What Is the Difference Between Frosting & Icing?

The words "frosting" and "icing" are used interchangeably. However the two convey different meanings to those who are familiar with baking. The basic difference between frosting and icing is that frosting is thicker than icing, and can hold different kinds of shapes; the roses and other decorations that are used on cakes are made of frosting. Icing, on the other hand, is a little runny and hardens as it dries out. Frosting is more creamy and buttery to taste, while icing has a liquid feel and gives the cake a glossy look.

How to Make Frosting

Frosting can be made at home with some simple ingredients that are available in any kitchen – butter, milk, sugar and flavoring (in this case, vanilla). To make vanilla frosting for about 20 cupcakes, take three cups of powdered sugar, one-third cup of butter, two tablespoons of milk and a little more than a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Mix the softened butter and the powdered sugar, and make sure they blend well. Add the vanilla extract and a teaspoon of milk and blend well. Keep adding a little bit of milk at regular intervals as you mix. Blend it until it is smooth and creamy and has no lumps.

How to Make Icing

Icing can me made at home too, but requires a different set of ingredients and a slightly different method. Combine a measure of powdered sugar and five tablespoons of meringue powder and beat them. Add two tablespoons of water, drop by drop. Ensure that the mixture does not become too runny. Beat this mixture until it can hold a trail from the whisk for about five seconds when you raise it from the mixing bowl. This recipe makes about six cups of icing.

Using Frosting and Icing

Frosting can be applied onto cakes or cookies by using a spatula to spread it along the surface. However, this can sometimes cause the frosting to break and give the cake an uneven appearance. It can also be put inside a pastry bag, tied at the top and slowly pressed out of the bag through the tip to "pipe" out thin lines and designs. Icing, on the other hand is more liquid and runny. This makes it difficult to spread out with a spatula and easier to apply with the "piping" method.


When finished, the frosting on a cake will look similar to whipped cream, while icing hardens and gives a smoother, even and glossy look. The type of frosting or icing required depends on the type of cake or cookies that it will decorate. Ganache is a type of icing that is used to decorate pastries, cakes or tortes for a smooth finish. Refrigerated ganaches can be whipped and formed into different shapes. Royal Icing is a variety that was originally used on wedding cakes. It is pure white and gives a flat, smooth and glossy surface when dry. Whipped cream frosting can be used to decorate butter and foam cakes. Buttercream frosting, which has a buttered base, is smoother and softer than whipped cream frosting. It is used inside cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts and pastries; this is generally the type of frosting that is used for the lettering on birthday and wedding cakes.