Don't know your ganache from your fudge buttercream? Hazy on the difference between glaze and royal icing?
Don't worry: This ultra comprehensive guide to the different kinds of icing, glazes and frostings has you covered. Not only does it describe every type in detail, it'll tell you the best ways to use each and every one of them.
Get ready for some serious bowl-licking.
Buttercream is a frosting superstar — popular and versatile. There are lots of different types, all made with a base of fat (often butter, but not always) and sugar.
The classic birthday-cake frosting. It's mostly butter and powdered sugar, with all kinds of tints and flavorings.
This twist on American buttercream has some shortening and a little more sugar than usual; it's soft when you mix it, but sets firm. It's a go-to for cakes with piping, as the designs are a bit sturdier.
Also called boiled milk frosting, cooked milk buttercream or ermine buttercream, flour buttercream is unique! You make it by boiling a mixture of flour, sugar and milk until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency; then, after it cools, you beat it with butter and flavorings to make a silky, delicious buttercream that looks just like American buttercream.
Meringue buttercream gets creative with egg whites, in three main forms: Swiss buttercream (egg whites and sugar, cooked and then whipped with butter), Italian meringue buttercream (boiled sugar slowly poured into an egg-white meringue mixture, then beaten with butter) and French meringue buttercream (uncooked egg whites mixed with sugar and cream of tartar).
A cross between boiled milk buttercream and French buttercream. To make it, you combine pastry cream with butter and/or powdered sugar until spreadable. This type of buttercream is best for a filling, but add enough sugar and you can pipe it.
Not to be confused with French meringue buttercream (!). You make this rich cake topping and filling by combining hot sugar with egg yolks, not whites. Since the eggs aren't cooked, commercial bakers may pasteurize them to reduce the chance of food-borne illness.
What's not to love? Start by combining butter with either melted chocolate or cocoa powder; after the mixture cools, whip it with sugar and flavorings until fluffy. Not to be confused with fudge icing, which is boiled.
Kind of like clay you can eat. Often made with shortening, this buttercream contains lots and lots of sugar, giving it a consistency that can be rolled. It's not quite as flexible as fondant, but you can use it in a lot of the same ways.
2. Caramel Icing
Making this icing is a lot like making candy. You mix and boil brown sugar and milk, then combine with butter and sugar until spreadable. It will set firm on your cake.
Is ganache a cake topping? A pastry filling? A glaze? A chocolate filling? Yes, yes, yes and yes.
Lots of people make ganache with equal weights of cream and chocolate. Bring the cream to a simmer, then pour it on top of chopped chocolate, blending until smooth. The mixture starts out quite liquid, and firms as it sets. Drizzle it on while it's liquid, or wait for it to set and cover an entire cake in it. YUM.
So simple: You can make it with just powdered sugar and a small amount of liquid (often milk or water). It can be quite viscous or more thick, like a syrup, depending on the ratio of sugar to liquid. You might opt to use it as a drizzle (for instance, on top of a quick bread) or as an all-over translucent topping (say, for donuts).
Whether it's translucent or more opaque, a chocolate glaze is typically thin enough to be poured. You can use a ganache as a chocolate glaze, but a number of other varieties exist like one that includes butter, corn syrup and chocolate.
5. Gum Paste
Gum paste is a pliable dough that cake decorators use in genius ways — we dare you not to be impressed by these hand-modeled flowers . The mixture of egg whites, confectioners' sugar and shortening can be rolled quite thin, so it's very versatile. Unlike fondant, which remains soft, gum paste dries quite hard. That makes it better for cake decorations than for, say, covering an entire cake.
This is the type of fondant that you're probably gonna use for cake decorating. Rolled fondant is a pliable, dough-like icing that's made of sugar, water, gelatin and food-grade glycerine. Its smoothness gives cakes a polished look but it's also flexible and workable enough to mold into shapes.
This fondant remains pourable, developing a glossy finish as it dries. Look for it on top of fairy-tale pretty cakes or cupcakes.
7. Fudge Icing
Bring milk or cream, cocoa powder, sugar and other flavorings to a boil, then cook until thick. The result is pourable and spreadable at first, but firms to a fudge-like consistency as it cools — you'll want to use it right away. It's similar to caramel icing, but has cocoa powder instead of brown sugar.
This mixture of almond paste, sugar, and flavorings makes cakes extra elegant. Thick and pliable, it can be molded into cake decorations, rolled and used like fondant, or transformed into a cake layer or filling.
9. Mexican Paste
A bit similar to fondant, but firmer and with a glossier finish.Use it to create sculpted or cut-out elements for a cake, since it can be a headache if you're trying to cover an entire cake.
10. Modeling Chocolate
You make this chocolate paste by combining melted chocolate (white, dark, semi-sweet or milk) with corn syrup or simple syrup and then kneading it until it reaches a pliable, clay-like consistency. It's stiffer than fondant, so you can use it to make certain shapes that fondant can't.
Similar to fondant, but it will set hard (not firm); use it to make sculptural elements on cakes. It is often used in highly stylized works of cake art.
12. Royal Icing
This basic mixture of egg whites, confectioners' sugar and often a touch of lemon has a consistency that can be piped, but it dries hard. A fave for ornate cookie decorations, royal icing can also be used to pre-make flowers or other cake decorations. If you want to DIY your sprinkles , you want royal icing.
13. Simple Syrup
Combine equal parts sugar and water, sometimes with flavorings, then heat until it reduces to a syrup-like consistency. Simple syrup is a terrific glaze, or you can use it to keep cake layers moist.
14. Whipped-Cream Frosting
Use this delicious stuff as a frosting or filling for cakes. Commercial bakers typically use stabilized whipped cream, enforced with marshmallow, butter or gelatin for an extra firm texture that won't melt easily.