Updated: Apr 20, 2019
Do you know your buttercreams from your fondants? What about the difference between a ganache and a merengue? With so many decadent icing options, what are you to do? Allow us to provide some insight on the slightly complex, but altogether sweet science of dessert icings!
The undisputed all-star of the decorating world. This icing juggernaut is as versatile as it is popular. While there are several types of buttercream, they all start with a base of fat and sugar. Whether is it decorating sugar cookies or elegantly streaming down a wedding cake, buttercream icing is always a crowd-pleaser!
Our twist on the 17th century English boiled icing, American buttercream is the thick, rich, and sweet icing most people (at least Americans) picture when they think birthday cake. Able to be colored and flavored at will, it is often the go-to for all things party desserts. In its traditional form, buttercream stays quite soft, which can be a challenge for decorating your desserts.
By modifying the recipe slightly, the delicious American Buttercream can be made to crust. While it may sound a bit off-putting at first, this modification allows the surface of the creamy buttercream to harden slightly. In practice, this crusting allows for more detailed cake decorations and iced cookies that don't smear in bags.
Cream Cheese Buttercream
Another variation on American Buttercream, here, as the name suggests, Cream Cheese is used as the fat instead of, or in addition to, traditional butter or shortening. Cream Cheese icing is heaven when set alongside carrot cake, pumpkin brownies, and red velvet cake! YUM!!
While most of us may never experience them, many European countries have their own buttercream variants. Whether it is Swiss, Italian, French, or German, the objective is the same, to compliment a dessert with rich, creamy goodness. Most overseas buttercreams use a meringue base (egg whites) to achieve their silky smooth texture.
2. Royal Icing
Originally reserved for royalty and the upper echelons of cultured life, Royal Icing received that moniker after it was used to coat and decorate Queen Victoria's cake in the mid-1800's. Since that time, royal icing is sometimes overlooked but shines bright in intricate cookie and other dessert designs. Most often made from egg whites (or meringue powder), confectioners' sugar and a hint of flavoring, royal icing flows freely but dries into a smooth, glossy layer.
More dough-like than our previous two icing types, fondant can be made from sugar, gelatin, glycerin, and water. With the ability to be shaped and molded, fondant can be used to create truly outstanding cake decorations. By sheeting the fondant, it can also be used to cover cakes for a crisp, clean, and modern look.
Although traditional fondant often gets a bad rap for being less pleasant to eat, marshmallow fondant is a variant that provides all the benefits of traditional fondant paired with a truly delicious taste. Think of it as a dessert on top of a dessert!
In its purest form, ganache is the combination of cream and chocolate. This versatile chocolaty concoction can be used as an icing but is also perfect as a filling inside a torted cake or within a pastry. By altering the ratio of ingredients ganache can be anywhere from the inside of truffles to the drips on a cake.
5. Gum Paste
Another pliable dough, gum paste is best used creating intricate and eye-catching details on top of cakes. Famously used to create nearly life-like flowers, gum paste dries harder than fondant, making it ideal for details that need to hold their shape. If you are looking to match your wedding bouquet to your cake, gum paste flowers are the way to go!
Sometimes spoken about interchangeably with icing, glazes represent a more liquid topping sometimes applied to cakes. The final consistency of the topping depends on the recipe and can range from a sticky, liquid topping to a chewy, solid covering. Many current cake decorating trends have looked at mirror glazes, which use high-end chocolate to create glossy, smooth coverings that are poured on but dry solid.