11 Types of Frosting All Bakers Need to Know

There's a whole world of tasty frosting beyond the canned stuff. Learn how to make all the best types of frosting to top your bakes.

Taste of Home

Stop! Before you even think of topping that homemade cake with a can of store-bought frosting, check out all the types of frosting you can whip up in your kitchen.

Now before you think all frostings are the same, check out some of our favorite buttercreams, ganaches and more. You’ll find lots to love for your next birthday cake, batch of cupcakes or sheet cake.

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American Buttercream

Skill Level: Beginner

A classic American buttercream frosting is the place to start if you’re a beginner baker. It’s a recipe you’ll turn to time and time again for frosting cupcakes, topping birthday cakes and more.

To make this frosting, all you’ll need to do is beat softened butter with milk, confectioners’ sugar and the extract of your choice until smooth and creamy. A hand mixer or stand mixer is really the best tool for this job. Once you hit the right spreadable consistency, you can dye this frosting any color you like with food coloring.

American buttercream is an incredibly versatile frosting. Flavor it with vanilla extract for the perfect goes-with-anything icing. Adding a bit of cocoa powder is an easy way to transform this recipe into chocolate buttercream. Or think outside the box by adding peanut butter or a handful of fresh berries.

No matter the flavor, this sweet and creamy frosting can be used to frost a cake with a spatula or piped onto a cake as well.

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Cream Cheese Frosting

Skill Level: Beginner

Cream cheese frosting is very similar to American buttercream. The only difference is that this frosting uses cream cheese in addition to butter for an even richer texture and tangy flavor.

To make cream cheese frosting, beat softened cream cheese and butter together with a touch of salt and vanilla extract. Then slowly add in confectioners’ sugar and milk until it hits the right consistency.

Cream cheese frosting can be used to frost any cake or cupcake, however, it pairs especially well with classic desserts like red velvet cake, carrot cake and pumpkin bars. Because dairy is a primary ingredient here, be sure to refrigerate any desserts topped with cream cheese frosting.

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Whipped Cream Frosting

Skill Level: Beginner

Who doesn’t love fresh whipped cream? You can frost so many desserts with this airy topper.

All you have to do is make whipped cream from scratch! Whip the cream with a hand or stand mixer (you can use a whisk for a real workout!) until the cream reaches soft peaks. Then beat in confectioners’ sugar and the extract of your choice.

While delicious, whipped cream frosting does have its limitations. Cakes topped with whipped cream frosting must be kept chilled (heat is whipped cream’s worst enemy) and should be eaten as soon as they are frosted. Whipped cream doesn’t last long and will weep if stored overnight. This is not for make-ahead desserts.

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German Buttercream
TMB Studio

German Buttercream

Skill Level: Intermediate

There are lots of types of buttercream out there! This frosting is super rich and creamy; that’s thanks to the pastry cream at its base.

To make German buttercream, start by making classic pastry cream (yep, the same stuff you use to fill eclairs and other French desserts). Pastry cream starts with heating a combination of sugar, cornstarch and milk until thick and bubbly. This mixture is then added to egg yolks—remember to temper them! Bring this to a boil and cook a bit more. Add vanilla extract and let it cool. To transform this into frosting, beat together with softened butter and a touch of confectioners’ sugar.

Use German buttercream with any cake that calls for buttercream frosting. Try it with this classic chocolate cake or even this banana pudding cake. You can pipe or frost your desserts as you please; this frosting has a versatile texture.

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Skill Level: Intermediate

If you’re a true chocolate fanatic, a ganache topping for your next dessert is a must. Ganache is a rich combination of chocolate and cream.

To make ganache, heat the cream to a simmer and then pour over chopped chocolate. Let the mixture rest for a minute or two, then whisk away until you have a smooth, fudgy ganache. Depending on how you’re using the ganache, you’ll want to let it sit for a bit until it’s the right texture for pouring or spreading. Our chocolate ganache guide will help you get the consistency just right.

Chocolate ganache can be used on its own to top cakes, cheesecakes or other desserts. It can also be used between cake layers or even poured on top of desserts for an extra special finish; our Special Occasion Chocolate Cake is a great example of this.

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Ganache Frosting

Skill Level: Intermediate

Ganache can also be used as a base for more traditional frostings. To make a fluffy chocolate frosting, beat confectioners’ sugar into cooled ganache until airy and spreadable. The result is a touch sweeter than classic ganache.

You can use this ganache-based frosting as you would a basic buttercream. It can be spread on top of a simple sheet cake or piped onto cupcakes or other desserts.

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Ermine Frosting

Skill Level: Intermediate

When you think about classic cakes from Grandma’s kitchen, we’re certain that more than a few were topped with ermine frosting (also called boiled milk frosting). It’s the sort of recipe that you’re likely to find in a vintage cookbook.

Make this frosting by whisking flour and milk in a saucepan and cooking until thick and bubbly. Then stir in sugar and chill until cold. Once cool, blend butter, vanilla and the milk mixture together. Keep whisking away until the frosting is perfectly fluffy. Like other frostings, ermine frostings can be flavored with different extracts and can be dyed with food coloring. Once flavored and colored to your liking, be sure to use the frosting right away.

You can use ermine frosting to top any cake, but this old-school frosting seems to pair best with vintage cake recipes and whoopie pies.

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7-Minute Frosting

Skill Level: Intermediate

This old-fashioned frosting is known for its distinctive marshmallowy texture and shiny finish. Seven-minute frosting has a bit of an old-school reputation, but it’s a recipe that you should be stirring up in your kitchen today.

This frosting starts with sugar, egg whites and cream of tartar. Heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat and beat on low until the mixture reaches 160ºF—about 10 minutes. After it hits that temperature, transfer the mixture to a bowl, add vanilla (or the extract of your choice) and beat on high until stiff peaks form. This process takes—you guessed it—about 7 minutes.

This frosting isn’t ideal for piping, so stick to the spatula for this one. Use it on this black walnut cake or pecan cake—or any cake you love.

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Taste of Home

French Buttercream

Skill Level: Advanced

French buttercream is a lesser-known frosting, but it’s a delicious option to include in your dessert lineup. You’ll find it’s exceptionally light and creamy, and less sweet than its American cousin.

This frosting is a bit more challenging to make, but it’s worth the extra effort for its rich flavor. To make French buttercream, start by heating sugar and water together in a saucepan until 240º. Temperature is key here so be sure to break out the thermometer. Meanwhile, beat egg yolks with a stand mixer until thicky and foamy; this will take about 10 minutes. Slowly add the syrup to the egg yolks and keep beating until the mixture cools down to room temperature. This will take roughly 15 minutes, so be patient. Then add in the butter a tablespoon at a time until you have a perfectly velvety frosting.

French buttercream is best used right away, so get to frosting the second it’s done. It’ll taste great covered with toasted coconut on these coconut cupcakes or sandwiched between layers of this decadent lemon cake.

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Taste of Home

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Skill Level: Advanced

Swiss meringue buttercream is a dream of a frosting; it’s light, creamy and not overly sweet. It does require a few baking skills and patience, but your efforts will be rewarded once you try this delightful frosting.

Start Swiss meringue buttercream by whisking the egg whites, sugar and salt together in a heat-proof bowl. Place this over a pan of simmering water over medium heat. Whisk this mix constantly until a thermometer reads 160º. Get those biceps ready because this process can take up to 10 minutes. When you reach that temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk with an electric mixer until it cools down to 90º. Gradually add in the butter—about a tablespoon at a time—until smooth and rich.

This sumptuous frosting is the little black dress of icings; it is super versatile. Use it on everything from our staffers’ favorite chocolate cake to this top-rated coconut cake. Just be sure to keep desserts topped with this frosting chilled until you’re just about ready to serve. Thirty minutes at room temp will have this frosting at melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

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italian meringue buttercream
TMB Studio

Italian Meringue Buttercream

Skill Level: Advanced

Italian meringue buttercream may be one of the more challenging frostings to make, but mastering this recipe pays dividends. It has the creamy, rich flavor of Swiss meringue frosting but it won’t form a crust. This continental cake topper stays silky smooth.

This buttercream frosting starts with simple syrup. Heat water and sugar together until the mix hits 250º. While that’s heating up, use a stand mixer to beat egg whites until foamy. Add sugar slowly and beat until soft peaks form. Then you’ll slowly, slowly add the hot syrup and beat the mix until it hits room temperature—about 15 to 20 minutes. Then, just like with French meringue buttercream, add the softened butter a tablespoon at a time and finish with the flavoring of your choice.

You can pipe or use a spatula to decorate cakes with this frosting. Just be sure to keep the desserts you top with Italian meringue buttercream chilled. Just like the French version, keep it in the fridge until about a half-hour before serving. And like any buttercream, this frosting really does go well with all kinds of cake. This meringue frosting is also a great way to level up some of your more humble bakes like yellow cupcakes or spice cake.

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.