Cake Frosting 101: What Type of Frosting Is That?

Here's a guide to knowing the different types of cake frosting.

IMAGE Patrick Martires


Hello, fellow home baker! We get it-there are many kinds of cake frosting out there, and sometimes it's difficult to gauge which ones will work best for your cake. Will buttercream melt at room temperature? Will ganache hold out in your outdoor party? Wait-how do you even pronounce ganache?!


First of all, know that there is a difference between cake frosting and cake icing. Icing is often thin, glossy, and used to glaze or thinly cover a cake. These are your basic sugar glazes, fondant, royal icing, and gum paste. Frosting, on the other hand, is fluffy, heavy, thick, and pipe-able. Frosting often has a fat component to keep it at a good piping consistency and is creamier and stiffer compared to icing.


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Here's a guide to knowing the different types of cake frosting, how they will react once they are piped, and tips on how to make them work for you and your precious baked masterpiece.




Buttercream is the poster child of cake frosting: light, creamy, tasty, silky-smooth, but still stable enough to fill, coat, and decorate cakes.



Meringue-based buttercreams are perfectly smooth and light on your tongue. Swiss meringue buttercream starts off with egg whites and sugar over a double boiler-the sugar needs to dissolve completely, then the mixture is then whipped into stiff peaks before butter is gradually incorporated into the mix.


Italian meringue buttercream begins with a simple syrup cooked to a soft ball stage, which is then slowly poured into egg whites and whipped into a meringue. Like the Swiss buttercream, butter is gradually added until smooth. Meringue-based frosting is great for piping, but finished cakes need to stay refrigerated or kept in a cold or air-conditioned room. Avoid working with this buttercream on hot days or afternoons-it will melt quickly!

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American buttercream is much more stable: it only needs butter or shortening, powdered sugar, meringue powder, and vanilla. Shortening can take on a lot more heat than butter, which makes it a more ideal choice for piping and beginner-bakers who need more stable buttercreams to work with. The meringue powder helps the frosting set and crust, so these cakes can stand at room temperature, too.




Ganache (it's pronounced ga-nash, by the way!)

Ganache is a simple mix of good quality chocolate and hot heavy cream-everything will melt into a delicious, smooth, thick frosting. Could you think of a better two-ingredient cake frosting recipe?



To make ganache pipe-able, whip it until it gets fluffy, then proceed to pipe your decorations. Remember to keep whipped ganache-frosted cakes in the chiller! If you keep ganache unwhipped, it also makes a good stable filling and coating for your basic butter cakes and chocolate cakes.



Cream Cheese

Let's be real: carrot cakes and red velvet cakes wouldn't be complete without luscious cream cheese frosting!


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Cream cheese frosting often has powdered sugar, heavy cream or butter, and vanilla added to it. Like ganache, you can whip it and make it fluffy for better piping.




Marshmallow frosting is a party favorite for a reason: it is looks great (who doesn't love a good, glossy look?) stable, and doesn't need refrigeration to hold its peaks. It starts off as a simple mix of egg whites and sugar, and is great for light sponge cakes that cannot be weighed down by heavier frostings. Also, they pipe beautifully! Make this frosting extra delicious by light torching it for a toasty finishing touch!




Whipped Cream

This is a classic! All you have to do is whip your cream slowly until it builds up to soft or stiff peaks. You can finish off your cupcakes with a little dollop or spread a good amount over sponge cakes and chiffon cakes.




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