How to Make Better Powdered Sugar Frosting and Frosting

Baking expert Alice Medrich is the person to ask about everything from eliminating sugar in lemon curd to saving too much whipped cream. This time, she’s sharing her top tips on icing and powdered sugar icing, so your cakes and cookies can look their best.

If you’re going to decorate a cake or cookie, chances are powdered sugar will come in handy. This ingredient can be the start of a thick, fluffy frosting for building layer cakes, or a thin, pourable frosting for drizzling Bundts or decorating holiday cookies. Combine shortening (butter or shortening), a splash of milk or cream, and vanilla extract (if you want vanilla flavor), and you have the makings of the perfect cream frosting buttered. There are, as always, variations. The cream cheese frosting follows the same formula but (surprise!) requires cream cheese, which makes the frosting even fluffier and gives it its signature flavor and super white color. Today we are going to cover both icing and powdered sugar icing recipes. But above all :

Types of powdered sugar

Also called confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar is granulated sugar that has been ground into a superfine powder, with a little starch added to prevent clumping. In standard powdered sugar, that means ultra-white color, mild-neutral flavor, and cornstarch as an anti-caking agent. In biological powdered sugar, on the other hand, gives you a warmer color, more caramel flavor, and tapicoa is the starch of choice (just a few reasons why Stella Parks of Serious Eats loves this ingredient). The two make noticeably different frostings – so you just have to try both to see which you like best.

What is powdered sugar frosting?

Powdered sugar frosting — also called quick frosting, American buttercream, or even just buttercream (let’s not tell the French) — is the frosting most Americans grew up with. It’s easy, super gentle, and gets the job done quickly.

How to make basic powdered sugar icing

To make this classic frosting, you will need 1 stick (4 ounces/113 grams) softened butter, 4 cups (one pound box) powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 4 to 6 tablespoons milk (or other liquid, such as cream), and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract until fluffy. To make the frosting, start by beating the butter with an electric mixer or stand mixer for a few minutes. The softer it is, the easier it will be to incorporate the powdered sugar, and the more spreadable it will be. Slowly add the confectioners sugar (don’t do it too quickly or it will be sugar all over your counter) and mix on medium-low speed to combine. Once all the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and continue creaming the butter-sugar mixture until it is light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract or another flavoring (orange extract, almond extract, coconut extract, or lemon juice are all delicious additions) and stir to combine. If using milk or cream, pour in and stir until incorporated.

How to fix frosting that is too stiff

Resist the urge to add more liquid. Instead, warm the mixture slightly by placing the bowl in a large bowl or pot of hot tap water for a few seconds at a time, beating after each, until you have the desired consistency. Tip: A stainless steel bowl works best because the glass heats up very slowly and retains heat for a long time after you remove the bowl from the water, so your frosting can continue to soften even when you don’t want it to.

How to fix a frosting that is too stiff, soft or even soupy

Resist the urge to add more powdered sugar and therefore even more sweetness (at least until you’ve tried this): place the bowl in an ice bath – this will firm up the butter – and beat until to desired consistency. You can also place the bowl in the refrigerator to relax a bit, then continue beating.

How to improve the flavor of powdered sugar icing:

The starch added to most powdered sugars can give the frosting a slightly metallic taste. Here’s how to solve this problem: Melt the butter and mix it with the powdered sugar, salt and milk in a stainless steel bowl. Place the bowl in a large pan of barely simmering water for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bowl from water, add vanilla and beat until cool and frothy; place the bowl in an ice bath to cool and thicken the icing faster.

What is powdered sugar icing?

If you’ve ever eaten a festively decorated cookie or three, you’ve come across powdered sugar frosting, which also goes by powdered sugar frosting. It comes in two different forms: liquid-based and egg-white-based (known as Royal icing). More on both of these below.

Proportion of powdered sugar to base liquid

2 cups powdered sugar mixed with 2-3 tablespoons liquid until smooth, plus more salt to taste. You can use a spoon or a fork to mix. The liquid can be water, milk, cream, coffee, espresso, or juice (high-pigment liquids like pomegranate or beetroot add color and flavor). You can also add extractives, like vanilla or almond, for flavor – just keep in mind that this will make the frosting even thinner. This type of frosting is best drizzled over coffee cake, pound cake, Bundt cake, or homemade donuts.

Royal icing basic recipe

To make royal icing, mix 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar mixed with 1 egg white (about 1 1/4 ounces) until smooth, plus salt to taste. You can use a fork or a whisk to mix. The egg white not only creates the glossy sheen that royal icing is known for, but it also helps give the icing body so it can stiffen. Like the liquid-based variety, you can flavor royal icing with any extract. You can also dye the icing with natural food coloring, from red and orange to green and blue; more on these variations here.