Different Types of Icing

Different Types of Icing

There are many, many types of cake icing.  In today's post, I will give a general overview of the 3 types that I primarily use.

American Buttercream

This type of frosting (a/k/a icing) contains a fat (all butter, all vegetable shortening, or a combination of both); powdered sugar and flavoring (vanilla extract, lemon extract, etc).  There are hundreds of recipes for American Buttercream.  I have tried dozens of recipe variations and for now, use one that uses a combination of butter, shortening and cream cheese for the fat component.  Personally, I like the little "tang" that cream cheese gives to American Buttercream.  If an all-white icing is required, I have a recipe I like for an all shortening icing that is bright white and tastes like soft ice cream.

Senatobia cakes
American Buttercream is easy to make, takes coloring easy and is a familiar taste and texture to most Americans.  Here is a cake that is iced in American Buttercream:

European Buttercream

As far as I know, there are 3 basic types of European Buttercreams:  French, Italian, and Swiss.  I have never used and probably never will use French Buttercream.  It is made with egg yolks and sounds very complicated.  Nuff said...

Italian Meringue Buttercream is made by heating a sugar and water solution to 245 degrees then slowing adding it to egg whites that have been whipped to a soft peak stage.  Then you add butter and flavorings.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is very similar to the Italian version.  Instead, you heat the sugar and egg whites over a water bath to about 140 degrees.  Then you pour that into a mixer and whip until stiff peaks form.  Once you have your meringue, add softened butter and beat with beater blade on low until fluffy, add flavorings of choice.

I prefer the Swiss version.  I have heard that the taste of the Swiss and Italian are very close and the Italian seems a little dangerous for a clutz like me (pouring a hot sugar syrup into beaten eggs).

The Swiss Meringue Buttercream is light and fluffy.  It works great for piping swirls on cupcakes.  Here is a cake and cupcakes iced with Swiss Meringue Buttercream:


Fondant is more like a cake covering rather than a frosting.  It was not well known by most Americans until the popularity of cake decorating TV shows.  It is great for giving a smooth and elegant finish.  It is rolled out like a pie dough, then placed over the cake and smoothed.  Fondant is the cake covering of choice in England and Australia.  There are many commercial brands of fondant- some taste horrible and some pretty good.  I have also made my own, but prefer to buy it already made.  I am definitely not an expert in covering cakes in fondant.  I get a little anxious every time I give it a try.  It can be finicky and hard to deal with, especially with larger cakes.  Here are a couple of cakes I have managed to get covered with fondant without pulling all my hair out:

Senatobia wedding cake

When I first started decorating cakes, I only knew about the American Buttercream and only one recipe for that (the one used in the class).  There is a world of cake icings out there and I have enjoyed trying (and tasting) many of them.

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