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What Is the Difference Between Icing and Frosting?

What Is the Difference Between Icing and Frosting?

Icing and frosting are both sweet, creamy toppings for cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and other baked goods. But how do you know which one to use?

Icing and frosting are different from each other in many ways, from ingredients to textures. Keep reading to learn more about what sets them apart.


Icing is a sweet mixture of powder sugar with liquid like water, milk, or cream, and may be enrich with ingredients such as butter, egg whites, or cream cheese. It is use to coat or decorate baked goods, including cakes. It can be spread with a pastry brush or a spatula, and it can also be pipe into shapes on top of the cake using a pastry bag. Edible dyes or sprinkles can be add to icing mixtures to achieve a desire color.

According to MasterClass, icing can also be a type of glaze, that is thin enough to be poured on items such as pastries, rolls, and coffee cakes. It is often flavored with lemon, orange, or even a liqueur, and it adds shine to the baked item and helps it stay moist.

Frosting is a thicker, more creamy topping that is usually applied to cakes and cupcakes with an offset spatula or butter knife. It make from scratch or purchased in a can. It contains a combination of butter or another fat, granulated and/or confectioners sugar, and various flavorings. Its very fluffy and it can be whipped to create airy, pillowy textures or it can be shaped into designs with a piping bag.


Icings and frostings have a wide variety of ingredients. Some use flour as a thickener, while others rely on starches or gelatin. Some icing recipes use boiled sugar, which creates a hard, matte finish that can be used to pipe intricate designs on cakes and cookies.

Generally, icings contain powdered sugar and a liquid like water, milk, or juice. Some icing recipes also include egg whites and other stabilizing ingredients to give them more structure.

Frostings, on the other hand, can be make with butter, cream, whipped egg whites, or a combination of these ingredients. Some are airy and fluffy while others have a more stiff, almost dry consistency. Frostings can be flavor with extracts, spices, or fruit zests as well as chocolate and other melt ingredients. They may also be tint to produce a range of colors and textures, from pastel to dark.

Texture and Consistency

The texture and consistency of icings and frostings can make or break their appearance on a bake good. The right consistency ensures that frosting will pipe well and hold the shapes it is use for.

Icing is generally make by mixing its main ingredient (powdered sugar) with a liquid, such as water, milk, or even citrus juice. The result is a thick glaze that can be apply over cakes and cookies. It may be flavor with vanilla, chocolate, or lemon and it can be tint to match any bakery decor.

The whipped cream frosting is easy to prepare and works well as a glaze over individual cupcakes or as a topping for a layered cake. The lightness of this type of icing can also be complemented with pulverized freeze-dried fruit for a natural-looking and tasty addition to any dessert. It is also a great choice for creating detailed decorations, such as piping roses on a cake, or for decorating gingerbread houses. For the best results, use a well-chilled whipping cream. When whipped to the proper consistency, it will form a slight peak with a little curl on the end that indicates that it is at the correct thickness.

Usage Purposes

Although some recipes may call for either icing or frosting, the differences in consistency and texture can make a big difference when it comes to decorating your baked goods. A thicker icing can be use as a filling or to coat the entire exterior of a cake, whereas thinner icings are best suit for glazing and decorating in detail.

Icings are mixtures of powder sugar and a liquid that is thin enough to be spread or pour, such as milk, cream or citrus juice. Some icings may be flavor with extracts or liqueurs for added flavor. Icings can also be make from a meringue style, which uses whipped egg whites and powdered sugar.

Buttercream and cream cheese frostings are the most common icings for cakes. These are a fast-whippe blend of powder sugar, soften or melt butter, and milk or cream that can be flavor with vanilla, chocolate or other flavors. They are perfect for creating a smooth coverage on a cake or for piping delicate decorations.

Application Techniques

As the name suggests, icing is use on cookies, pastries, and cakes and is typically thin enough to be drizzle on. It usually consists of confectioners’ sugar mixed with a liquid such as milk or cream, lemon juice or a liqueur, MasterClass explains. The result is a sweet coating that can be make incredibly diverse in color, texture and flavor with the addition of extracts or even jams and fruit zests. Because it is generally a mixture of powder sugar and a liquid, it can also be adjust to differing consistency levels by adding more or less of either one.

Frosting is generally the thickest of the bunch, thanks to its buttery ingredients and whippe texture. It can be use to create smooth, even finishes on cakes or cupcakes, and is great for piping detail decorations. It can also be use to add a layer of sweetness and moisture to baked goods, as it helps keep them moist while providing a light glaze. Often stabilize with gelatin for longevity, it can weep if store too long and is best use immediately.

Flavor Variations

While frosting is creamy and usually butter-based, it can also be whippe to create a light and fluffy topping. It can also be flavor with vanilla bean, cocoa powder, or other ingredients for additional flavor and appearance options.

Icing, on the other hand, is usually make of powdered sugar and a liquid like milk or lemon juice. It’s thin enough to drizzle, spoon, or pour over Bundt cakes, pound cakes, eclairs, and some styles of doughnuts. It’s also possible to pipe icing into shapes and use sprinkles for color.

Some icings are vegan, which is great for those who avoid dairy or have other dietary restrictions. Rink recommends using organic powdered confectioner sugar, as it tends to dissolve more smoothly than conventional options. You can also find varieties that are gluten-free, sugar-free, or low in carbs. It’s also worth trying to find icing that doesn’t contain cornstarch, as it can be irritating for some people with food allergies or sensitivities.

Homemade vs. Store-bought

You may have heard the phrase, “That’s just icing on the cake.” Though it is true that you can often substitute frosting for icing and vice versa, doing so can completely alter the recipe. Frosting has a heavier consistency and includes butter, making it richer than icings. It is ideal for thicker decorations and for coating cakes and cupcakes.

Buttercream frosting, for example, is easy to make at home using a stand mixer and some patience. However, it does require a higher investment of time and ingredients than some other types of cake coatings.

Icing, on the other hand, is typically make with powder sugar and a liquid like water, juice, milk, or even coffee, and can spread or drizzle. It is also a popular choice for topping bundt cakes, pound cakes, and eclairs, and for glazing some styles of doughnuts. Icing is the thinnest of all three coatings and can be brush or sprinkle onto desserts before it sets.

Decorative Techniques

There are a variety of decorative frostings, icings, and glazes available for cakes and cookies. Each adds a different element of flavor, color, and texture to your desserts.

Frostings can thick, fluffy mixtures that are spread over the surface of bake goods or use as a filling between layers in cakes. They can also be pipe into flowers or other decorations.

Icings are often make of a combination of powder sugar and a liquid, like cream, milk, or citrus juice, which is mix into a smooth consistency that’s thin enough to drizzle over cakes and cookies. This frosting is usually glossy and a little transparent.

Some icings are make from butter, but many — such as our classic American buttercream — don’t contain any butter at all, making them suitable for vegan bakers or those with dairy allergies and intolerances. Other styles, such as Swiss meringue buttercream, begin with warm egg whites and sugar, which are then whippe to stiff peaks, creating a light marshmallow-like icing that’s ideal for piping and decorating.

Common Misconceptions

Most bakers use the terms icing and frosting interchangeably, but it is important to know the difference between them. Both have their own unique textures, flavors, and methods of application. Incorrectly choosing one over the other can dramatically affect how a cake turns out, including its appearance and taste.

The frosting has a much thicker consistency than icing. It can spread, pipe, or spoon on bake goods like cupcakes and bars or use as a filling between cake layers. It can be airy and pillowy or rich and creamy, depending on the recipe.

Icing, on the other hand, is generally a thin glaze that is poure or drizzled over baked goods. It is usually make with a combination of powdered sugar and a liquid, such as milk, lemon juice, or liqueur. Some icing recipes also include melt butter or whippe egg whites for added flavor. Icings may be either cook or uncook and can be either a boiled syrup or a meringue style.

What Is the Difference Between Icing and Frosting?

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