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12 Types of Frosting: The Definitive Guide

12 Types of Frosting: The Definitive Guide

Last updated on 9/15/2023

Before you can frost a cake, you must choose the frosting you’re going to work with. Essential for cakes and cupcakes but a welcome addition to cookies and other confections, frosting is both decadent and decorative. With so many options to choose from, it can be overwhelming to find the perfect frosting to pair with your bakery items. That's why we've crafted this comprehensive guide to the most popular types of frosting so you can decorate and enhance your baked goods with the ideal frosting flavor and consistency for each recipe.

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Types of Frosting

Whether you’re looking to create a smooth finish on a cake or pipe buttercream roses for decoration, the type of frosting you use affects your baked goods' presentation. We’ll explore some common frosting types that you can use in your bakery. You can also find a printable frosting infographic below.

Frosting vs Icing

The difference between frosting and icing is that frosting is usually thick, creamy, and spreadable, while icing is typically thin, hardens when cooled, and is piped or drizzled on. Frostings are usually used to thickly coat or top cakes and cupcakes, while icings are mostly used for decorations and for light sugary coatings on cookies and donuts. Both frosting and icing are staples in professional and home bakeries.

Buttercream frosting on a cupcake

1. Buttercream Frosting

Buttercream frostings rely on the main ingredient of butter and will be the most common type of frosting you will find in a bakery. Plain buttercream is also referred to as American buttercream or simple buttercream frosting. Simple buttercream is considered a beaten butter frosting (which whips the butter first) as opposed to a cubed butter meringue frosting (which has butter chunks slowly added to the frosting).

  • Flavor of Buttercream: Very sweet, probably the sweetest of the different types of buttercream
  • Color of Buttercream: Ivory
  • Texture of Buttercream: Thick and creamy; can become slightly grainy or greasy if improperly mixed; can develop thin crust over time
  • Stiffness of Buttercream: Soft and pipable; can melt in warm settings and should be added to cooled sponges
  • Uses of Buttercream: Pairs well with most cake sponge flavors, commonly used for sheet cakes and cupcakes
  • Buttercream Recipe Difficulty: Easy; requires few tools and ingredients

How to Make Buttercream Frosting

To make buttercream frosting, you’ll need to combine a type of fat (typically butter or vegetable shortening) with a sweet base, usually powdered sugar (aka confectioners sugar or icing sugar).

  1. Beat room-temperature butter in a mixer until it is smooth.
  2. Mix sugar into the butter and whisk to form a smooth and airy consistency.
  3. Additional flavoring can be added at this time to tailor the frosting for your recipe.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream on a cake

2. Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Swiss meringue buttercream is often just referred to as Swiss buttercream and is a cubed butter meringue frosting. This buttercream is subtle in flavor and easy to pipe, making it a great choice for more elegant bakes.

  • Flavor of Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Mild buttery sweetness; can be easily flavored due to its subtle flavor
  • Color of Swiss Meringue Buttercream: White
  • Texture of Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Silky, smooth, and creamy; known for its airy texture
  • Stiffness of Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Soft, may start to develop bubbles if left out but can be fixed by re-mixing; will melt in warm settings
  • Uses of Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Frosting used for wedding cakes to achieve a perfectly white coating
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream Recipe Difficulty: Medium; requires the use of a stove, mixer, and candy thermometer; it can curdle or separate if made incorrectly

How to Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream

To make Swiss buttercream, you’ll want to separate egg whites to form the meringue base. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature and that no yolks end up in the mixture. Yolks may impact its ability to fluff up. Always make sure your mixing bowl and whisk are completely clean before you start.

  1. Whisk together the egg whites and sugar.
  2. Cook the sugar and egg mixture in a double boiler (aka bain marie) and whisk it until the mixture reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit or until all of the sugar granules have dissolved.
  3. Whisk the cooked mixture in your mixer until you achieve stiff peaks and it is room temperature.
  4. Once the meringue is cooled, add room-temperature butter, one tablespoon at a time while mixing.
  5. Keep mixing until you achieve stiff peaks again.
  6. Add flavoring and gently mix to incorporate.

Italian Meringue Buttercream on a cake

3. Italian Meringue Buttercream

Italian meringue buttercream or Italian buttercream is a cubed butter meringue frosting. It is a staple in the cake-baking industry because it is less prone to melting in warmer climates. The taste and texture make it a go-to option for bakers catering upscale events.

  • Flavor of Italian Buttercream: Mild buttery sweetness; can be easily flavored to complement your sponge
  • Color of Italian Buttercream: White
  • Texture of Italian Buttercream: Creamy, smooth, and silky
  • Stiffness of Italian Buttercream: Highly stable; will hold up relatively well in warmer conditions
  • Uses of Italian Buttercream: Smooth finish is perfect for decorating birthday cakes, wedding cakes, and pies, especially for outdoor events
  • Italian Buttercream Recipe Difficulty: Hard; considered to be the most difficult of the meringue buttercreams because of its need for accurate measurements, temperatures, and mixing speeds

How to Make Italian Meringue Buttercream

To make Italian buttercream, you will need a range top, a mixer, and a candy thermometer. This recipe uses room-temperature egg whites only, so you’ll want to separate out the yolks. Check to make sure your mixing bowl and whisk are clean before starting.

  1. Add egg whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt to a mixing bowl and start the mixer on low, gradually increasing to medium speed.
  2. Slowly add sugar to the meringue and mix until soft peaks are achieved.
  3. In the meantime, heat sugar and water on medium-high heat until the candy thermometer reaches between 235 and 240 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Bring your mixer to a slow speed and slowly drizzle in the sugar syrup.
  5. Once the syrup is in, increase the mixer speed until you achieve soft peaks.
  6. Turn off the mixer and allow the meringue to reach room temperature (you can place ice packs around the bowl to speed up the process).
  7. Once at room temperature, bring the mixer to a slow speed and add a tablespoon of butter at a time, mixing until you achieve stiff peaks.
  8. Add your flavoring and gently mix to incorporate.
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French Buttercream on a cupcake

4. French Buttercream

French buttercream is a cubed butter frosting and the richest of the buttercreams. Unlike Swiss and Italian buttercreams, it is not a true meringue because it uses egg yolks rather than egg whites.

While their names are similar, French buttercream and French meringue buttercream are not the same kind of frosting. French meringue buttercream is made with uncooked egg whites, sugar, and butter. Because the egg whites do not get cooked in the process, it is considered unsafe to consume unless you are planning to cook the final product or use pasteurized eggs. The details below are for French buttercream and not French meringue buttercream.

  • Flavor of French Buttercream: Rich and buttery; similar in flavor to custard, but mildly sweet
  • Color of French Buttercream: Yellow
  • Texture of French Buttercream: Creamy, thick, and silky
  • Stiffness of French Buttercream: Soft, does not hold its shape very well, and will melt in warm conditions
  • Uses of French Buttercream: Because of its soft consistency, this frosting is mainly used for fillings, cupcake frosting, and the base for fruit tarts
  • French Buttercream Recipe Difficulty: Hard; sugar temperature needs to be monitored so it doesn't get too hot and crystalize

How to Make French Buttercream

When making French buttercream, you’ll want to use room-temperature egg yolks rather than egg whites. You will need a range top, candy thermometer, and mixer to combine the ingredients.

  1. Make the sugar syrup by combining the sugar with some water and heat it in a pan until it hits 240 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix the egg yolks and a pinch of salt on a medium speed.
  3. Switch the mixer to a low speed and slowly drizzle the sugar syrup into the bowl.
  4. Increase the mixer speed to medium and whisk until the mixture is at room temperature.
  5. Add room-temperature butter to the bowl, one tablespoon at a time, while mixing.
  6. Finish by adding flavoring.

German Buttercream on a cupcake

5. German Buttercream

German buttercream is a beaten butter frosting and can also be referred to as custard buttercream or pastry-cream butter. The unique recipe is rare in the bakery scene but can be a great change of pace over a traditional buttercream.

  • Flavor of German Buttercream: Slightly rich and custard-like, almost ice cream-like flavor
  • Color of German Buttercream: Pale Yellow
  • Texture of German Buttercream: Creamy, airy, and smooth
  • Stiffness of German Buttercream: Soft and pipable; not very stable; will melt in warmer conditions
  • Uses of German Buttercream: Cupcake frosting or a filling for pastries, but not a great choice for decorations
  • German Buttercream Recipe Difficulty: Medium; a custard will need to be made before the frosting can come together

How to Make German Buttercream

To make German buttercream, you will first need to make the rich pastry cream or custard that serves as the base of the frosting. This recipe uses whole eggs, unlike most buttercream recipes which usually just use the whites or yolks.

  1. Using a saucepan, start by heating milk to a simmer over medium heat and steeping any additional flavors you are looking to add.
  2. Whisk the cornstarch (or flour), sugar, and room-temperature eggs on medium speed in a mixer.
  3. Slowly add half of the simmered milk into the egg mixture while whisking.
  4. Transfer the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk over medium-low heat and bring the mixture to a boil as you whisk.
  5. Turn the heat to low and whisk for approximately 2 more minutes.
  6. Transfer the custard to a shallow pan and spread it out to cool.
  7. In a separate bowl, beat butter on a medium-high speed until fluffy.
  8. Add one tablespoon at a time of custard to the whipped butter while the mixer is running until it is fully incorporated.

Ermine Buttercream on a red velvet cupcake

6. Ermine Buttercream

Ermine buttercream is commonly referred to as flour buttercream, cooked frosting, or boiled milk icing. It is a beaten butter frosting that most consumers are not aware of but is usually found in pre-packaged supermarket pastries. Ermine frosting usually serves as an eggless alternative to Swiss meringue buttercream.

  • Flavor of Ermine Buttercream: Mild sweetness; can be flavored to complement the sponge
  • Color of Ermine Buttercream: Ivory
  • Texture of Ermine Buttercream: Airy, creamy, and silky
  • Stiffness of Ermine Buttercream: Very soft and pipeable; will melt in warmer conditions
  • Uses of Ermine Buttercream: A great frosting for cakes and cupcakes but will not hold up well for decorations; often used to frost red-velvet cakes and to fill Ding Dongs and Twinkies
  • Ermine Buttercream Recipe Difficulty: Medium; requires a range top and a variety of ingredients

How to Make Ermine Buttercream

Ermine buttercream requires some cooking before the buttercream can come together, earning it the name cooked frosting. You will need a saucepan, range top, and mixer to prepare this frosting.

  1. Add flour and sugar to a saucepan and whisk over medium heat for about 2 minutes.
  2. While whisking, slowly add the milk, pouring a little at a time.
  3. Once all of the milk is added, bring the mixture to medium-high heat and whisk until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency.
  4. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl and cover it with plastic wrap so that the wrap is touching the surface of the mixture. Set aside to cool.
  5. Place room-temperature butter in the bowl of your mixer and whisk on high until fluffy.
  6. Slowly add the cooled mixture to the butter, one tablespoon at a time.
  7. Add your flavoring and mix on low to incorporate.
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Cream Cheese Frosting on a carrot cake

7. Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream cheese frosting falls under the beaten butter buttercream frosting category, but with a twist - it replaces a significant portion of the butter with rich and creamy cream cheese. The unique combination of cream cheese and butter creates a velvety texture that spreads smoothly over cakes, cupcakes, and cookies. The cream cheese adds a tangy note that balances out the sweetness. It is the classic frosting for carrot cake, red velvet cake, and frosted cinnamon rolls.

  • Flavor of Cream Cheese Frosting: Tangy and sweet
  • Color of Cream Cheese Frosting: White
  • Texture of Cream Cheese Frosting: Smooth and creamy
  • Stiffness of Cream Cheese Frosting: Pipable and soft; can begin to melt and become runny in warmer conditions; frosting should be refrigerated when not in use
  • Uses of Cream Cheese Frosting: Usually paired with moist sponges like red velvet cupcakes, carrot cake, and hummingbird cake
  • Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe Difficulty: Easy; requires few ingredients and supplies

How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting

Similar to American buttercream, cream cheese frosting is made with a fat and a sweet base. A mixer or bowl and whisk are typically the only equipment needed to make this frosting.

  1. On a medium speed, mix together room-temperature full-fat brick-style cream cheese and butter until the mixture is well combined and clump-free.
  2. Add in vanilla extract and salt and continue mixing.
  3. On a low speed, slowly add the powdered sugar until it is fully incorporated.

Whipped Cream Frosting on a cake

8. Whipped Cream Frosting

Whipped cream frosting, also known as Chantilly cream frosting, is beloved for its fluffy and airy consistency. Made from heavy cream that is whipped to perfection, this frosting creates a light and delicate layer that melts in your mouth. It’s typically prepared right before serving, ensuring its freshness and light texture. It is particularly well-suited for pairing with fruity flavors, as its creamy sweetness beautifully complements the natural tartness and juiciness of fruits.

  • Flavor of Whipped Cream Frosting: Light and mild flavor
  • Color of Whipped Cream Frosting: Ivory to Pale Yellow
  • Texture of Whipped Cream Frosting: Airy and fluffy
  • Stiffness of Whipped Cream Frosting: Very soft and prone to collapsing; will lose consistency over time and should be used right away or refrigerated
  • Uses of Whipped Cream Frosting: Great frosting for topping summer cakes like strawberry shortcakes and berry cakes
  • Whipped Cream Frosting Recipe Difficulty: Medium; the mixture requires attention since it is prone to over-mixing and curdling

How to Make Whipped Cream Frosting

To make whipped cream frosting, you use a whipped cream recipe and add mascarpone to firm it up and make it stable enough for frosting a baked good. The powdered sugar has cornstarch in it, which is essential for stabilizing the whipped cream.

  1. Whipped together heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar, starting your mixer on a low speed and covering the bowl with a dish towel to prevent a powdered sugar cloud.
  2. Be sure to keep a close eye on the mixture as it whisks together or it can overmix and curdle. Mix for approximately 4 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  3. Add in your flavoring, such as vanilla extract, and mix for just a few seconds. At this phase, you will have a light whipped cream that can be used as is.
  4. To create a stable frosting, spread creamy mascarpone cheese in a separate bowl to smooth it out and remove lumps.
  5. Add the smooth mascarpone cheese to the whipped cream and give it a few mixes on low.
  6. Finish by folding the frosting by hand until uniform.

Seven Minute Frosting covering a cake

9. Seven Minute Frosting

Seven minute frosting derives its moniker from the length of time it requires to make it. It offers a melt-in-your-mouth texture and delicate sweetness. Its subtle flavor complements a wide range of desserts without overpowering their inherent flavors. With just a handful of ingredients, including sugar, egg whites, and cream of tartar, this simple recipe transforms into a luscious, cloud-like topping that can elevate any dessert.

  • Flavor of Seven Minute Frosting: Sweet and marshmallow-like
  • Color of Seven Minute Frosting: White
  • Texture of Seven Minute Frosting: Fluffy, light, and airy; provides a melt-in-your-mouth experience
  • Stiffness of Seven Minute Frosting: Starts off soft but can harden the longer it sits out, developing a crust over time; may start to absorb into the sponge if not eaten the same day
  • Uses of Seven Minute Frosting: Can be dolloped on cupcakes or rippled over cakes for a fluffy look and pure white finish, often paired with shaved coconut
  • Seven Minute Frosting Recipe Difficulty: Medium; you will need a double boiler and must monitor the mixing process

How to Make Seven Minute Frosting

To make seven minute frosting, you’ll need to cook the ingredients in a double boiler then allow it to mix and cool for approximately seven minutes (give or take).

  1. Mix your sugar and cream of tartar together to evenly distribute the ingredients.
  2. Add the sugar, cream of tartar, egg whites, and water to a mixing bowl and whisk together.
  3. Place your bowl on a double boiler and whisk periodically until the mixture looks frothy.
  4. Beat the mixture on a stand mixer or with a hand mixer for approximately 7 minutes until you achieve stiff peaks.
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Ganache on a cake

10. Ganache

Ganache is a cross between frosting and icing, and it is very versatile for coating different pastries and desserts. Composed of just chocolate and a hot liquid, it's perfect for dipping fruits and hearty types of donuts into, or drizzling over pies and cakes. If you chill ganache, you can make chocolate truffles as a bite-sized dessert option.

  • Flavor of Ganache: Rich and chocolatey
  • Color of Ganache: Glossy Dark Brown
  • Texture of Ganache: Creamy, silky, and thick
  • Stiffness of Ganache: Liquidy and pourable; does not stiffen unless chilled
  • Uses of Ganache: Topping on cheesecakes, eclairs, and cupcakes; filling for pastries and cakes
  • Ganache Recipe Difficulty: Easy; only requires 2 ingredients

How to Make Ganache

Chocolate ganache can be made with any hot liquid (cream, coffee, etc.) combined with dark, milk, or white chocolate. The consistency can also be impacted by the amount of liquid added.

  1. Chop up chocolate chips or chocolate bars and place them in a heat-safe bowl.
  2. In a separate pan, heat heavy cream or heavy whipping cream on medium heat until it is scalding (just under boiling).
  3. Pour the cream onto the chocolate and allow it to sit for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Whisk the mixture until the ganache thickens and is fully incorporated.
  5. *To create a frosting out of ganache, simply whip the finished product on high for about 4 minutes to achieve a fluffy and pipable consistency.

Fudge Frosting on a cupcake

11. Fudge Frosting

Fudge frosting is an indulgent frosting for those who love chocolate. Its smooth and velvety texture is achieved by combining high-quality cocoa powder, butter, and powdered sugar. The result is a glossy and irresistible frosting that adds a luxurious touch to any baked creation. Due to its richness, it is often paired with plain sponges or tart desserts to create a harmonious balance.

  • Flavor of Fudge Frosting: Decadent, sweet, and chocolatey
  • Color of Fudge Frosting: Light Brown to Brown
  • Texture of Fudge Frosting: Creamy and smooth
  • Stiffness of Fudge Frosting: Pipeable; soft and spreadable; may stiffen up over time to a fudge-like consistency
  • Uses of Fudge Frosting: Spread over yellow cake or piped onto cupcakes; because of its sweetness, it is best paired with mildly flavored sponges
  • Ganache Recipe Fudge Frosting: Easy; requires few ingredients and supplies

How to Make Fudge Frosting

There are a few ways to make fudge frosting. Some bakers choose to use cocoa powder while others use chocolate bars. You may microwave your ingredients or cook them on a stove. The instructions below are for frostings made with cocoa powder and cooked on a range top.

  1. On low heat, melt butter and then slowly mix in the cocoa powder.
  2. Once the mixture resembles a paste, transfer it to a large mixing bowl.
  3. On a low speed, mix in powdered sugar and milk, alternating between the two.
  4. Add the vanilla and mix on medium-high for about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy.

Fondant on a decorated cake

12. Fondant

Fondant icing is a sugar paste and a classic choice for decorating cakes because it provides a smooth and professional look. There are three types of fondant: rolled fondant, marshmallow fondant, and poured fondant. They are all used for coating sponges and pastries but will provide slightly different results. We will be focusing on rolled fondant below.

  • Flavor of Fondant: Sugary and sweet; can be flavored in the cooking process
  • Color of Fondant: White; can be easily colored
  • Texture of Fondant: Smooth and marshmallow-like consistency; slightly chewy
  • Stiffness of Fondant: Stiff and malleable, can be rolled out into sheets and shaped
  • Uses of Fondant: Creates a clean and smooth cover on cakes; molded and cut into shapes for cake decorations
  • Fondant Recipe Difficulty: Hard; requires a variety of ingredients, equipment, and physical effort

How to Make Fondant

To make rolled fondant, you’ll need to combine powdered sugar, corn syrup, and a shortening to create a pliable paste or sheet for your cakes.

  1. Add clear unflavored gelatin to cold water and allow to sit until thick.
  2. Mix the gelatin and heat the mixture in a double boiler until dissolved.
  3. Add glucose syrup or corn syrup and glycerin to the mixture and stir until fully incorporated.
  4. Slowly stir in the shortening and remove from heat before it melts completely.
  5. Add in the vanilla or additional flavoring and allow to cool until the mixture is lukewarm.
  6. Place half of the icing sugar in a bowl. Create a well in the center and drop in the mixture.
  7. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until most of the sugar is incorporated and add the rest of the sugar in until the mixture is no longer sticky.
  8. Sprinkle some powdered sugar on a clean surface and dump the fondant onto the sugar.
  9. Knead the fondant until it is smooth and pliable. Add more sugar if it is too soft or wet.
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Types of Frosting with Pictures

Check out our visual guide to the different types of frosting with pictures. This helpful infographic makes identifying and applying the best frosting for your baked goods easy.

Types of Frosting Infographic

Printable Version

Regardless of the type of bakery you own, you’ll find that frosting is an essential part of your business. Use this guide to find the right frostings for your recipes, and make a great impression on your customers.

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