Frosting, also called icing is basically a creamy glaze used for decorating baked foods and is prepared by mixing sugar in a liquid base like water or milk and enriched with egg whites, butter, cream cheese and flavorings. Some of the most popular frosting recipes are vanilla frosting, almond frosting, chocolate buttercream, peanut butter and cookie sugar icing.
Frosting, which is so commonly used as cake decoration, was only discovered in the mid 1600s even though the concept of cake was popular since the Egyptian times. In the earliest times, cake frosting used to be prepared with egg whites and sugar. The icing used to be flavored only on occasions and poured over cakes before serving.
Different frosting recipes use different types of frosting like – butter cream frosting which is thick and rich and uses margarine/butter, sugar and flavoring, cooked frosting which is light and airy being made with sugar and egg whites, whipped cream frosting which is rich and sweet and made from whipping cream, flavoring and sugar, royal icing which is thick and is the heavier version of buttercream frosting. Frosting is basically of two types – soft and fondant.Soft frosting like 7 minute or buttercream frosting are layered on the cake using a spatula while the detailing is done using pastry bag and assorted frosting tools. Soft frosting is textured with spoon or fork across the surface for a smooth finish. The hard decorations are usually done with fondant or hard frosting. Many frosting recipes use both types of icing. In soft frosting, the icing is spread with the cake spatula evenly on top of the cake and then its sides. The sharp frosting edges can be smoothened by moving the spatula on the icing. Fondant, which is like a thick paste, is rolled flat into a sheet and draped over the cake or rice crispy, and the bubbles and wrinkles are smoothened after that. Fondants can also be sculpted into three dimensional cake decoration objects like flowers, leaves, figures etc. Cookie cutters, letters, glasses, cups, knives and various shaping tools are used to cut out or mold the fondant in desired shapes. The detailing on cakes are usually done with soft frosting which is scooped into pastry bags with a special shape tip and the cream or icing is scooped out of it and the cake is decorated with desired patterns. The frosting is given color by mixing the icing with few drops of food color.
One of the most popular frosting recipes is cream cheese which is prepared with vanilla extracts, sugar and butter. Chocolate buttercream, which is another favorite, is prepared by mixing cocoa, vanilla extract, sugar, milk and butter. Sugar glaze, a common cake and cookie frosting is prepared by mixing sugar, syrup, food coloring and water.
While the advantages of frosting are that it not only makes baked foods look more attractive but also makes them more delicious. However, the weak points of frosting is that since they mostly contain fatty ingredients like butter, cream or cheese, they are quite fattening. Plus, reduced-fat ingredients make the frosting soft and weak.
Some techniques similar to frosting are Ganache and Marzipan. While the former is a rich, chocolaty and creamy icing and often mixed with liqueurs, the latter is a kind of icing made with sugar and almond meal and often flavored with rose water.
Frosting is the word commonly used in U.S, while the rest of world prefers to use the word “icing.”