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Cake Icing Types

Cake Icing: 9 Ways To Dress Up Your Cakes and Cupcakes:

 written by: Pastryitems.com
Nothing marks a celebration better than a fresh baked cake. However, a cake without icing is like pasta without sauce -- no pizzazz and nothing you'd really want to take to a party. To get your cake decorating juices flowing, you will find a description of nine of the most common types of cake icing below.

Buttercream Icing:
Buttercream icing is by far the most popular way to dress up a cake. It is delicious, versatile, simple to make, and easy to work with. Buttercream icing is the type of icing you find in those pre-made cans and tubes of icing next to the boxed cake mixes at the grocery store. However, homemade Buttercream icing is much better tasting than the pre-made variety. Buttercream icing is made with powdered sugar, a source of fat, a little milk, and your choice of flavorings. The most basic recipe calls for beating butter until it is creamy and then slowly adding in the powered sugar. A small amount of milk is added gradually to make it as soft and creamy as you prefer. If you accidentally add too much milk, you can usually correct this by just adding a bit more powered sugar to stiffen it back up. To make vegan Buttercream icing, you can substitute vegetable shortening or coconut oil for the butter and soy milk or almond milk for cow's milk. There are hundreds of variations you can try for Buttercream icing. Cream cheese icing is one of the most popular, with cream cheese replacing all or some of the butter in the basic recipe. You can also brown the butter for a delicious "burnt" Buttercream icing. 

Have you ever wondered how bakers get those tall swirls of icing to stay perfectly perched on top of cupcakes? While it looks and tastes a lot like Buttercream icing, frosting is a variation that adds egg white so those tempting tall swirls maintain their shape. While you can use raw egg whites, there is always a chance of Salmonella poisoning. This becomes more of a concern if you plan to leave the iced cake or cupcakes out at room temperature for more than a few hours or if you plan to serve your desert to young children, the elderly, or others who may have a compromised immune system. For this reason, many people choose to use a dried pasteurized egg white product to turn their Buttercream icing into frosting. Please note too that many people, especially Americans, use the term "frosting" in the vernacular to refer to any type of icing. However, in this instance, we are using the term for a more specific type of icing.

For something so simple to make, glaze adds a lot of dazzle with a drizzle! The most basic glaze is simply powdered sugar mixed with water. Fresh cinnamon rolls still warm from the oven just wouldn't taste the same without it. Neither would warm flaky apple turnovers, Danishes, coffee cake, or Bundt cake. Besides the sweetness it adds, the pearl-like hardened glaze adds a certain cachet to any cake.

Royal Icing:
Royal icing is very stiff and dries really hard. Like glaze, it is made with powdered sugar and water. However, egg whites are also added to make it thicker and hard. The end result is a hard regal looking icing with a matte finish. Royal icing can be used to make artistic decorations that go on top of softer icing such as Buttercream icing or frosting. It is also often used as the icing on gingerbread houses and sugar cookies. Instead of using raw egg whites, most modern bakers use meringue powder. This is to guard against Salmonella and because meringue powder gives more consistent results. Meringue powder is a fine white powder made from pasteurized egg whites, sugar, and gum. When working with royal icing, it is important to remember that it dries out very easily. Therefore, be sure to cover it if you don't use it right away.

Ganache is chocolate mixed with cream. Traditionally, it is semi-sweet chocolate mixed with heavy cream. Ganache is usually poured over the top of a cake, and like a thick glaze, allowed to drizzle down the sides while it is still in warm liquid form. However, it can also be chilled and then whipped to frost a cake. For best results, use a semi-sweet chocolate that is made with chocolate liqueur rather than vegetable oil. To go along with its posh name, Ganache dries with a luxurious shine. Ganache is also sometimes used as a filling for a cake.

Fondant Icing:
​Like glaze, fondant icing is made with table sugar (sucrose) and water. However, instead of powdered sugar, granulated table sugar is used to supersaturate the water. This is accomplished by adding the sugar while the water is boiling. Since boiling water will hold more sugar in suspension than cool water, fine sugar crystals form while the water cools. Cream of tartar or glucose is added to help induce the sucrose to form fine crystals. This crystallization gives fondant icing an elegant porcelain appearance which has made it popular for wedding cakes and anniversary cakes. Keep in mind that this icing is quite tricky to make since it can be easily ruined by a single large seed crystal that can make the icing crystallize into large crystals instead of fine crystals. If this happens, the icing will be granulated and lumpy in texture, not smooth like fondant should be. For example, if a single grain of undissolved table sugar (sucrose) falls into the supersaturated sugar solution while it's cooling, larger crystals may form. This is why this type of icing is often left to professional bakers, not to say a home baker can't master this skill too, but the process is not as forgiving as Buttercream icing, frosting, or glaze, the mainstays of most home bakers.

Sugar Paste:
Sugar paste is a thick fondant icing that you can roll out and apply to a cake or cupcake. Gelatin or agar is added along with food-grade glycerin to give it the consistency of modeling clay. Most home bakers buy sugar paste pre-made because it's much easier than trying to make it from scratch. It can be bought in a variety of colors. However, please be aware that most commercially prepared sugar paste contains hydrogenated oil that will put very unhealthy trans fat in your diet. For this reason, always be sure to read your ingredients before you buy sugar paste. You can also buy sculpting fondant which is even thicker than sugar paste. This is used to sculpt fancy decorations. You can also buy some of these pre-made. Before you roll sugar paste out, be sure to dust your rolling surface or it might stick just like dough.
Pastillage is an extremely hard icing that is used to make intricate decorations, such as a castle, to rest on top of a cake. However, keep in mind that it does not stretch like fondant or sugar paste so would not be a good choice for making flowers. Home bakers usually buy pre-made Pastillage powder and just mix it with water. However, it can be made from scratch by mixing gum tragacanth and powdered sugar with royal icing.

​Marzipan is made from sugar, finely ground almond meal, and egg whites (or a pasteurized egg white product). Note that marzipan is different than almond paste in that it is sweeter and the almond mill is ground more finely. It can be rolled out and applied to a cake like a fondant icing, used as a cake filling (although almond paste is more commonly used this way), or sculpted into cake decorations. It can also be rolled very thin and applied as the first layer of icing over which a different type of icing is applied.

How To Add Flavor and Color To Your Cake Icing:
​The flavoring possibilities for cake icings are endless. They include vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, maple syrup, honey, mint, caramel, almond flavoring, cinnamon, cardamon, coffee, rum, pomegranate, lemon verbena, lemon zest, and orange zest. While artificial food coloring can be added, please note that these dyes are derived from petroleum. There is mounting evidence that these dyes cause cancerous tumors, hyperactivity in children, and other serious health issues. Luckily, there are non-toxic ways to add bright colors to icing. For red and pink, you can use concentrated beet juice. Beet juice is quite neutral in taste so it does not affect the taste of the icing, even if you use enough to turn it bright red. For green, you can use liquid chlorophyll or boil spinach and use the juice. Liquid chlorophyll affects the taste only slightly if you use enough to produce a bright green. Using just enough for lighter greens should not affect taste at all. A natural blue color can be achieved by boiling red cabbage with baking soda and using the resulting blue juice. If this seems like too much trouble, you can also buy highly concentrated forms of this in a natural coloring kit. For yellow and orange, you can use turmeric powder. If you add too much, the cake will taste the turmeric. However, a very tiny amount of turmeric goes a long ways so just a tiny bit at a time and do a taste test before you add more.

Go Ahead...Lick the Bowl:
​No matter how old you get, the best part of making cake icing will always be licking the bowl! So, go head... lick the bowl... you know you want to... it's a great way to connect with your inner child spirit... it will be our little secret.