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A Beginner’s Guide To Cake Frosting

Do you know your cream cheese frosting from your buttercream and your Royal Icing from your fondant? Whether an amateur baker or cake baking professional, it’s important to choose the right frosting or icing to finish off your cakes that will complement their flavour, leaving a lasting visual impact too. At The Cake Decorating Company, we want to make your decorating experience super easy, so we’re breaking down the main types of icing and frosting in our handy guide so that you’re guaranteed a perfect finish. Get ready for show-stopping cakes every time with our beginner’s guide to cake frosting.

Which frosting is best for cake?

The best frosting for your cake is the one that best suits the type of cake and the finished look that you’re trying to achieve. Here are some of the most commonly used types of icing;


A softer consistency that’s easy to work with and spread, buttercream is a great coating for decoration and also works as a delicious and tasty filling. Easy to make, simply cream together icing sugar and butter into a fluffy consistency, adding vanilla extract to the cream for extra flavour. The main thing to be mindful of when making your buttercream is the quality of butter that you use for the mix, as this can impact on the taste, consistency and appearance of the cream.

Whipped Cream

If you’re looking for a much lighter frosting for your cakes, whipped cream is a perfect choice. Whipped cream is made by cold-whipping heavy whipping cream, vanilla extract and icing sugar until it’s light and fluffy. The perfect topper for meringues or as an addition to cheesecake, chantilly cream is light and full of flavour.

Royal Icing

Usually used to decorate dense fruit cakes, Royal Icing is made by beating egg whites, lime juice and icing sugar together until smooth enough to spread. A fluid, white paste that solidifies once dry, it’s used to decorate Christmas cakes, cookies, wedding cakes, biscuits and gingerbread houses. It’s also an effective choice for creating sharp peaks.

Cream Cheese

The perfect pairing to cupcakes, carrot cakes, red velvet cake and a delicious doughnut and pastry filling, cream cheese frosting is made by creaming together butter, icing sugar and cream cheese. A richer and heavier frosting than most types, use high-fat cream cheese for the best taste and texture.


Crispy and delicious, meringue is made by beating together egg whites, granulated sugar and cold water. As whisking egg whites is quite an arduous process, it’s better to use a mixer for this. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, adding in spoonfuls of caster sugar between the peaks soft and stiff stages to sweeten the mix. The meringue can then be baked in the oven at 100•C until crisp. Meringues can be eaten both plain or flavoured; adding nuts into the mix is a popular way to flavour meringues for extra texture and taste. There are three popular types of meringue, French, Italian and Swiss (the method described here is for French Meringue). Italian meringue uses hot syrup as part of the mix, whereas Swiss meringue is made by beating together egg whites over a double boiler (a pan overheat). 
Eaten on their own, or used uncooked as a pastry topping, meringue is also commonly used in pavlovas and in Eton mess.


Most popularly used to cover celebration cakes, or for making small, flat decorations that don’t require a lot of detail, fondant is soft, flexible and pliable. Containing glycerine which makes it easy to stretch without tearing, it’s great when used with silicone moulds and can easily be reshaped.

What’s the difference between icing and frosting?

The terms icing and frosting are often used interchangeably to describe the same thing, but as a general rule, frosting is thick and fluffy and is used to coat cakes or as a tasty filling to a layer cake. Icing, on the other hand, is generally thinner and glossier than frosting and is used for glazing or for making more detailed decorations. Here’s a breakdown of which topping fits in which category, based on the types of frosting we’ve recently covered;-
Buttercream, cream cheese frosting, Swiss meringue buttercream and Italian meringue buttercream frosting all fall into this category.
Royal icing and fondant both fall under the category of icing. Royal icing is most popularly used for cookie decorating and works as a great edible glue for cookie assembly. 

What is the best frosting to frost a cake with?

In terms of ease, buttercream is the best frosting to use as it’s easy to make and relatively easy to spread. Great for covering and piping, it’s full of flavour too, making for a perfectly tasty topping.


How to cover a cake in buttercream

Things you’ll need:


  1. Take your pre-made layer cake and add it to your cake turntable, ready to apply the first coat of buttercream or the crumb coat. The crumb coat seals in any loose crumbs and prevents any lumps and bumps from appearing in the frosting. Spread a fine layer of the buttercream frosting all over your cake and level with your palette knife whilst rotating the cake turntable. Allow the cake to chill in the fridge for 30 mins to set the crumb coat before moving on to the next layer.
  2. Add your chilled cake back to the turntable and apply a large mound of buttercream frosting to the top layer of your cake. Spread the frosting around the cake with your palette knife whilst turning the turntable for an even spread. Repeat the process with the sides of the cake to spread your frosting out for even coverage.
  3. Smooth the top of your cake with your cake smoother, then add a ganache plate to the top. Taking your smoother and using the ganache plate as your guideline, smooth out the sides of your cake for a really smooth finish.
If you want to complete the unicorn cake design in the image, use a piping bag, and multiple frosting colours to pipe swirls onto your cake. Then, using fondant icing and a unicorn mould, create your unicorn horn and features and press into the icing for a fun, finished result!