Last week, when I posted about the red velvet cake and cinnamon-coriander icing I made for my husband’s birthday, I very deliberately chose the term icing in describing the cake topping. Frosting just wouldn’t cut it as a term to describe what I was making, because I learned something new last week. Icing and frosting are not the same thing.
Let me say that again. Icing and frosting are NOT the same.
Is anybody else as surprised by that fact as I was when I discovered it? There I was, merrily posting on Facebook about how deliciously addicting this “frosting” was. Then, shortly after that I began wondering about why we sometimes call what we put on the top of cakes “frosting,” while other times we call it “icing.” I can’t help it. I’m a total word nerd. These things actually do matter to me!
Were frosting and icing different words describing the same thing, after all, or are they actually two different cake toppings? The more I thought about it, the more curious I became about this issue. You might even say I became a bit obsessed with knowing the answer.
So, I did what I usually do when I want a quick answer to a pressing question. I Googled: “what’s the difference between icing and frosting?” Try it. I came up with over 11 million results. Apparently I’m not the only person in the world who’s curious about this. And chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know that because you’re curious about it too!
What are these differences? Basically, it all boils down to appearance, basic ingredients, consistency, main taste, and use.
As the picture above shows, frosting is much creamier than icing, and at times it can even look fluffy. I’m thinking now specifically of the Betty Crocker whipped frosting. We love that stuff at our house. My children can eat it by the tub! I should have known, by looking at the differences between the tub frosting and the cake topping I made by hand, there was surely a difference between frosting and icing. I just didn’t realize, at the time, that what I was making was not, in fact, frosting.
Concerning the basic (or, in this case, base) ingredients, frosting uses a cream or butter base. Icing can use a cream or butter base, as well, but it is much less common. I, for example, used milk in my icing recipe but no butter. Obviously, since milk is not as thick as cream, my icing was not anywhere near as thick as a typical frosting, and that is another major difference between the two – the consistency of the cake topping. Icing is much thinner – even sometimes runny – although it does harden as it cools. Frosting does not change consistency nearly as much over time
Because of the bases used for the different recipes, frosting and icing have slightly different tastes. Frosting is much more buttery tasting, while you taste mostly sugar in icing. This is certainly true of my icing recipe. The sugary taste was very strong.
The final difference rests in how the cake toppings are used. Frosting, obviously, is used to top cakes, but it is not used for much else because it is too thick. Icing can be used to top cakes, cookies (as my mother-in-law used to do, although she called her icing glaze – that’s another difference I need to investigate!), or pastries. It certainly seems to be more versatile.
If you didn’t know it before, I hope I’ve made it clear by now that frosting and icing are two completely different things. And, for those of you who are more visual, I’ve created this handy chart that clearly lays out their differences. Feel free to refer back to it whenever you need to, and let me know in the comments which you prefer for your cake topping – frosting or icing.