Icings make a great cake even better

Icings are sometimes called frostings. They are sweet, sometimes colorful coatings for baked goods that add flavor and richness. They also act as a barrier to help preserve the cake and to make the cake look pretty.

The Basics

There are seven basic types of icing:

  • Buttercreams
  • Fondant
  • Flat-type icings
  • Foam-type icings
  • Glazes
  • Fudge-type icings
  • Royal or decorator's icing

We are going to deal with buttercreams here.


Buttercreams are a mixture of fat and sugar that are light, easy to color, and versatile. In general, the fat used in buttercreams is butter. Although you could use shortening to make your buttercream, the mouth feel would not be as pleasant as butter since shortening has a tendency to be gritty and coat the inside of the mouth. In warmer weather, it is sometimes best to add a little shortening to your buttercream to keep the butter from melting too quickly. As you experiment with buttercreams, I think you will find that the full butter buttercream has the best flavor and texture.

The Contenders

There are four types of buttercreams that are most commonly used:

  • Simple Buttercream
  • French Buttercream
  • Swiss Buttercream
  • Italian Buttercream

If you do not have a good kitchen scale, you may want to look into getting one. When it is reasonable to do so, these recipes are given in weight measurements to ensure accuracy.

Simple Buttercream

In this version, I use a small amount of shortening to add stability to the buttercream. With some chocolate added, this one works well with Devils food cake.

  • 8 ounces butter
  • 4 ounces shortening
  • 1 pound of confectioners' sugar
  • 1.25 ounces egg whites (the whites from 2 eggs should be close enough)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Using the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, cream together the butter, shortening, and sugar until smooth.
  2. Add the egg whites, lemon juice, and vanilla. Turn the mixer to medium speed until the icing is light and fluffy.
  3. If the buttercream is stiff, you can blend in water to soften it.

French Buttercream

French buttercream has a great texture. It takes colors very well and is easy to flavor. This one goes well with any kind of cake.

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 ounces sugar
  • 2 ounces of water
  • 5 ounces of light corn syrup
  • 1 pound of unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 3/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  1. Using the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, whip the egg yolks at full volume. They will at least double in volume.
  2. Mix the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a saucepan and place over a medium heat.
  3. Cook to a softball stage (240 degrees Fahrenheit).
  4. With the mixer on low, slowly pour the sugar mixture into the eggs.
  5. Once all the sugar has been added to the eggs and the mixture is close to room temperature, raise the speed of the mixer and start adding the butter cubes one at a time until all the butter has been incorporated.
  6. Add the vanilla extract.
  7. If the butter cream is too soft, you can keep it in the refrigerator until it firms up.

Swiss Buttercream

Swiss buttercream has a nice glossy sheen to it.

  • 8 ounces egg whites
  • 1 lb. sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 lb. unsalted butter cut into cubes, room temperature
  1. Heat egg whites, salt, and sugar over a water bath until sugar dissolves, approximately 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Once the sugar is dissolved, pour the mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer and whip until cool using the whisk attachment.
  3. Slowly add the butter cubes until they are all fully incorporated.

Italian Buttercream

Italian buttercream is made using a process similar to French buttercream but this icing uses egg whites rather than egg yolks, making it more like a meringue.

  • 14 ounces sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 7 ounces egg whites
  • 1 ounce sugar
  • 1 lb. unsalted butter cut into cubes, at room temperature
  1. Mix sugar and corn syrup together in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to give the sugar a "wet sand" consistency.
  2. Heat this mixture over a medium heat and cook to the softball stage (240 degree Fahrenheit).
  3. Whip the egg whites and sugar to the soft peak stage.
  4. With the mixer on low, slowly add the sugar mixture to the egg whites.
  5. Once the mixture comes to room temperature, add the cubes of butter one at a time until all the butter is fully incorporated.

Any of these icings will work well with your cakes. I suggest you try them all at least once to see what they are like.

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