There are many types of frosting used in baking. Depending on how they are made, some are better for cakes, cookies and pastries than others. Here's how to make sense of your frosting choices and look at their best uses.
Buttercream frosting could be called the all-American frosting, as it is by far the most popular. It is easily spread on cakes and piped, making decorating a done deal. It's sweet, buttery, fluffy and soft. Made with a butter base (though shortening can also be substituted), most buttercream frostings can be left out at room temperature for a couple days.
Buttercream comes in every flavor imaginable—chocolate, cream cheese, vanilla, caramel, white, browned butter, almond and fudge. Basically, anything you can find in a frosting can, you can make at home. It can be changed to any color by adding food coloring. Just be sure you make enough for the project because it is nearly impossible to get the exact color twice if you run out!
Whipped cream frosting uses the base of heavy cream. It is whipped to the desired consistency to be spread on cakes and pastries, but is best for chilled desserts. Because it is made with heavy cream, refrigeration is required and it cannot be left out—someone could get sick from it. For this reason, it is not recommended for wedding cakes. But, with its light and fluffy texture, it sure is tasty.
Vanilla extract, almond extract, cocoa, coffee granules, liqueurs, fruit purees and even spices or zest (lemon or orange) can be added to flavor it the way you want.
Boiled frosting, also known as boiled icing, is often used for layered cakes (including red velvet cakes) as filling or frosting. It is slightly sticky like melted marshmallows, but is heartier than buttercream frosting.
It is made with eggs and a boiled sugary mixture (usually sugar, corn syrup and water). Use right after it cools, since it's harder to spread once it sets. Once spread on the cake, it can be stored at room temperature, but keeping it cool will make the frosting softer. Store any extra in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a day.
For cakes and pastries, ganache is generally used as a filler or icing. It’s a mixture of melted semi-sweet chocolate and hot cream. It is important to use higher-quality chocolate, which includes chocolate liqueur and cocoa instead of vegetable oil.
The pure chocolate will taste better. Once cooled, the ganache can be poured over a cake to drip down the sides. Ganache sounds posh, and it has a luxurious shine when it hardens.
A glaze frosting is a thinner, glossy icing that stiffens when it dries.
It can be flavored with lemon or orange, and chocolate (milk, white or mint). It works well on sweet breads, coffee cakes, rum cakes, Bundt cakes and cinnamon rolls.
The glaze is drizzled and spread or brushed over the cake or bread.
Last but not least, royal icing is the stiffest of those covered here. Super sweet, it is mostly used for cookies and gingerbread houses. I call it edible glue because it gets so stiff. It hardens completely with a matte finish.
There are two ways to make royal icing. It can be made with meringue powder (which is quite pricey) or the old school way with raw egg whites (not recommended for small kids or those with egg allergies). It can be used to make cake decorations and applied to the cake at the time of the party or used for piping flowers, lettering and borders on a cake.