chef applying frosting to cake

Frosting, or icing, is a sweet topping that accompanies many baked goods, especially desserts.


Also known as Icing

What is Frosting?

Frosting, also called icing, is a sweet topping that accompanies many baked goods, especially desserts. Icing can also be used in some breakfast pastries. In frosting’s most basic form, it is the combination of sugar and some liquid such as water or milk, but there are hundreds of variations of frosting including blends of egg whites, butter, and a multitude of flavorings. Icing is synonymous with being the missing link that finishes a situation, making it perfect, such as the saying, “It’s the icing on the cake.” This is because icing is frequently used to decorate cakes, taking them to a level of art as opposed to simple cake.

The first recipe for frosting was found in The Experienced English Housekeeper in 1769. The recipe was attributed to Elizabeth Raffald. This type of frosting was most likely applied to cakes and then placed back in the oven momentarily, hardening the icing and giving the cake a sheen that it would not normally have. This type of icing was also used to increase the shelf life of some baked goods. The first buttercream frosting was made in Germany in 1915. This is now one of the most popular types of icing in the world.

There are several variations of icing that are commonly used. All of these types of frosting can have additions of food coloring or flavorings in order to make the product stand out.

  • Flat icing – This is the most basic type of icing, and is made from only powdered sugar and water. Often times flavoring is added to this icing to compliment the corresponding baked good.
  • Buttercream frosting is one of the most popular types of frosting in the United States. It is made by beating powdered sugar into fat, such as butter or shortening. It is sweet, rich, and smooth.
  • Foam icing is a type of icing made from a meringue base. Additions of liquid and flavors make it slightly thinner than meringue before it is applied to baked goods.
  • Royal icing is a type of icing that is frequently used in decoration. Royal icing is made of egg whites, powdered sugar, and often lemon juice. Royal icing dries harder and shinier than most icing and is used to make shapes that are later added to cakes.
  • Fondant is a relatively recent type of icing made from water, sugar, and glycerin or cream of tartar. This type of icing is rolled into sheets and used to give flawless finishes to the most professional cakes. When making this frosting, it is important to use full-fat milk and cream, because reduced fat products will not be as thick or rich, and be more likely to slide off of the finished product.
  • Glaze is also considered a type of icing. It is like a flat icing with additional water.
  • Fudge icing is also considered a type of frosting. Made from butter, shortening, corn syrup, sugar, and any number of additional flavors. Consequently, fudge icing is usually thick and incredibly rich.

Frosting should be stored in an airtight container away from foods with strong flavors. This is because frosting can easily pick up flavors from other foods, and a flavor like garlic in cake is generally unappetizing! Frosting can also be frozen and used at a later date if necessary, though most chefs only make as much as they need.

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