sculptures.

Glazes are thin, watery icings which form a hard, crisp shell when poured or brushed over cakes and pastries. They are usually made with a fruit flavor, although other flavors, such as chocolate or coffee, are sometimes popular as well. Like flat, glazes can be used on sweet breakfast pastries like coffee cakes. They add flavor, and also help keep the pastry moist and improve its shelf life.

With seven basic types to choose from, and myriad possibilities within each type, pastry chefs have a great variety of options when topping their creations. By using one of these varieties, an experienced chef can produce countless delicious creations.

What Is Icing Made Of?

Icing is a sweet topping used on many different desserts. Often used as a decoration, it can also add a sweet flavor to food. Sugar is the primary ingredient in icing. Most recipes call for powdered sugar, also sometimes referred to as confectioners sugar. The sugar is mixed with a liquid to give it the proper consistency. Choosing different liquids is the primary way to create different flavors of icing. Milk or cream may be used for basic icings, but for flavored varieties, many cooks opt for fruit juice or liqueur. Food coloring may also be added to create colorful varieties.

Varieties of Icing

There are several common varieties of icing that have slightly different consistencies. Royal icing is one of the thickest options, drying into a very hard solid shell after being applied to dessert. It can be a good option for creating a solid surface on top of desserts or acting as a safe-to-eat glue for holding decorations in place. Other icing varieties include classic favorites such as the following:

  • Caramel icing
  • Sugar glazes
  • Ganache

Is There a Difference Between Icing and Frosting?

The words icing and frosting are sometimes used interchangeably to describe different kinds of frosting, but there are actually many differences between the two. When deciding which recipe to use, first consider the type of dessert you are making, and follow the below guidelines to decide whether frosting or icing would work best.

Frosting

With a similar flavor to icing, the main thing that sets frosting apart is how thick it is. Frosting uses fats, such as butter, as an important ingredient to give it more structure than icing. While frosting can be used for a topping similar to icing, it is also commonly used as a filing. Its consistency makes it a good choice for piping and similar forms of decorating, such as that often seen on cakes and cupcakes. Food coloring or other ingredients can be added to create bright, vibrant colors that completely cover whatever is underneath the frosting layer.

Icing

Typically, icing is a thinner topping. More liquid is used in the preparation of icing, giving it a different consistency than frosting. It is applied more lightly to desserts and often appears shinier and smoother than frosting. Flavors may be incorporated to make icing that pairs well with different desserts. While icing has a thin consistency, it is not as thin as a glaze and should still be solid enough to stick to food easily and add color to desserts. Depending on the type of icing, it should gradually harden after being applied to food, creating a shell-like finished product.

Glazes

While glazes are technically a bit thinner than an icing, they can be used for similar purposes. A glaze recipe is generally very similar to a frosting recipe, but more liquid is called for. They can be poured over the top of finished desserts to add a dripping effect and provide added sweetness.

Types of Frosting Flavors

There are many different frosting flavors and recipes to try. With all the options out there, you can find something that works well as a pairing for almost any dessert imaginable.

Buttercream

Buttercream frosting is one of the simplest varieties. With a sugary sweet flavor, it generally only uses three ingredients: powdered sugar, butter, and a liquid. Additional ingredients, such as lemon zest or vanilla extract, can be mixed in to provide more depth and flavor.

Fondant

One of the most moldable options that is perfect for creating intricate decorations, fondant is actually more of a paste than a true frosting. Fondant recipes allow you to create a few different varieties, from pourable options to fondant that is thick enough to be rolled out in sheets. Colors and flavors can be added according to your preferences.

Cream Cheese

A favorite for people who prefer a slightly less sweet option, cream cheese frosting is a sophisticated and easy-to-prepare choice. Recipies for this frosting should be very similar to those for buttercream, except that cream cheese will be used in place of butter. With a tangy, creamy flavor, cream cheese frosting provides enough structure to be used for decorating. Keep in mind when working with this frosting that desserts should be kept in the refrigerator to avoid melting and spoilage.

Other Options

The three frosting varieties discussed above are just a few of the many options out there. You can also consider trying these delicious favorites:

  • Whipped cream frosting
  • Meringue
  • Fudge frosting
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen

Jeff is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist who earned his B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Creighton University. Based in Berkeley, California, Jeff loves putting his esoteric knowledge to good use as a DelightedCooking contributor.

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen

Jeff is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist who earned his B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Creighton University. Based in Berkeley, California, Jeff loves putting his esoteric knowledge to good use as a DelightedCooking contributor.

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Discussion Comments

amypollick

@anon194920: The buttercream frosting recipe on the back of the Hershey's cocoa can is one of the best chocolate frosting recipes ever. It's about goof-proof, too. Just keep adding milk or powdered sugar until the consistency is right.

Now, a cooked fudge icing recipe is another thing. There are dozens of recipes online, but any cooked icing, in my humble opinion, is almost more trouble than it's worth. They're just so doggone temperamental. You can look around and see if you find one that looks fairly straightforward, but if you're just looking for a good chocolate frosting, it's hard to beat the Hershey's cocoa can recipe.

anon194920

I would concur with those who like buttercream. It is delicious. I would also like to find a good fudge icing recipe. Anybody have one?

amypollick

@anon183307: Cream cheese frosting would be a buttercream, since it's a fat (the cream cheese) mixed with sugar. One of my favorites, and nearly goof-proof.

anon183307

Where does cream cheese frosting fit on this spectrum?

anon159772

i have found your article very interesting it has cleared up information i was not clear on. i have learned a lot by reading over the years because i did not have the money to enter a formal institution. now i am. thanks a lot. i am way over in jamaica.

anon150956

This article is so helpful. And buttercream is gorgeous!

anon36857

I love this article! It is very helpful for a project that I am working on. Although, I wish that it had some Recipies to use!

anon18615

recipe for foundant icing?

breadcrumbs51

Royal icing does look absolutely beautiful when done well, but it doesn't taste good at all. Buttercream frosting on the other hand is DELICIOUS!

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    • Fudge icing is thick and has a rich chocolate flavor.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      Fudge icing is thick and has a rich chocolate flavor.
    • Buttercream icing has a sweet flavor and a smooth, fluffy texture.
      By: Ruth Black
      Buttercream icing has a sweet flavor and a smooth, fluffy texture.
    • Milk is a key ingredient in buttercream icing.
      By: Elenathewise
      Milk is a key ingredient in buttercream icing.
    • Mint is often added to fudge icing.
      By: margo555
      Mint is often added to fudge icing.
    • Glazes form a hard shell when poured over baked goods.
      By: uckyo
      Glazes form a hard shell when poured over baked goods.