Cakes and cupcakes are the ultimate celebratory dessert perfect for birthdays, parties, anniversaries, and weddings. There’s hardly a happy occasion where you won’t find them, and honestly, we’d be bummed if we didn’t.
With so many flavors to choose from, some of the most popular cakes include chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, carrot, and pineapple upside-down cake. Yum!
However, let’s be honest. While these cakes are great on their own, what really makes them shine is the frosting on top.
Cake frosting is the thick and fluffy coating on the top and sides of the cake, often used to decorate it and make it look prettier and more appealing.
Two of the most commonly used frosting techniques include using whipped icing and buttercream. If you’ve ever baked a cake or cupcake at home and attempted to decorate it with either of the two, you’d know that they are not the same.
So, what is the difference between whipped icing and buttercream? While both of them are used as cake frostings, the difference in their ingredients, flavor, and texture determine how they can be used for decoration and how long they will remain stable.
Read on to find out how whipped icing and buttercream are different in taste and texture, what they are made with, how they are used to decorate cakes, and much more!
What Is Whipped Icing?
Whipped icing is made using two basic ingredients: whipped cream and powdered sugar. For added stability, some whipped icings also use meringue powder.
The process of making whipped icing starts with taking chilled whipping cream and whipping it using a beater or stand mixer until it becomes light and fluffy. Powdered sugar is slowly added to the cream until soft peaks start to form.
You can add a few drops of food coloring to the whipped icing to give it a nice color based on your decoration preferences. It is best suited to pastel tones, though.
What Is Buttercream?
Buttercream is made using butter or shortening, powdered sugar, milk, and flavorings. It starts with whipping the fats until they are light and fluffy. You may use just butter or a combination of butter and shortening.
The milk is then used to add moisture to the fats, and powdered sugar is slowly added to the mix until it reaches the desired consistency.
Buttercream can be used in its original color i.e., white with a slight yellow tint, or it may be dyed using food colorings in a variety of bright colors and pretty pastel shades.
There are several variations of buttercream, with some of the most common ones including simple American buttercream, decorator’s buttercream, and meringue buttercream.
American buttercream, also known as simple buttercream, is a combination of fat (softened butter) and powdered sugar. You may add eggs (whole, yolks, or whites), milk, or nonfat milk solids to the mix as well.
Decorator’s buttercream is a variation that uses vegetable shortening instead of butter.
Since butter tends to melt or become very soft at room temperature, buttercream made with butter is not ideal for making decorative flowers and curlicues you so often see on fancy cakes.
Vegetable shortening is more stable than butter in this sense and, although it lacks the flavor and lightness of regular buttercream, it makes up for it in stability.
Although small amounts of butter may be included to give it a good taste.
Meringue buttercream is sometimes referred to as Swiss or Italian meringue buttercream.
It is prepared by making a hot syrup of sugar and water, beating it into whipped egg whites, and then whipping some softened butter into the meringue.
This type of buttercream is comparatively more stable since the meringue is heated, also making it extremely light and airy.
Difference Between Whipped Icing and Buttercream
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.
Texture and Flavor
Buttercream is a rich and creamy type of frosting that is popular among many bakers and chefs for decorating cakes and other desserts.
It has a smooth and creamy texture that is easily spreadable, and its flavor is sweet and buttery.
The fats in the buttercream are great at grabbing the flavor of extracts, fruit, and chocolate really well, and can be customized according to your preference.
Whipped icing, on the other hand, has a delicate texture that is both smooth and airy. It isn’t as spreadable due to the presence of air in the mix, and you are likely to see bubbles or pockets of air in its finish.
Uses In Cake Decoration
Buttercream is usually the frosting of choice for decorating cakes and cupcakes since it has a medium-to-thick consistency, can easily be piped, and can hold its shape well.
It holds up well at higher temperatures and forms a slight crust over its soft interior. Buttercream is not just great for cake decoration but is also sturdy enough to hold its own between layers of cake.
Whipped icing has a light and delicate consistency, making it suitable only for piping borders on cakes and cupcakes, and not for detailed designs such as flowers and swirls.
It does not hold up to higher temperatures and since it is delicate and does not form a crust, whipped icing is not suitable for stacked and layered cakes.
Buttercream has a longer shelf life and can stay fresh in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks if kept in an airtight container. When on a cake, it can sit at room temperature if kept covered but must be consumed within 2-3 days.
Whipped icing lasts only 2 days in the refrigerator and, since it is made primarily from whipped cream, it cannot sit out at room temperature. When on a cake, it must be kept refrigerated and eaten within 2 days.
Now that you know the difference between whipped icing and buttercream, we’re sure you will now be confident when choosing the right kind of frosting to decorate your cakes and cupcakes.
Here are a few additional questions regarding the topic!
How do I decorate a cake with whipped icing?
You can decorate a cake with whipped icing but you have to be a little careful since it is delicate and may melt or separate.
The best way is to decorate the cake and serve it immediately without having to store it outside or in the refrigerator.
If put in between layers of heavy cake, whipped icing will easily deflate since it is not as strong and stable. If used on a tall cake, it may slide off eventually. Therefore, a sheet cake works best.
Make sure the cake is thoroughly chilled and the utensils you are working with are cold. Stick to simple borders and patterns and stay clear of complicated designs and swirls.
What is royal icing?
Royal icing is made by beating together egg whites, powdered sugar, and lime juice and is traditionally used to decorate dense fruit cakes and cookies. You may substitute egg whites with meringue powder to eliminate the risk of salmonella.
It is a pure white paste that looks smooth and solidifies into a hard outer shell upon drying. Glycerin is often added to it to give it the right texture and prevent it from setting too hard.
It can also be easily dyed using any edible food colorings.
Can you freeze cakes with buttercream frosting?
If you are planning to store a cake in the freezer, make sure that it is packed properly to avoid freezer burn and to ensure it stays fresh for as long as possible.
Luckily, buttercream frosting freezes really well since it is rich and sturdy, making it easy to freeze cakes decorated with it. To start off, make sure the cake is fully cooled and frosted.
Next, place the cake in the freezer for around 4 hours or until it is completely frozen. Make sure to leave it uncovered.
The reason to leave it uncovered is so that it prevents the frosting to stick to the plastic wrap you’ll be using in the next step.
Once it is completely frozen, take it out of the freezer and wrap it in several layers of plastic wrap. You may want to add an extra layer of aluminum foil in addition to the plastic wrap.
After it is properly covered, put it back in the freezer. If stored properly and at the right temperature, you may safely freeze it for up to 1 year. However, it may lose its freshness over time, which is why it is best to eat it as early as possible.
Make sure to label the cake with the date you put it in the freezer so that you can easily keep track of how long it has been and consume it, or throw it out, accordingly.
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