Making Frosting from Scratch

Baking, Cook, Learn, Tips & Techniques

This post comes courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Culinary Expert Natasha Gandhi-Rue.


Ask any kid, or adult for that matter, what their favorite part of a cake is and I bet 9 out of 10 would say the frosting.  Fluffy frosting is perfect for decorating cakes or filling baked goods, and it also hides a multitude of baking mishaps. Did your cake layers not rise correctly?  Frosting to the rescue.  Did a layer break in half coming out of the pan?  Frosting to the rescue again.


But with all the different types of frostings, buttercreams, icings and glazes you can make, which one is the best?


Frosting vs. Icing — Frequently, you will find these terms used interchangeably in cookbooks, on blogs as well as on TV. They may seem similar, but there are differences in each that you should understand so you can select just the right one for your cake or cupcakes.


As a general rule, frosting is thicker than icing, and icing is thicker than glaze. Here are some commonly used types of frosting to consider before making your own:


Buttercream — This frosting has a mild sweetness, and it usually involves making a custard and whipping butter into it.  It’s easy to spread but will melt quickly in warm or hot temperatures.


American Buttercream — This frosting tends to be quite sweet. It’s simple to make: Just blend together butter, confectioners’ sugar and milk or heavy cream to reach your desired consistency.


Decorator Buttercream — This frosting is a sweeter, stiffer sibling to American Buttercream. The butter is reduced by half or replaced altogether with solid shortening. You can reach the desired consistency by adding water, alcohol or extract.


Cooked — Seven Minute or Swiss Buttercream—Egg whites and sugar are cooked over a double boiler until 140° to 170°F, then whipped into a meringue. Swiss Buttercream has butter whipped into it after the meringue stage.


Ganache — Heavy cream is boiled, and then chocolate is melted into the boiled cream. Different ratios of cream to chocolate will result in different thicknesses of this frosting. Ganache can also be whipped into a light, airy frosting (think of the inside of a Milky Way).


Glaze — Glaze is generally made of confectioners’ sugar and a liquid.


Whipped Cream — Heavy cream whipped with sugar and flavorings. If confectioners’ sugar is used, the whipped cream will be slightly more stable due to the cornstarch in the confectioners’ sugar.


About the author: A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, Natasha is the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Expert for the Wichita, Kansas store. She is the mastermind behind the in-store technique and cooking classes and is often on the road training other Williams-Sonoma Culinary Experts.

2 comments about “Making Frosting from Scratch

  1. Carmen

    Hi,well idont really use bakeing powder and shortening. I dont carry it and my car is messed up so I cant get to the store. But will yellow cake be good without frosting? My grandmothers birthday is coming up and I was going to make her a cake but I dont knoe what would be good. Frosting or no frosting or both because I like cake but I just dont know. Please help me. PLEASE!!!!!!

  2. Carol Sprague

    I’ve been having a problem with powdered sugar lately. Brand name and generic. It seems so ‘grainy’ and when I make it into a frosting, it seems firm and hold up, but once I get it on cookies or cupcakes it seems to ‘melt’ or ‘run’. Other people have been telling they are having problems, too, but thought that it only happened on the generic brand. Any answers?


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