Buttercream, frosting, icing, whatever you call it, I’ve put together an extensive list of recipes for you to choose from for finishing your next cake.
What’s the difference between buttercream, frosting and icing?
Well, there is no “legal” definition of buttercream, frosting or icing (as far as I know).
As the name implies, buttercream has butter as the main ingredient. Although, a recipe that uses vegetable shortening rather than butter can also be called buttercream. Whether it includes butter, vegetable shortening or a mix of the two, you can call it “buttercream”.
So what is a frosting or icing? I call anything that you use to cover a cake “frosting” or “icing”. Any buttercream can be a frosting or icing, but not every frosting or icing is buttercream. Ganache, whipped cream or meringue can be used as a cake frosting.
Which is the best buttercream or frosting?
Ultimately, the perfect frosting for your cake is the one which you like best. I will guide you with a full description and pairing suggestions for all my frosting recipes.
Which frosting is the best for Carrot Cake? I think you can probably guess. Which is best for Red Velvet Cake? You might be surprised. How should you frost a delicate Vanilla Genoise or Old Fashioned Buttermilk Cake? There are plenty of great options.
Buttercream & Frosting Recipes
A delicious and light frosting is the crowning glory for your favorite cake recipe. There are so many types of frosting to choose from. Peruse this list of frostings and buttercreams to find the perfect finish for your cake.
American Buttercream is a simple yet delicious frosting. This is the easiest buttercream to make with absolutely no cooking needed. A hint of milk and a drizzle of corn syrup make this buttercream frosting especially luscious and smooth.
ABC is the sweetest buttercream and is a good choice for a child's birthday cake. It pairs well with Vanilla Buttermilk Cake and Vanilla Butter Cake.
This chocolate frosting is a variation of American Buttercream, so it is very easy to make. Cocoa gives this buttercream a lovely fudgy flavor that cuts through the sweetness.
This frosting pairs well with Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake or Chocolate Butter Cake.
Cream Cheese Frosting is another variation of American Buttercream, the main difference is that cream cheese replaces some of the butter.
There is a better way to make cream cheese frosting than the standard recipe. This frosting whips up lump-free and doesn't become runny. It has a great cream cheese flavor.
Of course this is the perfect frosting for Carrot Cake, and it's also often paired with Red Velvet Cake. For a real treat, put Cream Cheese frosting on Buttermilk Spice Cake or Zucchini Cake.
Ermine Frosting is the Goldilocks of buttercream. It's less sweet than American Buttercream and a little sweeter than Meringue Buttercream. This old-fashioned frosting is juuuust right!
The process for making Ermine frosting starts with a "pudding" made from milk, sugar and flour. Because the sugar is cooked into the pudding base, you don't have the grittiness that you get with American Buttercream.
Ermine is the traditional frosting for Red Velvet Cake. Add coconut flavoring and it's the perfect topping for Coconut Cake.
Malted Chocolate Frosting is a version of Ermine Frosting. It's made with whole milk and malted milk powder for a deeply satisfying, old-fashioned flavor.
Malted Chocolate Frosting pairs well with Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake, and is wonderful with light and airy Chocolate Genoise or a tender Chocolate Butter Cake. My favorite way to use Malted Chocolate Frosting is on Malted Milk Brownies.
German Buttercream is the rich European cousin of Ermine Frosting. Instead of starting with a milk & cornstarch pudding, this frosting starts with a milk and egg custard base.
Like Ermine Frosting, German Buttercream is less sweet than American Buttercream and a little easier to make than Meringue Buttercreams.
I love the "ice-creamy" flavor from the custard base. Pairing this frosting with a light and delicate Vanilla Genoise really allows the custard flavor to shine. This also pairs wonderfully with tender Vanilla Butter Cake and soft Vanilla Buttermilk Cake. The custard flavor also works well with Spice Cake.
Seven Minute Frosting is an old-fashioned recipe that should never go out of style. It's sweet. It's fluffy. It's a veritable cloud of a frosting. Even better, you need just a handful of pantry ingredients and about 7 minutes to make this recipe.
Meringue Buttercreams are the stars of the buttercream world. Light, fluffy and not too sweet, they are my personal favorite for special occasion and wedding cakes.
Some folks find meringue buttercreams a little "buttery", especially if they prefer sweeter American Buttercream.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a little easier to make than it's Italian cousin. The sugar and egg whites are heated over simmering water, whipped until light and airy, then the butter is added.
Swiss Meringue buttercream can be tinted, flavored in any way you'd like and you can use it to pipe roses and intricate borders. This buttercream pairs well with any cake.
Italian Meringue Buttercream is my favorite cake frosting. This is the exact recipe I used for 10 years in my wedding cake business.
It is true that Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a little easier to make than IMBC because you don't have to pour hot sugar syrup into a fast moving mixer.
But in side by side tests and tasting, I find the more stable Italian Meringue makes a slightly lighter buttercream that is a dream to work with.
Just like SMBC, IMBC can be flavored and tinted to your heart's desire and pairs well with any cake.
French buttercream is made exactly like Italian Meringue Buttercream, except that you use egg yolks instead of egg whites. The yolks make a lovely yellow colored frosting and add a rich, custard flavor.
This is a wonderful frosting for Classic Vanilla Genoise or Chocolate Genoise. It's also a great way to use up extra egg yolks.
Monday 17th of May 2021
I love your recipes! I stumbled on your Perfect Cake recipe and love how thorough and detailed all your posts are. You cover everything which is super helpful! I'm a hobby baker and have very little experience. I want to work my way through your frosting recipes and wondered if you have a suggested progression? I have only ever made American buttercream and didn't know there were other options! I'm a little intimidated by the meringues and other cooking techniques, but I'm eager to learn and experiment.
TL;DR: What is the best progression to try all these frostings and gain experience if you have only ever made ABC frosting?
Monday 17th of May 2021
After ABC I would try the Ermine Frosting, then the German Buttercream, then either the meringue or French Buttercreams. Don't be intimidated by the meringue frostings. They are really quite forgiving and not nearly as fussy as you might imagine. The Swiss Meringue is a little easier than the Italian Meringue. Have fun.