What is the Difference Between Frosting, Icing, Filling & Glaze
A delicious cake becomes irresistible when topped with the perfect frosting, icing, glaze, or filling. But what are the differences between these delightful dessert toppings, and when should you use each? This guide, first published in our vintage 1959 cookbook "Icings, Frostings, and Cake Decorating Made Easy," and now enhanced with professional insights, breaks down the specifics.
- Purpose: Primarily used to coat or decorate the outside of cakes and cupcakes, frosting is often thicker, opaque and fluffier than other toppings.
- Texture and Ingredients: Typically buttery and creamy, made from butter, sugar, and occasionally cream or cream cheese.
- Flavors and Varieties: Popular types include buttercream, cream cheese frosting, and chocolate ganache. It's versatile for coloring and flavoring, ideal for decorative piping.
- Examples: Basic Buttercream Frosting, Browned Butter Buttercream Frosting, Chocolate and Vanilla Marshmallow Frosting, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frosting
- Purpose: Used between cake layers or inside pastries like doughnuts or eclairs.
- Texture and Ingredients: Usually thick. Can range from creamy to fruity, with common ingredients like pastry cream, fruit preserves, mousses, and lemon curd. Whipped cream and custard mixtures are sometimes used for fillings.
- Characteristics: Softer and more spreadable than frosting, fillings are chosen to complement or contrast the cake's flavor.
- Examples: Raspberry Curd, Amaretto Whipped Cream, Creme Chantilly, Lime Filling, Fig Fruit Spread, Plum Jam
- Purpose: Typically a thin, shiny coating for pastries, cakes, and doughnuts.
- Texture and Ingredients: Thin and runny, made from powdered sugar and a liquid like water, milk, or fruit juice. Thin enough to be poured - about the consistency of a thin corn syrup.
- Application and Finish: Often drizzled or brushed on, glazes add sweetness and help seal in moisture, setting into a light, shiny coating.Glazes are used to coat fruit cakes, cupcakes and pieces of cake which are to be used for tea cakes or petits fours.
- Examples: Lime Glaze, Orange Glaze, Brown Sugar Whiskey Glaze, Lemon Glaze, White Chocolate Glaze
- Purpose and Varieties: A broad term encompassing thin mixtures for drizzling and thicker ones for detailed work on cookies and cakes.
- Texture and Ingredients: Made from powdered sugar and a liquid, and thin enough to be brushed on with a pastry brush or spread, with variations in thickness. Royal icing, for example, hardens to a smooth, firm finish for detailed decorations.
- Applications: It is usually used on pastries, rolls, and coffee cakes. It may be used on simple cakes.
- Examples: Chocolate Sour Cream Icing, Goof-Proof White Icing, White Chocolate Icing, Cream Cheese Icing
Choosing the Right Topping Each topping has its unique role in dessert making. The choice depends on the desired texture, flavor, and appearance. If frosting is the right choice for your dessert, you’ve got another sweet problem on your hands. What kind of frosting will you pick to top your cake? Our website features over 65 dessert topping recipes, including various types of frostings, icings, glazes, and fillings.
Four Tips for Perfect Frostings:
- To thicken thin frostings, gradually add sifted powdered sugar a little at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Variations in weather, temperature or the size and freshness of eggs can cause consistency variations. If powdered sugar had been previously opened, it is best to sift the powdered sugar to avoid any possibility of lumps.
- To thin out thick frosting, add liquid (like milk or cream) drop by drop.
- For coloring, place a small amount in a cup. Blend this frosting into the rest of the mixture, a little at a time, until the desired color is obtained. It is usually best to tint frostings delicately. Too much color may give a cheap appearance. Natural food colors are available online if desired.
- Prevent frosting from crusting by covering it with a damp cloth or plastic wrap touching the frosting to minimize air space.
Chef's Note: According to Pastry Chef Eddy Van Damme, you can substitute margarine or shortening in frostings or fillings with an equal amount of unsalted butter for a richer flavor.
See the difference between frosting, filling and glaze in our video.