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Tuesday
Jan132009

The Icing on the Cake: An Exploration of Icing, Frosting and Even Glaze

Glaze, Icing, Frosting
There are times in life when we find ourselves confronted with serious questions; in seeking answers, we might just have a defining moment or two. This is one such time: we are now going to discuss the question of icing versus frosting

Is there a difference between the two, and if so, what? Ingredients? Consistency? Or are the terms interchangeable, as in the way some say "pop" and some say "soda"? And going even further...what is a glaze? Here's what we found:

Our first stop, naturally, was the The International Dictionary of Desserts, Pastries, and Confections, which, while noting that there are many different types, ultimately tells us "the term icing is interchangeable with the term frosting". For shame, sweet dictionary--certainly it can't be that simple, can it? 

And so we moved on toNancy Rommelmann's fantastic book Everything You Pretend to Know about Food and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask, which (thank god!) has a whole section entitled "What's the difference between frosting and icing?". The section reads:
Often used interchangeably, frosting and icing are in fact different. Frosting tends to be thick and gooey, with a cream or butter base. It is slathered on cake layers, or applied in fluffy waves. Icing is thinner, sometimes with simply a sugar base, and creates a glaze on cakes and pastry, such as the kind you find on coffee cakes.
This idea is backed up in a Williams-Sonoma release simply entitled Cakes, in which it is noted that icing is "used to coat and/ or fill a cake...similar to a frosting, and the terms are frequently used interchangeably"...but ultimately "an icing is generally thinner and glossier" than frosting, which is "a thick, fluffy mixture, such as buttercream, used to coat the outside of a cake." Of course, the book even goes on to even differentiate a glaze from the two as being "thinner than either a frosting or an icing"...which makes the slope all the more slippery--but does further define the difference between these sweet toppings.

OK--so to review, with pictures:

Cinnamon Roll, Nielsen's, Queen Anne, SeattleTop Pot Doughnut (Purchased at Top Pot Belltown)
GLAZE: Thinnest type of sugar topping, often made with just a sugar base. Usually translucent. Common on cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, and heavier cakes like pound cake that don't need a lot more on top.
Bittersweet, ChicagoMini Flower CakesLe Fournil, SeattleChaos Theory, Chicago
ICING: Thicker than a glaze but not always opaque. Can be made with a sugar base or may also include egg whites, butter or cream. The term "icing" is often used interchangeably with "frosting". Coffee cakes and cookies are often "iced" rather than "frosted".
Magnolia Bakery CupcakesCloseup of Wedding Cake from Layers in Monterey, CAFrostingFrosting the Cupcake
FROSTING: The thickest of the lot, opaque and fluffy; think buttercream frosting on a birthday cake.

Of course, regardless of a picture chart, what became clear during our research is that while there are some ways to discern whether it may be a glaze, icing or frosting atop your sweet treat, it really is a fine line, and one ought not worry unduly about the difference. Because really, whether it's the sweet glaze on your doughnut, the fluffy frosting on your cupcake or the icing on the cake--it's the taste that counts.

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