When you’re scouring your recipes, looking for that perfect frosting to top off your cake, you’re likely to come across whipped icing and buttercream frosting. Both cover a cake or cupcake and make it sweeter and moister. The differences in flavor and texture between whipped icing and buttercream determine how your cake will stand up in the heat and how you decorate it.
A traditional American buttercream is made using powdered sugar, butter or shortening, milk and flavorings. Whipped icing is made from heavy whipping cream or whipped cream and powdered sugar. Some whipped icings use meringue powder for stability.
A buttercream starts by whipping the fats -- either just butter or a combination of butter and shortening -- until light and fluffy. Milk is added to moisten the fats and sifted powdered sugar is slowly added until the buttercream reaches the desired consistency. Whipped icing starts with chilled whipping cream that is whipped until it is light and fluffy. Powdered sugar is slowly added to the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Buttercream can be left white or dyed with food coloring liquids, gels or powders into a variety of pastel or bright colors. Whipped icing can take on colors, but it is best suited to pastel tones.
Texture and Flavor
Buttercream has a smooth, spreadable, creamy texture. Its flavor is sweet and buttery and it takes well to extracts, flavorings, chocolate and fruits. Whipped icing has a delicate texture that is airy and smooth. It isn’t as spreadable as buttercream because of the air in the mixture, which means you’ll see slight bubbles in your frosting’s finish. Whipped cream icing tastes creamy and rich.
Buttercream is a general decorating frosting that is used on cakes, cupcakes and cookies. It can be piped and holds its shape well because it has a medium to thick consistency. Whipped icing covers cakes and cupcakes, but has a light, delicate consistency, so it is only useful for piping borders and not for intricate details. Buttercream holds up well to higher temperatures and a slight crust forms over its soft interior. Whipped icing does not hold up to higher temperatures and is also not suitable for stacked cakes -- such as wedding cakes -- because it is delicate and does not form a crust.
Buttercream stays fresh in the refrigerator in an airtight container for about two weeks. Once on a cake, it can sit at room temperature, covered, but must be eaten with two to three days. Whipped icing cannot sit at room temperature because it’s made primarily from whipping cream. Whipped icing must be stored in the refrigerator and used within two days. Once on a cake, the cake must be refrigerated and eaten in two days.