The Ultimate Frosting and Icing Glossary: Get Our Best Recipes for Everything from Buttercream to Ganache

simple chocolate buttercream
Photo: Johnny Miller

Before you make your next cake, browse our collection of frosting recipes.

01 of 17
chocolate ganache glaze
Johnny Miller

A high-quality frosting can transform a simple dessert into something truly incredible. And when it comes to decorating cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and other baked goods, each type of frosting has its place. There's traditional buttercream—the classic birthday cake frosting—that's fluffy, rich, and can be flavored with everything from raspberries to chocolate chips. Then you have royal icing, a favorite of bakers for detailed cookie decorating. Additionally, there's cream cheese frosting, seven-minute frosting, and many more. Our primer on the different types of frostings and icings will ensure you use the right one for each baking project.

For the purpose of this collection—and so you have access to all of the dessert decorating options available to you—we've included both frosting and icing recipes. While the terms are often used interchangeably, frosting is thick and fluffy and typically uses some type of fat, like cream or butter, as its main ingredient. On the other hand, icing can be a simple combination of confectioners' sugar and liquid (cream, milk, citrus juice, or liqueur) mixed to a thin, glossy-like finish. Additionally, you can work with a glaze when baking. The Chocolate Ganache Glaze, pictured here forms a pourable dessert topping with just two ingredients: chocolate and cream. The rich, satin-like number will take any dessert to the next level.

Before baking your next cake or batch of cookies, refer to this glossary of the best spoon-licking frosting recipes. We've got foolproof versions of all the greats, including cream cheese frosting, buttercream, royal icing, as well as some specialty frosting recipes flavored with lemon, peanut butter, vanilla bean, and more

02 of 17

Italian Meringue Buttercream

Italian Meringue Buttercream
Johnny Miller

This take on traditional meringue buttercream calls for pouring a hot sugar syrup over egg whites and cream of tartar, whipping until the mixture cools down, and adding chilled butter bit by bit until the frosting becomes spreadable.

03 of 17

Cream Cheese Frosting

cream cheese frosting in bowl
Johnny Miller

It's a must for carrot cake, pumpkin cake, red velvet cupcakes, you name it. This tangy frosting is similar to American-style buttercream, but it relies on cream cheese rather than butter for the fat component. All you have to do is beat cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Try incorporating other flavors like maple syrup or lemon.

04 of 17

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Johnny Miller

For this all-purpose buttercream, egg whites are heated with sugar and salt until the mixture is completely smooth, then whipped until fluffy and glossy. Butter is added a few tablespoons at a time, followed by vanilla, forming an airy and silky texture. Feel free to experiment with food coloring here, being sure to add a drop at a time until you achieve your desired shade.

05 of 17

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

ganache frosting
Johnny Miller

Ganache—a smooth mixture of chocolate and cream—is one of the richest chocolate frostings imaginable. ​​Add corn syrup and you have the perfect consistency for spreading. Slather onto any cakes or cupcakes you please.

06 of 17

Simple Vanilla Frosting

simple vanilla frosting
Johnny Miller

This recipe is so much better than anything you can get out of a can. The secret to the creamy texture of this four-ingredient frosting is a splash of milk.

07 of 17

Basic Buttercream


The classic birthday cake frosting couldn't be simpler. It's just a matter of beating together butter, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla until fluffy. Keep in mind that this frosting is very sweet and has a high butter content, so it doesn't hold up very well in warmer temperatures.

08 of 17

Ultimate Chocolate Frosting

ultimate chocolate frosting
Johnny Miller

The key to this fudgy chocolate frosting? Sifting together the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder before stirring in the butter, milk, and vanilla. And make sure the butter and milk are at room temperature—it makes all the difference in the texture.

09 of 17

Chocolate Buttercream

simple chocolate buttercream
Johnny Miller

Basic buttercream becomes way more exciting with the addition of semisweet chocolate chips.

10 of 17

Royal Icing

royal icing with whisk
Johnny Miller

Royal icing is much stiffer than buttercream and dries to a smooth, hard finish. It's great for decorating sugar cookies of all types. Add a few drops of glycerin if you prefer royal icing glossy rather than matte.

11 of 17

White Icing

Pål Allan

This is a two-ingredient glaze that's just the thing for a loaf cake. And it's as easy as whisking together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Try customizing this icing by swapping in another citrus juice, milk, or your favorite liqueur.

12 of 17

Classic Seven-Minute Frosting

Janelle Jones

Named for the amount of time the egg whites have to be whipped with the corn syrup, this frosting actually takes closer to 20 minutes from start to finish. It makes a light, delicate finish for any cake.

13 of 17

Whipped Frosting

whipped frosting in bowl

Ready in minutes, this light and airy frosting is achieved by bringing a saucepan of water to a simmer, then adding egg whites, sugar, and salt until the sugar dissolves. Next, pour the mixture into an electric mixer and beat until glossy, stiff peaks form. It works on just about any cake, from vanilla to lemon.

14 of 17

Cooked Milk Frosting

confetti cake with vanilla frosting
Ngoc Minh Ngo

This old-fashioned frosting is creamy without being overwhelmingly sweet. It calls for cooking a milk-and-flour mixture until it becomes thick and pudding-like. Once cooled, the mixture is beaten with butter and sugar until a light and fluffy frosting that resembles whipped cream forms.

15 of 17

Vanilla-Bean Milk Frosting

chocolate cupcakes with milk frosting
Kate Mathis

Two types of vanilla—bean and extract—are used to make this creamy béchamel-based frosting perfectly sweet and aromatic.

16 of 17

Lighter Peanut Butter Frosting

peanut butter buttercream
Bryan Gardner

Buttercream frosting can be flavored in a multitude of ways. Here, a scoop of powdered peanut butter is added to the butter, confectioners' sugar, milk and vanilla extract mixture forming a sweet, nutty icing that can be used to frost vanilla cupcakes or any dessert you fancy,

17 of 17

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

When life gives you lemons make... frosting! This tart, citrusy icing is ideal for people who don't like super sweet desserts. A double dose of lemon from the juice and zest are used to flavor cream cheese, butter, and confectioners' sugar.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles