The Chef's Guide to Eight Types of Icing

From buttercream to glaze and beyond, there are many types of icing to discover. Whether you're an aspiring pastry chef or on your way to working in a professional kitchen, you should be familiar with all the ways to frost a cake. The following are some of the most popular varieties of icing and some delicious recipes to try out:

Buttercream Icing

The name of this popular type of icing says it all. Buttercream icing is creamy, spreads easily and is rich in flavor thanks to its butter base. Its fluffy texture makes it a favorite for cakes and cupcakes, and it is also great sandwiched between two cookies. Vanilla buttercream is a classic choice, or try French buttercream icing, which is similar to the traditional variety but has egg yolks, making it richer and providing its natural yellow hue. Cakes frosted with buttercream icing can be stored at room temperature for two to three days, but because French buttercream contains raw eggs, it must be refrigerated.

Cream Cheese Icing

Carrot cake and red velvet cake enthusiasts are likely very familiar with this tangy icing. It is similar to traditional buttercream but swaps out some of the butter for cream cheese. This classic recipe from Martha Stewart is excellent on pumpkin bread and chocolate cupcakes.

Glaze Icing

This glossy variety of icing is thinner in texture than buttercream and stiffens as it dries. It is intended to be drizzled, spread or poured over a cake. Glaze is mostly sugar, with a small amount of butter and milk. Try this vanilla glaze recipe on a Bundt cake or shortbread cookies.

Royal Icing

This stiff and sweet variety of icing is made with powdered sugar and egg whites or meringue powder. It is most commonly used to create swirls or piped flowers or hold candy to gingerbread houses. It dries to a matte finish and is smooth and hard. Try this recipe from the Food Network.

Boiled Frosting

If you like the flavor of marshmallows, this butter-free variety of icing is right up your alley. It is typically used as a filling or frosting for layer cakes and has a light and fluffy texture that sets quickly, so you'll have to work fast. Try this recipe from AllRecipes. For the best results, you will need a candy thermometer to check the temperature.


Ganache is most often used as a filling or a frosting. Made with a rich mixture of emulsified cream and chocolate, it is decadent and very chocolatey. Ganache is poured on top of cakes and dries to a high gloss. When you're making ganache, it is important to use top-quality chocolate. Bargain brands won't taste nearly as good because they are made with vegetable oil, not chocolate liqueur. Try this espresso-spiked recipe from The New York Times.


Made with a combination of sugar and vegetable shortening, this dough-like icing has a smooth, matte finish and stays semisoft. It can be rolled out in sheets to completely cover a cake or be cut and formed into decorations. Fondant is most often used for special occasions — think wedding cakes — and has a rich, sweet flavor. Fondant recipes, such as this one from the Food Network, typically contain specialty ingredients such as glycerin and glucose, or you can use a simpler variation that contains marshmallows.

Whipped Cream Icing

Whipped cream makes a great frosting for many types of cakes, especially those that are designed to be served cold. It is perishable, so it should ideally be consumed immediately or stored in the refrigerator. If you want your peaks to stay stiff, add a touch of gelatin. A splash of vanilla is highly recommended, but depending on the cake you're frosting, additions such as cinnamon, cocoa powder or jam can also be delicious.

These different types of icing all have slightly different flavor and texture profiles that lend them to different applications. Learning how to make each one is the perfect excuse to satisfy your sweet tooth and keep practicing at the same time.

Photo credit: Flickr