MUNDANE MYSTERIES: The Difference Between Frosting & Icing

A cake with frosting. A doughnut with icing. What’s the difference between frosting & icing? The dictionary defines icing as “a sweet flavored usually creamy mixture used to coat baked goods … called also ‘frosting’.” And the definition for frosting? “Icing.” So, is there a difference?

From a culinary standpoint, frosting & icing are not the same. Frosting is generally fluffier & thicker, thanks to its most important ingredient…fat. That fat can be different things: butter, cream, cream cheese. And being thicker, frosting usually stays in whatever shape it’s spread, making it ideal for cakes, cupcakes, and between cake layers.

Icing, on the other hand, is less fluffy, runnier, and sometimes translucent (especially before it dries). While frosting is defined by its inclusion of fat, icing has a bigger focus on sugar, usually of the powdered variety, combined with water & other ingredients. It’s great for decorating cookies, since you can pipe out a thin layer that’ll harden as it dries. But not all icing is runny. Rolled fondant, which you can commonly find on wedding cakes & other specialty pastries, is a thick fusion of sugar, water, and corn syrup that you can roll & cut like you would dough. But, because of its sugar & water base, it’s still considered icing.

But then, there’s “glaze”, which is also a combination of sugar & liquid, making it more closely related to icing than frosting. It’s the thinnest of the three—so runny that it’s poured over a dessert, rather than piped or spread. While glazes may get stiffer when dry, they don’t typically harden like an icing would. They’re great for drizzling over things like pound cakes and doughnuts.

Whichever one you prefer to have, the choice is clear: eating something with either frosting, icing, or glaze on it is better than eating something without it.

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