What would a carrot cake be without a cream cheese frosting? A birthday cake without sweet buttercream?
Whether it's a warm glaze drizzled over a bundt cake, a fluffy frosting topping festive cupcakes, or a tinted royal icing on cut-out cookies, that sweet swirl of sugar, milk, butter, and flavorings gives desserts a perfect sweet finish. And for kids, of any age, the frosting is often the best part!
Types of Frosting
Is it a frosting, an icing or a glaze? The answer to this question lies in each type's thickness and consistency. Frostings are the thickest and creamiest, followed by icings and glazes, which are thinner.
Some types are cooked, such as meringue-based frostings and chocolate glazes. Others, such as Royal Icing and certain Buttercream frostings, are simply mixed together without any cooking on the stove.
The basic frosting recipe contains butter, sugar, and a liquid such as water or milk. More liquid is added for an icing or glaze. Flavorings such as extracts, fruit zest or juice, and chocolate are often added. Eggs are used in cooked frostings.
Sugar is the most important ingredient in all types of frostings, providing sweetness, flavor, bulk and structure. Confectioners' sugar and Superfine sugar are best to use, as they blend easier in uncooked frostings and dissolve faster in cooked types.
General Frosting Tips
- Always use cane sugar, especially for cooked frostings. Check the label on the sugar package; if it doesn't say "pure cane," it is probably beet sugar.
- For richer flavor, use butter instead of margarine or shortening. Use an unsalted grade A butter at room temperature.
- For safety, frostings containing raw eggs should be heated to kill any bacteria.
- Frostings containing egg whites should be whipped in an oil-free environment. Any oil on utensils or in the mixing bowl will prevent the egg whites from whipping into peaks.
- You must refrigerate a cake prepared with perishable frosting.
Cakes with frostings are best stored in airtight containers, such as cake domes.
- Stand mixer with paddle or whisk attachment or electric mixer
- Candy thermometer (for cooked frostings)
- Double boiler (for cooked frostings)
- Metal icing spatula
- Pastry bag for piping or a heavy plastic food-storage bag (Snip off a tiny corner. Make a larger hole in bag if you want a thicker drizzle.)
- Lazy Susan, cake turntable, or inverted bowl (makes frosting cake easier)
- Cake round or strong round cardboard
How to Frost a Cake
For best results, prepare frosting and frost cake on a cool, dry day.
Always apply frosting to a cooled cake that's been removed from the pan – a very cold or frozen cake will be even easier to frost, with fewer crumbs.
Frosting should be at room temperature.
- Place cake on a base such as a Lazy Susan, cake turntable, or inverted bowl.
- Use a tablespoon or two of frosting to secure cake to base and prevent cake from moving.
- Using a dry pastry brush, remove any crumbs from cake.
- Apply a "primer coat" – a thin base layer of frosting.
- To frost cake, start at the top, placing approximately 1/2 cup of frosting on center of cake. Using a narrow metal spatula with a back-and-forth motion, spread the frosting from the cake center out to the edges. Try not to lift the spatula.
- Spread the frosting down the sides. If cake is sitting on a Lazy Susan or turntable, smooth the cake sides by holding the spatula against the frosting and turning the cake, applying additional frosting as needed to fully cover.
- Freeze cake for 5 to 10 minutes. If a thicker layer is desired, frost cake with second layer of frosting.
- Dip spatula in hot water to clean off any crumbs or accumulation of frosting. A warmed spatula can also smooth and even out frosting.
Royal Icing (What Makes It "Royal"?)
Royal Icing originated in England, where it was first prepared for special occasions such as weddings, anniversaries, and baptisms. However, this sweet, regal topping did not fare as well in other countries' more humid climates, and it went out of favor for some time.
Today, however, Royal Icing is once again a frosting favorite. It's the easiest and most versatile frosting, most often used to top cut-out cookies, ice cakes and decorate gingerbread houses. It holds up well and is great for desserts that will be served outdoors for family picnics, birthday parties, and bake sales.
The traditional Royal Icing is a mixture of confectioners' sugar, water, and egg whites or meringue powder (an egg substitute such as powdered meringue eggs is the safest to use). It can be tinted (with food coloring) and enhanced with flavor (with extracts). Royal Icing becomes harder as it dries, and so is best used for decorative purposes.
Add more or less water to reach the consistency desired. The simplest Royal Icing can be made with confectioners' sugar and liquid such as milk, water, or fruit juice.
Royal Icing (with meringue powder), Royal Icing (with egg whites), Orange Icing
Try our Cut-Out Cookies with Basic Decorating Icing and Double Orange Cupcakes with Orange Icing
- Royal Icing is best used on cookies and gingerbread houses. Use a knife, spoon, or pastry bag to apply. To use on a cake, thin icing with water to reach a glaze consistency. Drizzle on cake; if you are frosting an entire cake, use two coats. Wait for first coat to dry before adding second.
- Since Royal Icing tends to harden quickly, re-mix it frequently. When you're not working with it, keep it covered with plastic wrap.
- When using Royal Icing with decorations, add decorations immediately after frosting, before the frosting "sets," so decorations can adhere to icing.
Glazes are used to give desserts a smooth or shiny finish. A glaze is usually drizzled onto a cake or applied with a pastry brush to give a glisten to pastries. Glazes also add a glassine look to fruit pies and tarts.
A basic glaze contains confectioners' sugar and a liquid such as water or milk. More liquid is added for a thinner glaze. Flavor can be added with melted chocolate, extracts, jams, or fruit juice.
Chocolate Glaze, Fruit Glaze, Chocolate Coffee Glaze, Confectioners' Sugar Glaze, Strawberry Glaze
Try our Chocolate Cream Roll with Chocolate Glaze, Fudge Cupcakes with Chocolate Coffee Glaze, Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Confectioners' Sugar Glaze, Strawberry Cheese Pie with Strawberry Glaze
- Cake should be at room temperature or slightly chilled.
- Put a piece of parchment or wax paper under cake to catch drips.
- Glaze should be of pouring consistency. Glaze sets quickly, so if you're applying decorations or toppings such as nuts, do so immediately after glazing.
- Pour glaze on the center of cake. Allow excess to drip off cake. Touch glaze as infrequently as possible to avoid picking up crumbs.
- Allow glazed cake to set for at least 2 hours at room temperature.
Buttercream is the richest and tastiest frosting. The basic buttercream recipe that tops many birthday cakes is an uncooked whipped mixture of confectioners' sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla. Food coloring and other flavors such as cocoa powder, extracts, and spices are often added.
Basic Buttercream Recipes:
Basic Buttercream Frosting, Butter Brown Frosting, Apricot Yogurt Frosting, Cream Cheese Frosting, Orange Buttercream Frosting, Sour Cream Frosting, Quick Fudge Frosting, Mocha Frosting, Creamy Lemon Frosting, Caramel Frosting, Chocolate Almond Frosting
Try our Yogurt Pound Cake with Apricot Yogurt Frosting, Delightful Devil's Food Drop Cookies with Mocha Frosting, Double Caramel Cake with Caramel Frosting, or Carrot Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream Frosting.
The classic cooked meringue-based method contains water, butter, cream of tartar, granulated sugar syrup, and beaten egg whites or yolks. The eggs give this type of frosting fluffy, billowy peaks. Because of concerns about bacteria in raw eggs, a buttercream frosting with eggs should have eggs heated in a double boiler to 140-160 degrees. Alternatively, use egg white powder.
Meringue-Based Buttercream Recipes:
Basic Meringue Buttercream Frosting, Chocolate Meringue Buttercream, Meringue Frosting, Fluffy Apple Frosting, French Buttercream Frosting
Try our Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Meringue Buttercream. For an alternative frosting, made without butter or eggs, try Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting.
- When working with a cooked frosting containing a sugar syrup, add the sugar syrup slowly to eggs so as to heat the eggs gradually and not scramble them.
- Some cooked buttercream frostings do not use eggs. They are made instead with confectioners' sugar, butter, water and flavoring. Flavors can be added: melted chocolate for a chocolate buttercream frosting, orange juice for an orange buttercream.
- You can make a buttercream frosting ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator. To soften, let stand at room temperature. When frosting softens, beat with an electric mixer.
Whipped Cream Frosting
The lightest-textured frosting, suitable for angel, sponge, and chiffon cakes.
This frosting is a simple, whipped mixture of heavy cream and Domino® Superfine Sugar. If you like, you may add vanilla or other flavorings.
The basic recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of Domino® Superfine Sugar to each cup of cream.
Whipped Cream Frosting
- Cakes with whipped cream frosting should be eaten as soon as prepared; the whipped cream will warm and soften, and can make the cake soggy.
- Use a chilled bowl, beater, and ingredients (yes, you can even chill the sugar).
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