16 Types of Frosting (and Icing) to Take Your Cakes, Cupcakes and Cookies to the Next Level

Let’s all be honest: When we reach for a slice of cake, we’re in it for the frosting more than anything else. There’s nothing that can transform a cake from just OK to practically heavenly like a swoop, swirl or generous dollop of sweet, creamy frosting. Whether it’s ganache, cream cheese or one of many styles of buttercream, these 16 types of frosting (and icing) will take your desserts to the next level…that is, if you don’t eat them by the spoonful first.

Frosting vs. Icing: What’s the difference?

Depending on who you’re talking to, the terms “frosting” and “icing” might be used interchangeably, or they might mean two totally different things. If you ask us, frosting is a thick, creamy, spreadable substance, while icing ranges from thin and drizzly to viscous and pourable (but it’s never thick enough to hold a distinct shape). But enough with semantics—is that a freshly baked cake we smell?

11 Easy Buttercream Frosting Recipes

types of frosting american buttercream
Sally's Baking Addiction

1. American Buttercream

If you’ve never, ever made frosting, start with American buttercream. It’s impossible to mess up—just combine butter, confectioners’ sugar, cream, salt and your desired flavoring, then frost away. That said, this type of frosting can lean toward cloying, so pair it with a less sweet base to offset the sugar rush.

Skill level: Beginner

Uses: Frosting cakes, cupcakes, bars and cookies

Variations: Chocolate, food coloring, nut butters, fruit purees, extracts

types of frosting swiss meringue buttercream
Grandbaby Cakes

2. Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Light, smooth and not too sweet, Swiss meringue buttercream is made by heating egg whites and granulated sugar, whipping the mixture to stiff peaks and slowly adding butter. It’s extremely stable, easy to pipe, takes food coloring well (it’s very white) and since the egg whites are cooked, it’s safe for sensitive groups (aka young kids and older folks).

Skill level: Intermediate

Uses: Piping, frosting and filling cakes and cupcakes

Variations: Chocolate, food coloring, extracts, fruit purees, caramel

types of frosting italian meringue buttercream
Cupcake Project

3. Italian Meringue Buttercream

Like Swiss buttercream, Italian meringue buttercream is smooth and buttery, and relies on a meringue for stability. But it’s made with an Italian meringue, which involves pouring hot sugar syrup into egg whites and whipping the mixture to fluffy peaks. The result is an extremely smooth, stable frosting that will hold up in hot temperatures and for long amounts of time.

Skill level: Difficult

Uses: Decorating cakes, especially for events

Variations: Extracts, food coloring, the water in the sugar syrup can be swapped for any liquid

types of frosting german buttercream
Sugar Salt Magic

4. German Buttercream

This buttercream variation is made by combining pastry cream (an egg-based custard containing milk and starch) with butter for a light and rich frosting that’s popular for cake fillings. Because it contains egg yolks, it has a custardy flavor similar to ice cream and a delicate yellow color.

Skill level: Intermediate

Uses: Filling and covering cakes

Variations: Fruit puree, chocolate

types of frosting french buttercream
Boston Girl Bakes

5. French Buttercream

Unlike Swiss and Italian buttercream, French buttercream contains egg yolks for richness. It’s made by pouring boiling sugar syrup into whipped egg yolks, whipping the mixture to a foamy consistency then adding butter and whipping until light and creamy. It’s very rich and soft, so it’s better for filling than for piping.

Skill level: Advanced

Uses: Filling pastries and frosting cupcakes

Variations: Extracts

types of frosting russian buttercream
Cupcake Project

6. Russian Buttercream

Also known as condensed milk buttercream, this two-ingredient wonder is silky, fluffy and, if you ask us, underrated. It’s made by whipping butter and sweetened condensed milk together into an ivory frosting that’s extremely smooth and ideal for piping.

Skill level: Beginner

Uses: Filling and decorating cakes, piping onto cupcakes, filling macarons

Variations: Vanilla extract, cocoa powder, food coloring

types of frosting ermine buttercream
RecipeTin Eats

7. Ermine Buttercream

This type of frosting is an old-fashioned recipe that looks, acts and tastes like buttercream but is made with a mixture of cooked milk, sugar and flour that’s whipped into butter. The flour makes it stable without the need for egg whites, and the texture is lighter than buttercream.

Skill level: Easy to intermediate

Uses: Piping and spreading onto cakes and cupcakes

Variations: Chocolate, food coloring, extracts

types of frosting cream cheese frosting
Photo: Matt Dutile/Styling: Erin McDowell

8. Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream cheese frosting is actually just a variation on American buttercream, with some of the butter swapped out for cream cheese. With confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, this type of frosting is relatively sweet but with a bit of tang from the cream cheese. It’s soft by nature, making it good for filling and covering cakes in casual swoops.

Skill level: Beginner

Uses: Filling and frosting cakes and cupcakes

Variations: Chocolate, mascarpone cheese

types of frosting whipped cream
Erin McDowell

9. Whipped Cream

You know it, you love it and you can frost a cake with it. Lightly sweetened whipped cream makes an elegant, versatile topping for cakes and cupcakes, and it pairs well with myriad flavors. Just keep in mind that it won’t hold much shape, so it’s better for swooping and swirling than it is for piping.

Skill level: Beginner

Uses: Frosting cakes, cupcakes, shortcakes and cream pies

Variations: Honey, maple, extracts, spices

types of frosting ganache
Sally’s Baking Addiction

10. Ganache

Falling somewhere between frosting, glaze and icing, ganache is a chocolate-based sauce made by stirring chocolate with warm cream. It can be used as a smooth, pourable glaze, or cooled and whipped into a smooth, decadent chocolate frosting for covering and filling cakes. (It can also be made with any type of chocolate.)

Skill level: Easy

Uses: Glazing cookies and cakes, frosting and filling cakes

Variations: White, milk or dark chocolate, extracts

types of frosting decorators buttercream
Fioredolcecake/Getty Images

11. Decorators’ Buttercream

Decorators’ buttercream is similar to American buttercream but made with shortening instead of butter. This means it’s stiff enough for piping well-defined borders and flowers (unlike meringue-based buttercreams) and takes coloring well (unlike yellow, buttery frostings). What it lacks in flavor it makes up in versatility.

Skill level: Easy

Uses: Piping intricate and well-defined designs, vegan recipes

Variations: Food coloring

types of frosting seven minute frosting
Sally’s Baking Addiction

12. Seven-minute Frosting

This marshmallow-like frosting is fluffy, bright white and a lot like Swiss meringue buttercream. The only difference is that here, the egg and sugar mixture is whipped over the heat for approximately seven minutes (hence the name). This type of frosting will develop a hard shell as it cools, so it’s best the day it’s made.

Skill level: Intermediate

Uses: Piping and frosting cakes

Variations: Brown sugar

types of frosting rolled fondant
Betsie Van der Meer/Getty Images

13. Rolled Fondant

Rolled fondant looks and behaves like modeling clay. It’s made from sugar, water and sometimes gelatin or glycerin, and can be molded into shapes or rolled into sheets for covering cakes. And while it sure looks neat, it doesn’t taste quite as delightful as buttercream. (TBH, we usually leave it behind on our plate.)

Skill level: Intermediate

Uses: Covering cakes, sculpting and decorating

Variations: Food coloring, extracts

types of frosting royal icing
Amy Neunsinger/Magnolia Kitchen, Volume 2

14. Royal Icing

Royal icing is a hard white icing made from softly beaten eggs whites and powdered sugar. It’s bright white and takes food coloring beautifully, plus it sets up hard, so it’s the ideal choice for making intricate designs and effects.

Skill level: Intermediate

Uses: Decorating cookies, gingerbread houses and sometimes wedding cakes

Variations: Food coloring

types of frosting simple glaze
Photo/Styling: Katherine Gillen

15. Simple Glaze

When you don’t plan on piping elaborate designs but still want to dress up a batch of sugar cookies, a simple glaze of confectioners’ sugar and water (or milk) will get the job done. It’s great for dipping and swirling with food coloring, and if you add a few teaspoons of corn syrup, it will dry shiny.

Skill level: Beginner

Uses: Icing cookies

Variations: Food coloring, extracts

types of frosting mirror glaze
RecipeTin Eats

16. Mirror Glaze

You know those gorgeously shiny, smooth cakes you find in fancy bakery displays? They’re coated in mirror glaze, which is a pourable glaze made of melted chocolate (or white chocolate), gelatin and sweetened condensed milk, along with flavorings and food coloring for pizazz. The results are dependent on the smoothness and temperature of the cake and the glaze, so it can be tricky to work with.

Skill level: Intermediate to advanced

Uses: Glazing cakes and petit fours

Variations: White chocolate, dark chocolate, food coloring


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...