Which icing do you use?

lambeth piping cakes by Wendy Kromer via Martha Stewart Weddings
Royal icing used by Wendy Kromer, Lambeth Method

Hello readers! Today we are going to cover the exciting world of icings and their applications.

A lot of times when i’m looking at recipes, my head will spin because there are so many and just so much information out there. Everyone has preference for the recipes they want to use and the processes to get there. I hope to demystify this for you a little bit today.

Lets start with the basics: What is icing? The definition is icing is a mixture of sugar with liquid or butter, typically flavored and colored, and used as a coating for cakes or cookies. Pretty broad right? Im going to focus on a few different types today: American Buttercream, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, Royal icing and Rolled Fondant. Obviously, there are many more than this, but these are what we will focus on.

American Buttercream
American buttercream is comprised of butter/margarine/shortening, powdered sugar and milk at its most basic. There are pros and cons to this icing. This is similar to a buttercream icing that you would get at any supermarket chain. It tastes good and its a crowd pleaser. It also tends to be on the sweeter side because its about 75% powdered sugar. It is perfect for cupcakes and sheet cakes. It’s stable, transports well and kids love it.
American buttercream has a tendency to be pasty and aerated, leaving a not so smooth finish.


American Buttercream Recipe (Pictured above with Swiss Meringue Buttercream)
1/2 lb butter, unsalted, room temp
2 lbs powdered sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
Beat the softened butter and powdered sugar on low speed in your mixed. Slowly add a little milk at a time until desired consistency is reached.
*Note: err on the side of caution with the milk. Powdered sugar disintegrates when liquid is added. It can go from the proper consistency to a sloppy mess very quickly. If this happens to you, just simply add more powdered sugar to get it back to the correct consistency.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream (Pictured above with American Buttercream)
Swiss Meringue Buttercream has gained popularity in some bakeries in recent years. Bakers were looking for a less sweet alternative and something a little lighter and little more buttery. Swiss Meringue Buttercream fits that bill. This icing is made by combining egg whites and sugar over a water bath and heated until the sugar dissolves. At that point, it is added to the mixer slowly, whipping it with a whisk, which gives it it’s fluffy consistency. Butter is added slowly and whipped until the mix combines. This icing is the basis of a cake that will be enrobed in Rolled Fondant. It acts like the “glue” for the fondant to have something to adhere to. This icing is also easily flavored with melted chocolate or fruit puree.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
2 c sugar, granulated
2 lb butter, unsalted, softened
12 egg whites
Combine sugar and egg whites in bowl over double boiler set on medium heat. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. This should take about 5 minutes. You don’t want to heat the egg whites up too high or they will start to coagulate.
Once sugar is dissolved, pour into mixer bowl and whisk on medium high until light and fluffy. Slowly add the softened butter, a little at a time until all is added. Allow to whisk for another 5 minutes or so.
Note: If flavoring with chocolate or fruit puree, once the butter has been added is the time to add melted chocolate or fruit puree. Depending on how much flavor you’d like, add between 1/4c and 2/3c of either. Whisk until well combined.

Royal Icing
Royal icing is a very simple icing used for decorations. It is the go to icing for sugar cookies and really any cake decoration that you need to dry hard and solid. I use this for string work piping on cakes and it is the only icing that goes on my decorated sugar cookies.

The earliest reference to Royal Icing dates back to the 1600s. It was known as ‘Egg White’ icing – a well-beaten mixture of egg white + icing sugar. It gained the accolade ‘Royal’ when it was used to coat & decorate Queen Victoria’s wedding cake in 1840.
**To read more history of icings and sugar paste, follow this link.**

Royal Icing Recipe

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 large egg whites

Whip egg whites using paddle attachment on your mixer, just to break up. Slowly add sifted powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time. Once the mixture has combined, turn your mixer up to high speed and allow the icing to beat 5 to 7 minutes. You know it is ready when it is glossy and holds a stiff peak.
**If using to decorate cookies, go to this blog post about how to bake the perfect sugar cookies!**


Rolled Fondant Icing (Pictured Above)
Rolled Fondant Icing is something that has gained popularity in the United States in the last two decades. It rolls out like a pie crust and covers a cake easily, making it more stable in humid environments such as an outdoor summer wedding and it creates a flawless porcelain finish that many brides are looking for.
Over my years in the kitchen I have found that I prefer to use Satin Ice rolled fondant. It is easy to work with, readily available on amazon.com and consistently comes out beautifully. You can also make your own “marshmallow fondant” by combining melted marshmallows and powdered sugar. I actually really don’t like doing it. It’s time consuming, sticky and messy. Also, it doesn’t create a consistent product each and every time. I have included a recipe below if you are curious and have an afternoon you want to spend making it. Don’t say i didn’t warn you!
Marshmallow Fondant
1 package mini marshmallows (16 oz)
2 to 5 tablespoons water
8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
Step 1
To make marshmallow fondant, place marshmallows and 2 tablespoons of water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave 30 seconds on high; stir until mixed well. Continue microwaving 30 seconds more; stir again. Continue until melted (about 2 1/2 minutes).
Step 2
Place 3/4 of the confectioners’ sugar on top of the melted marshmallow mixture. Fold sugar into marshmallow mixture. Flavoring can be added at this point if desired. Place solid vegetable shortening in easily accessed bowl so you can reach into it with fingers as you are working. Grease hands and counter GENEROUSLY; turn marshmallow mixture onto counter. Start kneading like you would dough. Continue kneading, adding additional confectioners’ sugar and re-greasing hands and counter so the fondant doesn’t stick. If the marshmallow fondant is tearing easily, it is too dry; add water (about 1/2 tablespoon at a time) kneading until fondant forms a firm, smooth elastic ball that will stretch without tearing, about 8 minutes.
Step 3
It’s best to allow Marshmallow Fondant to sit, double-wrapped, overnight. Prepare the fondant for storing by coating with a thin layer of solid vegetable shortening, wrap in plastic wrap and then place in resealable bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible. Marshmallow Fondant will keep well in refrigerator for several weeks.
Step 4
When not working with fondant, make sure to keep it covered with plastic wrap or in a bag to prevent it from drying out. When ready to use, knead fondant until smooth. Roll out fondant 1/8 in. thick.
Step 5
To color fondant: If you need to tint the entire batch of fondant, add a little icing color to the melted marshmallow mixture before adding confectioners’ sugar. For smaller amounts of tinted fondant, add icing color to portions of fondant as needed.

There you have it!
I hope that this post has at the very least educated you on a few different types of icings and their applications. Experiment. Find what you like best. I know cake designers that prefer fondant over buttercream. I also know a lot of designers that prefer American buttercream to Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Its all about experimenting and finding what you are comfortable with.

Until next time, happy baking!