Ask The Chef
Frosting vs. Icing
According to most food dictionaries, the terms frosting and icing are interchangeable, but most bakers will tell you there is an immense difference between the two. Frosting tends to be used to cover and fill cakes. While Icing is a thinner, free-flowing mixture usually made of water and powdered sugar and it best suited to cover delicate cookies, pastries and confections.
When making frosting there are several different ways to achieve a thick texture that will hold up to changes in temperature. For example, a popular frosting is known as buttercream. This type of frosting incorporates butter and sugar to achieve its thick consistency. Depending on humidity and heat, some buttercreams will begin to melt without some added assistance. Adding another protein, such as egg whites, will help standard buttercreams maintain its desired shape and texture. Also, some recipes may call for vegetable shortening which is helpful since it melts at a different temperature than butter.
Most bakers will tell you icing should be thin and when dried it can be opaque and uneven in color. To give icing more stability, some bakers will add cream or milk to the mixture along with water. To start, add the powdered sugar and mix with cream until very thick and lump free. Thin the mixture out with additional milk or water until you achieve the proper consistency. By building the mixture slowly you will not only have more control over the texture but reduce the amount of lumps. To drizzle, the icing should lightly coat the back of a spoon and gently flow off the spoon when raised twelve inches away from the item you are hoping to ice. To glaze items, the frosting should be a bit thicker to control the drips.
Understanding the difference between frosting and icing is important when reading recipes. Each has its own unique characteristics which will help you visualize the perfect finished product.