14 Types of Frosting & How to Use Them for Creative Bakes

Once you know all the types of icing, you'll be baking and decorating like the pros.

Updated August 2, 2023

Some of us go straight for the sweet stuff, and some of us work around it to enjoy the cake itself. But with so many types of frosting, there's truly something for every taste. From clouds of fluffy buttercream to decadent drips of ganache, we've discovered every type of frosting imaginable and how to use it for the sweetest dessert experience.

American-Style Buttercream Is Sweet & Traditional


American buttercream is one of the easiest frostings to make, and it works well for coating and decorating cakes. Butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla are combined to make a rich and fluffy frosting you might find reminiscent of birthday cakes from years gone by. Some recipes use milk, cream, or water for liquid in addition to the extract, and vanilla can be swapped for any extract you like. We have the recipes for the four most popular buttercreams, so you can test them out.

Fast Fact

Some American buttercream recipes swap some or all of the butter for shortening to create a stable frosting for decorating cakes.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Is Subtly Sweet


As its name implies, egg whites are a key component in a Swiss meringue buttercream. It involves heating egg whites with granulated white sugar on the stove and then combining with butter to make a smooth frosting. It's not as sweet as the American version, but it can be piped just as easily. Because of its subtle sweetness, this buttercream works well for a cake that needs a lot of decorations without an overpowering sweet flavor. Try this Swiss meringue buttercream from Preppy Kitchen.

Italian Meringue Buttercream Is Buttery but Light


An Italian meringue buttercream recipe is similar to Swiss, except a sugar syrup is added to the egg whites rather than cooked together. Like Swiss meringue, it's lighter than the American version. It still holds up well for piping and offers a creamy, buttery consistency to complement a wide range of cakes. Try Sugar Geek's Italian meringue buttercream.

German Buttercream Is Perfect for Filling Cakes


German buttercream is made with a custard-style base. This silky buttercream isn't nearly as sweet as American buttercream, but it's still plenty rich. It does not hold up in heat, so you're probably not going to want to use it for heavy decorations. Instead, consider it for filling between layers or for simple frosting swirls. We love this German buttercream recipe from Serious Eats.

French Buttercream Is Airy & Adaptable


Unlike its Swiss and Italian counterparts, French buttercream uses egg yolks with the whites to create a delicious buttercream frosting. This buttercream is best for simple swirls and filling your cake layers. It's silkiness also produces a smooth top coat on your cakes. Simply Recipes has a classic French buttercream recipe.

Helpful Hack

French buttercream will have a pale yellow tint because of the egg yolks. Use a tiny amount of purple gel food coloring to cancel out the yellow and produce a whiter buttercream.

Cream Cheese Frosting Is Tart & Thick


Cream cheese frosting is ultra-rich and made much like an American buttercream. The only difference is adding a ton of decadent cream cheese. The tart flavor complements spice cakes, red velvet cake, lemon cakes, and rich chocolate cakes. Keep in mind that cream cheese frosting needs to stay cool in order to remain stable. It's also a bit thicker than buttercream, so piping intricate details might prove difficult.

Whipped Cream Frosting Is Light & Fluffy


Stabilized whipped cream with a hint of flavoring works well for frosting a cake. It's a good option for lighter cakes, such as strawberry or angel food cakes, or for people who don't care for heavier buttercream or cream cheese options. Don't plan to use it for a heavily decorated cake, however. You'll do best here using a large piping tip to make stars or using your spatula for pretty swirls in the icing.

Ganache Is a Rich Chocolate Treat


Chocolate lovers rejoice over this rich frosting. Ganache icing is a thick chocolate frosting typically poured over chocolate cakes. Bu it also tastes great with peanut butter, caramel, and other decadent cake flavors. It produces a lovely dripped look if you don't cover the entire cake, and it's frequently combined with buttercream or cream cheese frostings for decorations. Our peanut butter ganache is particularly dreamy on chocolate cake.

Quick Tip

Use ganache in candy molds to make easy chocolate decorations for your next cake.

Ermine Icing Is Traditional & Lightly Sweet


Also known as boiled milk or cooked flour frosting, ermine icing stands out among other frostings since it uses cooked flour in the traditional recipe. It's best for topping red velvet and chocolate cakes. We suggest trying Cooking With Carlee's ermine frosting recipe.

Give Old-Fashioned 7-Minute Frosting a Try


This is a frosting cooked on the stove that comes together in about seven minutes. Cream of tartar is used in it, along with egg whites and sugar, but there isn't any butter. It's a good option if you're trying to avoid dairy ingredients. It's similar to a marshmallow cream and complements chocolate cakes as well as countless other flavors. King Arthur Baking Company has an easy seven-minute frosting recipe.

Royal Icing Is Perfect for Intricate Details


Royal icing is used for detail work or for making hard shapes like flowers. It's often a secondary frosting on cakes and is most often used on intricately decorated cookies. It's made with egg whites and sugar and has a hard finish once it's completely set.

Fast Fact

If you want to make royal icing quickly and skip the egg whites, you can purchase meringue powder in the cake decorating section of grocery and craft stores.

Fondant Is Super Sweet but Versatile


Fondant is a cake decorator's best friend because it's so versatile and fairly sturdy in structure. Rolled fondant covers cakes, while molded fondants can be made into figures. Poured fondants often cover petit fours and cupcakes. Fondant is famous for being extremely sweet, and most people don't actually eat the fondant pieces on their cake. Favorite Family Recipes has a tutorial on how to make fondant.

Marzipan Is Moldable & Tasty


Marzipan is more delightful in taste than fondant, thanks to the honey and almond meal, but it provides the same moldability and versatility. Cakes covered in rolled fondant or marzipan often have a thin layer of another type of frosting below them to help secure the cover and provide additional flavor and moisture to the cake. If you want to give this cake topper a try, we suggest this traditional recipe from Plated Cravings.

Glazes Come Together Quickly


Glazes are easy to make since they usually require nothing more than powdered sugar, flavoring, and some sort of liquid - usually milk. They're versatile, and you can use any flavoring you like to add a subtle sweet layer to your cakes. Once poured on your baked confection, glazes harden slightly, though not as much as royal icing or ganache. They're often seen on bundt cakes and pound cakes. You can use some of our donut glazes or Mimi's 2-ingredient glaze from Eats Delightful.

Frost Your Cakes Creatively


A delicious frosting really is the icing on the cake - it completes the flavor profile and adds delectable decorations to your baking masterpieces. Once you've decided on the perfect cake recipe, all you need is the right frosting to complete your dessert.

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14 Types of Frosting & How to Use Them for Creative Bakes