Buttercream vs Whipped Icing - What Is The Difference? (2023)

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Despite commonly known phrases, the real ‘cherry on top of the perfect cake is the part we all remember – the icing. The perfect sponge cupcakes come out – fluffy, airy and full of flavor, or you could empty the baking tin to reveal the perfectly dense, sticky chocolate cake, but what happens next is going to be the determining factor on just how fantastic your dessert is. Not only is the icing the first thing people notice, but as the top, or the outer layer, it is also often the first thing people taste.

Too heavy means too sickly, too light and it won’t stand out, too thick and it takes away from the cake, too thin and it can leave your cakes tasting drier than people may like. Then you have the ingredients necessary to get the perfect taste – we have all heard various myths. Do you use whipped cream? Meringue powder? Softened butter? Hard butter? Vanilla extract? Cream cheese? Almond extract? On top of the taste and texture test, pressure can come from the consistency and make-up of your whipped icing.

Too runny and it won’t hold, too firm and it could rip up your cake, and that doesn’t even go to mention the temperature of the room and the cake and how this will impact the finale. One of the main questions bakers often ask is whether there is a difference between buttercream frosting and whipped icing, and if so, which is better to use and why?

(Video) Buttercream vs. Whipped Cream | THE BEST ICING FOR YOUR CAKE!

What is whipped icing?

Buttercream vs Whipped Icing - What Is The Difference? (1)

To really compare buttercream frosting with whipped icing, first, we need to properly understand what they both are. Traditionally, the icing was made with powdered sugar, also known as icing sugar, and water, or sometimes lemon juice or egg whites (as this helps it to bind more). This mixture is still used often and is known as ‘royal icing’. From here, you can then add any food coloring or flavoring, although royal icing doesn’t tend to be flavored unless with lemon juice, as it is more of a visual aid for cakes.

You will find royal icing is used to decorate things like gingerbread houses, or as the outer layer of wedding cakes. This is because it dries hard, fast, and evenly as it sets, so it is great to use as a base for further decorations. It also provides a slightly sweet taste but doesn’t take away from the cake or biscuit itself. However, this mix is also very runny before it sets and so it is not an icing that you can pipe or shape.

As a result of this, people developed whipped icing. The ingredients are the same (traditionally powdered sugar and egg whites or water), however, as the name suggests, the mixture is whipped as opposed to stir, and this brings more air through the mixture causing it to become lighter and thus possible to pipe and shape, but still ultimately dries hard and flatter.

(Video) Whipped Icing Or Buttercream? That Is The Question

For whipped icing, it is recommended to whip by hand with a hand whisk, as an electric whisk can add too much pressure and remove the air bubbles necessary for the desired consistency. It is less successful to make it with water as the weight of this doesn’t quite allow for the correct air bubbles to form. Alternatively, some people add meringue powder, as this helps to combine the mixture and creates a slightly stiffer, more desired consistency, perfect for shaping. Similarly, you can add any coloring at this point ideal for creating visuals.

Typically, people use whipped icing to decorate on top of royal icing layers, such as buttons or faces on gingerbread men, but it is mainly used to create individual decorations, like decorative flowers or letters, to then add to their cakes after. This is because the mix can be piped, but still dries hard so it is easy to transfer and will remain stable.

What is Whipped Cream Frosting?

Buttercream vs Whipped Icing - What Is The Difference? (2)

Often, people may confuse whipped icing with whipped cream frosting. The whipped cream frosting is in fact very dissimilar to whipped icing, so make sure to double-check which type your recipes call for. Whipped cream frosting is made from heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar, and may have other flavors added depending on the product you are making. You begin by beating the heavy whipping cream until it is stiff and fluffy, and then you mix in your powdered sugar. The air from beating the heavy cream will create an extremely light texture, similar to usual cake frosting.

However, the mixture is in fact as light as it looks and has a very delicate consistency, so it cannot take much pressure. You may be able to pipe it through a wide nozzle, but any smaller decorating nozzles will flatten the bubbles and your mixture will become runny.

In addition, you won’t be able to use this mixture in the middle of a layer cake, as the weight of the sponge will flatten the cream. It is recommended to keep the whipped cream frosting at room temperature or chilled conditions, as the cream can begin to melt. Working with chilled whipping cream can help to strengthen the whipped cream frosting, but ultimately this is an icing best used for the top of cakes and desserts.

(Video) Is Whipped Icing Healthier Than Buttercream?

So, with royal icing having a very runny and thin consistency, whipped icing drying solid and therefore not ideal for cake layering or coating, and whipped cream frosting being too light to take the pressure of intricate piping and cake layers, a creamy but firm alternative really is a necessity.

What is Buttercream Frosting?

Buttercream icing (as it is known in the UK) is often referred to as just ‘frosting’ when a recipe requires American buttercream and is very similar in appearance to whipped cream frosting. However, buttercream and whipped cream have very different flavors and consistencies. Buttercream serves a very different purpose to whipped icing due to the difference in texture, consistency, flavor and versatility.

The whipped icing vs buttercream icing debate really depends on the use of the icing. Unlike whipped icings, buttercream is not a sugar-based product. Although it is also made with powdered sugar, the base ingredient is a type of fat – usually unsalted butter, but margarine or shortening can also be used. This is then mixed in a large bowl with powdered sugar, usually some vanilla essence, and then any colorings or flavors you also desire. Small spoons of milk can be added to loosen the mix if it becomes too firm.

The sturdiness from the butter combined with the dry powdered sugar means that the whipped buttercream can reach the perfect consistency for coating an entire cake, but can also be made even firmer and used to pipe the top of cupcakes or to create piping borders or lettering as decoration. Similar to whipped cream frosting, it is important to work with buttercream in a room temperature or a chilled environment to prevent the butter from melting. If the icing is room temperature, I would recommend popping your cake in the freezer for a few minutes between each coating of icing (if you are coating the entire cake), as this helps to prevent the crumbs from coming loose and mixing in with the buttercream frosting and gives a smoother appearance.

Further to these benefits, the creamy texture and buttery flavor mean that it is the perfect base to create flavor buttercream. Whether that be vanilla frosting with some vanilla essence, chocolate buttercream frosting with some cocoa powder, lemon frosting with lemon zest (be sure to use little to no lemon juice as this will curdle with dairy), or even cream cheese frosting is made with a buttercream base by simply adding the correct quantities of cream cheese and removing some of the butter.

(Video) What is the difference between icing and frosting?

Whipped Icing vs Buttercream Frosting

Buttercream vs Whipped Icing - What Is The Difference? (3)

So, the real debate really comes down to whether whipped icing is better than whipped buttercream icing. In terms of flavor, buttercream carries a stronger, creamier and more desirable taste. However, if you are someone who isn’t so into the sickly sweetness of delicious icing, then whipped icing is a lighter, more manageable alternative. If you are looking at texture, then the airiness of whipped icing is a lot less filling, and buttercream can be quite heavy and rich, however, these differences also allow buttercream to be a lot more versatile.

The strength of buttercream means that it is ideal for not only layering your cakes but also coating your cakes and even then decorating the cakes. However, the dairy in this icing means that it needs to be worked with at specific temperatures and it will also never properly harden, so may need more protection.

Meanwhile, the delicate texture of whipped icing means that whilst it can be used to ice a cake, the most successful use of whipped icing is to pipe it into cake decorations and use it this way once hardened. The harder texture of whipped icing can make it more desirable as an icing for smaller cakes, like cupcakes, as it provides a lighter layer and doesn’t take away from the flavor of the sponge.

When it comes to making the icing, whipped icing can be a lot easier to get right and calls for less ingredients, making it slightly more accessible and a choice to go for if baking with kids or beginners, similar to royal icing.

The Icing on the Cake

It comes without saying that buttercream frosting takes the lead. you can ice an entire cake with nothing but buttercream frosting, whereas this would not be possible with whipped icing. Whilst whipped icing may be a better alternative for goodies like cupcakes and cookies, and when decorating specific treats like gingerbread men and houses, piped buttercream can still suffice for the same role. On top of this, if you are seeking delicious, flavorful icing, then buttercream frosting works as a more effective base to mix in any other flavors. Therefore, to ice a cake the right way, I would recommend using buttercream for your layers and coating, and for any intricate details, you could make separate decorations with whipped icing and combine the two for the perfect finale!

(Video) The Differences Buttercream Vs Cream Cheese Frosting

FAQs

What is the difference between whipped icing and buttercream icing? ›

The main difference between whipped icing and buttercream is the use of butter or shortening. The addition of butter in buttercream makes it creamy, buttery, and rich, whereas no butter in whipped icing results in a light, airy, and fluffy frosting that is more similar to glaze.

What is better buttercream or whipped cream icing? ›

Next we'll explore handling buttercream is thick because the base of this icing is butter

Which icing is sweeter whipped or buttercream? ›

Because it doesn't contain protein (eggs, butter), icing will harden more quickly and taste sweeter than buttercream. Whipped icing is created by incorporating air into the icing using beaters or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment.

What is the most stable frosting for cake? ›

Silky smooth Italian buttercream is the most stable of all the buttercreams and is not very sweet. It is made by pouring hot sugar syrup into whipping egg whites and then finished with butter, salt and flavoring.

Which icing is best for cake decorating? ›

Royal icing is one of the best icings for decorating cakes. Mixing together powdered sugar, egg whites, and meringue powder or liquid provides a consistency relative to pancake batter. This makes it easy to pour into pastry bags to fulfill your decorating dreams.

How long will whipped cream frosting last on a cake? ›

I recommend using this whipped cream frosting the day you plan to eat it if possible! However, you can frost a cake or cupcakes a few days in advance if needed. Just be sure to chill them in the fridge once frosted! The frosting will keep its shape and consistency for up to 3 days.

What is the best cream to decorate a cake? ›

The most famous cream available in India is Amul Fresh Cream. This can be seen in the dairy products aisle in any supermarket. This is dairy cream and low in fat and is mainly used in making delicious, creamy chocolate ganache.

Does whipped icing need to be refrigerated? ›

Always refrigerate any cake with a frosting that contains eggs or egg whites, or one that has whipped-cream frosting or any type of filling — be it whipped cream, custard, fruit or mousse. You won't hurt a cake by refrigerating it, but the cold does dry it out.

What does whipped frosting taste like? ›

Flavor: Like the consistency, the whipped frosting flavor is light. It's a little sweet, a little tangy, and flavored with vanilla extract. I especially love it with soft cakes that have strong flavor such as lemon blueberry cake, pumpkin cake, and citrus cake.

Does whipped icing melt? ›

Whisking the frosting creates the air bubbles that make it so fluffy. But the air bubbles that make whipped cream frosting so light and fluffy leave it prone to melting. Air bubbles are hard to keep down. Whipped cream separates and melts easily so its best to use it quickly.

Can I use whipped cream instead of buttercream? ›

If you are looking for a super simple frosting that lets the cake shine, whipped cream is the way to go. Unlike a buttercream, which is rich to a fault (it's called buttercream, after all), whipped cream is relatively light and delightfully fluffy.

Which buttercream is best for covering a cake? ›

American Buttercream

This is the 'frosting' that seems to be used the most and is the simplest to make. Featuring butter, icing sugar and a splash of milk or cream for consistency, American buttercream is great for filling cakes, covering cakes and topping cupcakes.

What icing is used on wedding cakes? ›

Royal Icing:

It will stay firm for a long period of time, which is why royal icing is the most popular choice for destination weddings, or for long periods of travel. Royal icing is also pure white in colour, making it perfect for the all-white wedding cake, or a great blank canvas to colour!

What buttercream do professionals use? ›

Swiss meringue buttercream is probably the most standard buttercream for pastry professionals. It is incredibly smooth, making it an extremely popular choice for icing cakes.

Which type of frosting is best? ›

Buttercream is the icing most commonly found on store-bought cakes, and it's usually what you're using when you cheat and pick up a can of premade frosting from the supermarket. It's rich, sweet, and can typically survive at room temperature without making a mess. Buttercream is also very versatile.

What type of icing that is stiff and shiny? ›

Ganache. Ganache is simply chocolate melted with heavy cream. This frosting makes a beautiful shiny coating on cakes and cookies. Here's an easy dessert trick to pull off with homemade ganache: If you chill and beat the ganache until it's fluffy and stiff, then form the mixture into balls, you'll end up with truffles.

What is whipped icing? ›

Whipped cream frosting is made from heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar, and may have other flavors added depending on the product you are making. You begin by beating the heavy whipping cream until it is stiff and fluffy, and then you mix in your powdered sugar.

Can I use whipped cream instead of buttercream? ›

If you are looking for a super simple frosting that lets the cake shine, whipped cream is the way to go. Unlike a buttercream, which is rich to a fault (it's called buttercream, after all), whipped cream is relatively light and delightfully fluffy.

Does whipped icing need to be refrigerated? ›

Always refrigerate any cake with a frosting that contains eggs or egg whites, or one that has whipped-cream frosting or any type of filling — be it whipped cream, custard, fruit or mousse. You won't hurt a cake by refrigerating it, but the cold does dry it out.

What type of icing is used for wedding cakes? ›

Royal Icing:

It will stay firm for a long period of time, which is why royal icing is the most popular choice for destination weddings, or for long periods of travel. Royal icing is also pure white in colour, making it perfect for the all-white wedding cake, or a great blank canvas to colour!

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