Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Types of Icing for Cupcakes

Think the greasy grocery store fluff they dare call icing is the only option out there for cupcakes?  Think again! Different icings have different textures, tastes, and looks.  Whether you're working with a professional baker or are planning on making cupcakes for your own event, it's worth investigating the different options to discover what you like best--for both flavor and appearance.

American Buttercream:
Incredibly simple--just powdered sugar, butter, flavoring, a dash of salt, and a tiny amount of milk or cream to get just the right texture.  Classic, sweet, fast and easy, and endlessly versatile.  And always better when made with real butter, not shortening.  If you're new to baking and are planning to make cupcakes for an event, or if you're just looking for a nostalgic flavor, American buttercream is a great option.  I used American buttercream on my penguin cupcakes a few days ago.  It's such a simple frosting, but gets such rave reviews from people used to grocery store fare.

Peanut butter cupcake with honey flavored American buttercream.

Rose Cupcakes made with American Buttercream

Jayne hat cupcakes made for a charity fundraising bake sale/Serenity Screening, made with American buttercream.
Cupcakes decorated with American buttercream are often more basic in design, but someone skilled in piping can create gorgeous works of art.  Don't underestimate pastry chefs who prefer to work with buttercreams over fondant.

Italian Meringue Buttercream and Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
Commonly referred to by their abbreviations IMBC and SMBC, meringue buttercreams are truly a treat.  They're light, fluffy, and don't taste nearly as sweet as an American buttercream.  They're also much fussier to make, but the end product is well worth the effort.

Key lime cupcakes with Italian meringue buttercream and gumpaste decorations.
Just like with American buttercream, meringue buttercreams can be piped into fabulous decorations all by themselves, or embellished with gumpaste or fondant accents.  I've always preferred savory treats to sweet ones, and have actually never really liked icing...until I tried IMBC.  I could eat my weight in this stuff.  If you're on the hunt for the perfect cupcake for your event, definitely try a cupcake with meringue buttercream.

Look how gorgeous and delectable even something very simple can be:

These tempting treats were made by carriebush on Cake Central.  Chocolate Bailey's flavored cupcakes with coffee IMBC and topped with a chocolate covered espresso bean.  YUM!  I love how amazingly elegant and adult cupcake flavors can be--especially when using a meringue buttercream.

If you're considering IMBC for a DIY cupcake project, here's a little hint:  it freezes gorgeously.  You can make the icing weeks or months ahead of time and freeze it.  (I use gallon ziplock bags, each holds 2lb of icing very nicely, freeze flat, and are stackable.)  Leave the icing bags on the counter a few hours before you need to use the icing.  Once thawed, whip it in your mixer for a few minutes, and it will be just as good as the moment it was made.  When planning a big event, it's good to get as much done ahead of time as possible, and being able to make the IMBC well ahead makes that last-minute party-planning schedule so much easier.

You don't see fondant on cupcakes as often as the various buttercreams, but it's absolutely possible, and creates some absolutely gorgeous, elegant cupcakes.  And yes, it can even be delicious.  Steer away from Wilton brand, and either try one of the tastier brands like Fondx or Satin Ice (available from cake decorating stores and online), or try making your own.  It's not hard at all, is much less expensive, and tastes delicious.  The ingredients are pretty much the same as making homemade marshmallows, just with a different technique and different quantities, but the flavor is similar.

Fondant is usually adhered to the cake or cupcake with a layer of buttercream, so even if a guest doesn't like even homemade fondant, they can peel it off and still enjoy the cupcake.

Cupcakes covered with fondant and accented with gumpaste decorations.
There is so much that can be done with fondant and gumpaste, and the look can be so incredibly clean and elegant.  If you want to be really wowed and inspired, check out the amazing work of Zalita of Cupcake D'lights, an amazing cake artist from South Africa.  Her tea party cupcakes were the inspiration for mine, and were the seed behind the entire Under the Sea Tea Party party I threw for my daughter's 6th birthday.  There are more (amazing!  brilliant!  gorgeous!) pictures on her Flickr feed than her blog, and it's definitely worth checking out.  

Fondant and gumpaste work like Zalita's take cupcakes right out of the cute range and entirely appropriate for even the most elegant affair.  Plus you don't have to worry about cutting the cake for everyone!  If your wedding is a DIY affair, that is a big bonus.  Cutting a tiered wedding cake takes a fair amount of time specific knowledge to do it well--you can't just ask any friend to take care of that duty.

Cupcakes can range from playful and precious to stunningly elegant, and can suit any theme or event.  But you have to choose the right look and taste to match the party.   Go forth, experiment, taste test (the best part!) and figure out what's best for your event!


  1. Very nice article!

  2. gotta try these IMBC and SMBC recipes! Thanks for sharing!!