The Ultimate Guide To Different Types Of Frosting

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A cake is only as good as its frosting if you ask me. But there are so many types of frosting how do you choose?  Well I think this Ultimate Guide To Different Types Of Frosting will make it all very clear for you! 

The Ultimate Guide To Different Types Of Frosting


 

Ok when I was a kid I really didn’t like frosting. I seriously was the kid that would tip my cake slice over and just eat the cake. The frosting to me was always way to sicky sweet and just ruined the cake.

Now as an adult I dig right into the frosting. Did my palette change? Nope I just learned what good frosting was. That tub of frosting that adorned my cake as a kid has nothing on the frostings I enjoy now as an adult.

So it wasn’t that I didn’t like buttercream I just never tasted real buttercream until I was an adult. I beg you to skip past those containers and make your own. You will never go back. Of course when it comes to frosting there all sorts of types. Different tastes and complexity of making it. Let’s break it down shall we?

What Is The Difference Between Buttercream And Frosting?

So I know that I am not alone in that I used these terms interchangeably. However there is one big difference according to Bluprint.

And it’s the name…the use of butter!

Buttercream uses it. Frostings don’t. Frostings can be made with shortening or cream cheese, which can help keep it to a bright white. However I just love the taste of butter, don’t you? Even if that means it gives my buttercream a bit of a yellowish tint.

What Are The Different Types Of Buttercream?

The different types of buttercream we are going to talk about:

  • American Buttercream
  • Ermine Buttercream
  • German Buttercream
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream
  • French Buttercream
  • Italian Meringue Buttercream
  • Whipped Ganache Frosting
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Seven Minute Icing
  • Royal Icing
  • Whipped Cream

Cubed Butter Vs. Beaten Butter Methods

There are two main types of buttercream– cubed butter meringue style vs. the beaten butter method.

The cubed butter method of buttercreams include, Italian meringue buttercream,  Swiss meringue buttercream or French buttercream.

These buttercreams are a bit more difficult than the beaten butter types of buttercream- like AmericanFlour, or German.

So what’s the big difference between these two types? Well as the name suggests for the beaten butter. Your butter is beaten then a sweetened base is added in.

For the cubed method, softened butter is added to a meringue to create a silky smooth buttercream.

Of course let’s not stop there. There are more buttercreams and frostings that might not fit into a neat category – there is also cream cheese frosting, whipped ganache frosting, whipped cream, 7-minute icing, and Royal icing.

Let’s break down each of these shall we?

American Buttercream Frosting

vanilla cupcake with american buttercream

American icing or american buttercream (ABC) is probably that buttercream you had at that last kid’s birthday party you went too. Or that kind you grew up on.

Sometimes it gets a bad rep for being too sweet. Or grainy. Ugh. But I promise you this recipe is not. American buttercream is one of the beaten butter types of buttercream. Flour and German buttercream also fall into this category. This type of buttercream is made by first beating the butter and then adding in a sweet base. In this case, powdered sugar.

It’s easy to turn this into a flavored frosting as well – cake batter buttercream, mint buttercream, peanut butter frosting – to name a few.

Taste: This is the sweetest out of all of the frostings. Can be a little too sweet for some people, but this is the classic type of buttercream most people are familiar with and grew up on.

Texture: Sometimes can be a bit too grainy or greasy if not done properly.

Difficulty: The easiest to make out of all the buttercreams.

Pros: Easy to make. Kids and most adults love it! Doesn’t require any special equipment to make. And it’s easy to frost with and color!

Cons: Tends to be a bit too sweet for some. Doesn’t hold up well in warm conditions.

Ermine Buttercream

vanilla cupcake with flour buttercream

Ermine Buttercream has a lot names folks. Flour frosting. Ermine frosting. Boiled milk icing. Cooked frosting. It’s all the same. And as the first name suggest it is made with flour.

This is a cooked frosting actually, which might sound weird. But it’s actually the traditional buttercream to adorn red velvet cake. Not cream cheese frosting! Huh, all these years. I’ve been eating it wrong.

The first time I ever had ermine buttercream (or flour buttercream) was at Magnolia Bakery in NYC. Now I didn’t know it at the time that I was enjoying it. But I knew it was different than all the other buttercreams I had enjoyed in my life up to that point.

It was creamier. Silkier. And definitely not as sweet as traditional american buttercream.

Taste: Less sweet than American buttercream.

Texture: Light and soft. If the sugar is added to the milk and flour step it can be smooth. If it’s added separately to the butter it can be a bit grainy.

Difficulty: Fairly easy. A bit more than American buttercream, but still fairly easy to make

Pros: Doesn’t involve the use of a candy thermometer or eggs.

Cons: Uses flour, so not gluten free. Can be very soft, and doesn’t hold up well to piping decorations and heat.

German Buttercream

vanilla cupcake with german buttercream

So you want to up your buttercream game from the traditional American style of powdered sugar and creamed butter, but the thought of tackling a meringue style like Swiss buttercream is still a little bit outside your comfort zone.

Enter German Buttercream.

This is the perfect buttercream solution when American is too sweet for you, but making Swiss Meringue scares the pants off of you.

German buttercream falls into the same creamed butter buttercream category as American buttercream and Flour buttercream (boiled milk icing, ermine icing).

Taste: Light in taste

Texture: Smooth and light in texture

Difficulty: Medium. A bit more difficult to make than ABC, but a good stepping point from ABC to the cubed butter and meringue-based buttercreams.

Pros: Great flavor and texture, definitely a step up from ABC.

Cons: Involves egg yolks, so can result in a scrambled egg frosting if not done correctly. Has a bit of a yellow color, so a bit more difficult to tint. A bit soft, so will not hold up well in warmer conditions.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

vanilla cupcake with swiss meringue buttercream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is definitely less sweet than your traditional American buttercream that relies on powdered sugar. It is richer, and has a more butter flavor. Basically it’s delicious.

Swiss Meringue falls into the cubed butter method, as does Italian Meringue and French Buttercream.

In this buttercream, egg whites and sugar get heated over a double boiler.  Then once the sugar has dissolved, the butter gets added to the mixture in a stand mixer.  Swiss Meringue Buttercream is very easy to pipe with but can be a bit trickier to make than American buttercream.

Taste: A more pronounced butter flavor, not as sweet as ABC

Texture: Silky and smooth on the tongue.

Difficulty: Medium to difficult. Can curdle and separate when the butter is added to the meringue.

Pros: Great flavor and texture. Great base under fondant and holds up well to piping.

Cons: Requires more time and equipment to make them the beaten butter methods.

French Buttercream

vanilla cupcake with french buttercream

Unlike it’s sister buttercreams, Swiss and Italian, French buttercream gets it richness and it’s color from using egg yolks that are whisked into a foam.

You will heat a sugar water syrup over the stove and then drizzle that into the egg-yolk foam, with the mixer running (so a stand mixer is recommended, but you will see by my step by step photos it can be done with a hand mixer if that’s all you got).

Of course, because it uses egg yolks, it’s recommended you use pasteurized eggs because of the risk of salmonella. Pouring the hot sugar syrup into your egg yolks, probably doesn’t get the temperature up to the recommended 160ºF temperature to kill any bacteria.

Taste: Rich in flavor due to the use of the egg yolks but mildly sweet.

Texture: Silky smooth and light in texture.

Difficulty: This buttercream is also one of the more difficult to make.

Pros: Great flavor and texture.

Cons: Does not hold up to heat well and can be difficult to pipe decorations with. The yellow color from the egg yolks can also give it up a pale yellow color that is not ideal and a bit more difficult to tint with color.

Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting

vanilla cupcake with Italian meringue buttercream

So with Italian meringue buttercream, you begin by heating sugar and water to create a simple syrup. By doing this, you dissolve the sugar so your buttercream in the end is silky smooth on your tongue.

Italian meringue buttercream I think has the best taste and texture out of all the buttercreams. And it holds up the best in warmer conditions. So do you have an outdoor wedding you are making cupcakes for? Italian is the way to go.

Taste: My favorite out of all the frostings. The perfect balance of sweet and butter taste.

Texture: Silky and smooth.

Difficulty: One of the more difficult, if not arguably the most difficult. This one can be tricky because of adding the sugar mixture to the egg whites.

Pros: Very stable in warm temperature. A great base under fondant. Best flavor!

Cons: Can be tricky to make. Involves the use of a candy thermometer.

Cream Cheese Frosting

bowl of cream cheese frosting

Of course cream cheese frosting should be classified as a buttercream because it is made with butter. But seriously I don’t care what you call it as long as it adorns my dessert. I can’t resist cream cheese frosting. You can also flavor your cream cheese frosting like making a Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting version!

I love cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake and my red velvet cupcakes. It really can’t be beat.

The key to making a great cream cheese frosting is:

  • Use softened butter and cream cheese. This is important. If either one is too cold they won’t incorporate and turn into a smooth frosting. You will end up with a lumpy cream cheese frosting. I used to recommend using cold cream cheese frosting so it could be piped. But no longer. I found that when I did that it was not smooth. Pipeable maybe. But not smooth. So soften both. Being able to pipe will come down to ratios of butter to cream cheese which this recipe has.  And if you need to soften your butter quickly I have 3 easy ways to do that for you. But basically you can leave them out on the counter for an hour or so until softened.
  • Cream The Butter First. Then add in your cream cheese. Otherwise you may end up with a weird mouthfeel if you do this the other way around. A tip I picked up from The Kitchn.
  • Scrape down the bowl as you go. Sometimes the butter and cream cheese will stick to the bottom of the bowl or beater and not be mixed in evenly. So stop and scrape the bowl down with a sturdy silicone spatula to ensure that everything is being mixed in.
  • Use Full Fat Brick Style Cream Cheese. Sorry but now is not the time to save those calories.

Taste: Sweet but also tangy from the cream cheese.

Texture: Smooth and creamy (if you make sure your butter and cream cheese are softened!)

Difficulty: Very easy to do!

Pros: Easy to make.

Cons: Needs to be refrigerated before serving it.

Whipped Ganache Frosting

Whipped ganache frosting is really just ganache that has air that has been whipped into it. For this ganache frosting I used equal parts of heavy cream and chocolate.

You can change the ganache ratios for a different consistenty of ganache. I like the equal parts for this frosting.

It’s light and airy and very rich. I mean heavy cream and chocolate. But for just 2 ingredients I mean what’s not to love?

Taste: Chocolatey and rich!

Texture: Smooth and cream. Light and airy.

Difficulty: Not difficult at all. Making ganache is easy then all you need to do is whip this in a mixture.

Pros: Easy to make, and you can also use ganache as a filling for a cupcake.

Cons: Can be expensive depending on the chocolate you use.

Royal Icing

snowman sugar cookie with royal icing

Royal icing is what I used to decorate these cut out sugar cookies. It’s an icing that is made with egg whites or meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water.

It dries hard and can be tinted with food coloring. By adjusting the amount of water you can change the consistency for decorating your sugar cookies.

Taste: Can be very sweet, I add a bit of vanilla extract to give it some flavor.

Texture: Hard and brittle.

Difficulty: Can be difficult to get the right consistency for your cookies. I prefer using meringue powder to make it easier to make it.

Pros: Great for decorating cookies!

Cons: Again can be difficult to master the consistency.

Seven Minute Icing

chocolate cupcake with seven minute icing

Seven minute icing is basically like eating a big old fluffy marshmallow – so basically get me a spoon now. I used 7-minute icing on these S’mores cupcakes.

Seven minute icing is a cooked frosting by heating egg whites and sugar. Then whisking into a meringue. A pillowy cloud of meringue.

Taste: Did I mention it’s like a eating a big old marshmallow?

Texture: Light and fluffy.

Difficulty: Medium. It does require using a double boiler.

Pros: The taste is like no other. Perfect light as air. Melt in your mouth. Ok let me wipe the drool from the computer screen.

Cons: This frosting will harden as it sits, and doesn’t last as long sitting at room temperature for long.

Whipped Cream

cream puffs filled with whipped cream and raspberries

If you need an easy way to finish of your dessert, top a cupcake with, fill a Cream Puff,  or serve with a slice of Key Lime Cheesecake.or Easy To Make Eggless Pumpkin Pie. 

Whipped cream is just simply cold heavy cream that’s whisked with a little sugar and vanilla to soft peaks. But I highly recommend making Stabilized Whipped Cream which contains gelatin that helps to stabilize it making it last longer.

Taste: Vanilla, but you can add other extracts or cocoa powder to make a chocolate version. And 1000% better than store-bought!

Texture: Light and fluffy.

Difficulty: Easy. Just don’t overwhip it or you’ll end up with butter!

Pros: Stabilized whipped cream last much longer making it ideal for holiday desserts, so you can make it ahead of time! 

Cons: Can be overwhipped turning it into butter.

I hope this post has given you all the information you need to choose the best buttercream frosting for your next event!

And if you like this post, would you do me a favor let me know leave me a comment and star rating below!



 

13 Comments

  1. Hello Heather,

    A very informative article and guide for icing and frostings. I want to experiment with Russian piping. I do not like the sweet American buttercream. Which other frosting will work well?

      1. Thanks! Will let you know how it goes Heather!

  2. What did I do wrong?? My ermine frosting was not stiff enough to hold its shape. It tasted really good though.

    1. Hi Yolanda, my guess is your butter or pudding mixture was too warm when added. Try chilling the frosting and re-whip

    2. Hi Yolanda, I haven’t tried – but if you do let me know how they turn out!

  3. Such a GREAT article. Thank you for putting it all in once place and so easy to follow. My favorite is the silky smooth one using flour but now that I am gluten free, I haven’t tried to make it with GF flour. So American buttercream made with a hot water emulsion is my next go to as it keeps it less sweet, uses less sugar, and is nice and silky smooth. I’m looking forward to trying your recipes!

    1. Thanks Erica! I’m so glad you loved it. And if you love a less sweet frosting, and can’t make the ermine one I would try Italian meringue next- it’s less sweet than American and the texture is 🥰🥰🥰 (I love it if you can’t tell! 😂)

  4. Hi Heather. Thank for the awesome article. I see many use American or German buttercream to frost cakes to get neat , straight edges on a cake. I really like the Italian Meringue Buttercream, is it advisable to use that? Or which is the best to get the result I want.

    1. Hi Colleen, I love using Italian meringue buttercream for it’s superior flavor and texture and yes you should have no problem getting straight clean edges with it. Glad you loved the article!

  5. Hi Heather,
    I am so happy to find you and the different types of frosting. I definitely have something to play with sometime to see if I like some of the ones I haven’t tried. I was looking for a buttercream for cupcakes that would hold up to heat asI have to take them to a soccer game for six yr olds. I don’t really like the crisco vs butter, butter seems to taste better, but looks like the crisco will hold up better.
    Thank you for these. Will be checking more out on your site.

    1. Hi Terri! Thank you so much! I’m so glad you found the article helpful! I would recommend Italian meringue buttercream for holding up well outside – it’s bit a more challenging but by far the best (and in flavor!!)

  6. Thank you for sharing, I have been driving myself nuts trying to figure what kind of buttercream to use on a cake I am making for my sister-in-law. So very helpful 👍👍

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