Being a sweet tooth is no sin and especially icing has made any and every cake, cupcake or cookie look and taste even better. Icing actually makes it better - hence the saying, "the icing on the cake. So what's the secret to the perfect icing?
Icing is the essential decorator's tool, making cakes appear beautiful and even more delicious. There are many different types of icing that can be used for decoration. Different varieties of icing, like buttercream, royal, poured sugar and glaze, all have different textures, flavours and uses in cake and cookie decoration. Fondant is also a type of icing. Many cake decorators use a combination of icings to embellish a cake to bring out the theme of the decoration.
The simplest icing is a glacé icing, containing simply icing sugar and water. This can be flavoured and coloured as desired, for example by using lemon juice instead of the water.
More complicated icings can be made by beating fat into icing sugar (buttercream icing), by melting fat and sugar together, by using egg whites (royal icing), and by adding other ingredients such as glycerin (fondant).
Some icings can be made from combinations of sugar and cream cheese or sour cream, or by using ground almonds (marzipan).
This article focuses on Royal Icing, Fondant Icing, Buttercream Icing as well as a few basics on the art of icing your Christmas Cake.
Traditionally glossy royal icing would be used to cover a Christmas and if all you want is to create a snow effect on the surface, then this is the best icing to use.
Royal icing has an egg-white base that sets hard on standing (it dried on contact with air) and therefore it is also ideal for frosting cookies.
Royal icing is also used for making flowers, piping decorations and for decorating cookies and gingerbread houses since it has quite a sweet flavour.
On the other hand, royal icing dries to bone-hard consistency, becoming brittle and easy to crack. Therefore, royal icing decorations have to be handled carefully to prevent breaking. Exposure to moisture makes royal icing soft and gummy again but perhaps spoiling decorations and altering the consistency.
In comparison, fondant, also a classic icing to clover a Christmas cake needs practice and expertise to apply.
Fondant is also a type of icing that is used in different ways to ice cakes. Fondant has a clay-like consistency that can be shaped to make flowers and decorations and also rolled out to cover cakes.
In fact it is the ideal icing for a fruitcake since it covers cakes completely and seals out air, hence it preserves the cake very well.
There are two main types of fondant used in cake decorating:
Fondant can be made at home, but many decorators prefer the easy availability of ready-made fondant.
Professional cake decorators prefer using fondant because of is ease of use and finish that fondant gives to cakes; Marshmallow fondant is a standard recipe for wedding cakes for example.
The consistency of fondant depends on the recipe used. Unlike buttercream icing that can be thinned out using water, fondant has to be made from scratch from a different recipe if you want a different consistency.
Fondant remains soft after decorating and does not dry out completely. It might form a crust, but never dries hard.
Buttercream is a popular icing that is made with a combination of butter, powdered sugar and flavouring. These are mixed together to make a rich, sweet, and creamy frosting. It spreads easily and is therefore perfect for smoothing over cakes, but also for piping designs and flowers, and writing. It stays well at room temperature and can be coloured using liquid or gel food colours.
Buttercream Icing goes really well with any kind of cupcake since it can be piped on top the cupcake becoming eye candy!
The consistency of buttercream can be varied depending on the use. Stiff buttercream can be used to pipe flowers and borders. Slightly thinned out buttercream can be used to spread smoothly over cakes and pipe lace-like decorations to cover cake surfaces.
Glazes are thin, watery icings which form a hard, crisp shell when poured or brushed over cakes and pastries. Glazes are usually made with a fruit flavour, although other flavours, such as chocolate or coffee, are sometimes popular as well. Like flat icing, glazes can be used on sweet breakfast pastries like coffee cakes. They add flavour, and also help keep the pastry moist and improve its shelf life.
Chocolate ganache is another cupcake frosting alternative. A ganache has a beautiful rich, smooth texture that transforms a cupcake into a magnificent dessert. It is easy to make and I guarantee you'll receive compliments from everyone who tries it.
Cream Cheese Frosting is a perfect partner for just about any cupcake recipe. You can play around with the quantities of butter and cream cheese to achieve a unique flavour.
To the beginner, the difference is barely noticeable. Pick up a packet of either in your supermarket and you'll be able to roll out a smooth layer of icing for your cake. Easy as that.
Both icings are more or less identical. Because of its plasticity, fondant icing can be rolled. Royal icing is applied in coats with a palette knife, building up structural layers, over days, as you go along. The penultimate coat is then sanded down and a much more liquid final coat of royal icing is applied to give the finish.
Sometimes wedding cake decorators prefer Fondant as it gives the cakes a smooth look. Traditionally Royal Icing is used on Christmas Cakes. But whatever look you prefer, the endless creation possibilities with both types are endless and can be applied according to your personal taste.
An idea: Fondant Icing is an easy and quick way to create a smooth iced surface for your cake. It is rolled and placed on the cake in a similar way to the marzipan. You can use it alone, or with the marzipan layer and even finish with a splash of royal icing if you are feeling a little decadent.
The Right Tools
The cake you are about to be decorating must be completely cooled before any icing even gets near it. When it's finished baking, let it cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes before placing it on a cooling rack. Following that, it will take several hours to cool. You might even consider baking the cake the day before you decorate it, and then refrigerating it overnight.
When working with any type of icing, you must have clean, moisture-free tools so that the icing flavour and consistency are not altered.
Icing can be applied with a utensil such as a knife or spatula, or it can be applied by drizzling or dipping or by rolling the icing out and draping it over the cake. The method of application largely depends on the type and texture of icing being used. Icing may be used between layers in a cake as a filling, or it may be used to completely or partially cover the outside of a cake or other baked product.
Fondant has to be rolled using a rolling pin. Different cutters and rollers can also be used to give embossed or imprinted effects. A fondant smoother is also helpful to remove bubbles and bumps from the cake after rolling out the fondant and placing it over the cake.
Fondant does not use the tips and piping bags that are used for buttercream and royal icing. To use buttercream or royal icing, you need a piping bag to pour the icing in, and different tips and nozzles to produce designs and flowers. The shape and design of piped decorations depends highly on the piping expertise of the decorator.
Icing your Christmas Cake
Don't leave Christmas cake icing until the last minute. It needs to be at the very latest a week before Christmas, preferably two.
You don't have to be a professional cake decorator to know how to ice a Christmas cake, it is actually quite easy to produce a lovely cake to take centre stage on the Christmas tea table. But decorator or not it is one of the fun jobs in the run up to Christmas is the Christmas Cake icing.
You can make your own or of course buy ready-made marzipan and/or fondant icing.
But before any icing takes place you will need to cover the cake with a thick layer of almond paste (Marzipan). As well as giving a lovely almond flavour to the cake, the thick paste layer creates a cushion between the cake and the icing. It is important once the marzipan is on the cake that you leave it to dry for a few days or up to one week before icing. If you ice too soon the oil from the almond paste will seep into the icing and spoil the appearance of the finished cake.
For decoration you can get brightly coloured ribbons, leaf cut-outs, or a sprig of holly. You and everyone else will be proud of your amazing Christmas cake.
Icing your cake and finishes touches
Brush the marzipan layer with a bit of egg white.
From your made or ready-made icing, put aside 175g of icing and roll out the rest to cover the cake.
Lift it on your rolling pin and slide it off gently onto the cake. Pat it firmly and smooth it out with your hands.
Here is a selection for you of our best icing and Christmas Cake recipes!