Sugarpaste piping, plaques, fondant and trellis: when did icing become so complicated? No wonder most of us avoid it, commissioning bespoke wedding or birthday cakes instead of decorating our own. Well, it’s time someone demystified the most unpopular icing techniques. If you’d like the confidence to try your hand at sugar roses or a Royal Iced Christmas Cake, read our guide, and have a go.
Royal or Fondant Icing?
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. But there are some subtle differences. Fondant icing is an all-purpose icing, usually made with glucose and icing sugar. Its thick consistency makes it perfect for shaping models, or rolling out to cover cakes, but it’s often made more thinly and poured or spread on cakes. Fondant icing hardens as it dries, but not to a completely hard set. For that you’ll need Royal icing – traditionally made with raw egg whites, and available ready-to-roll. This sets absolutely hard, and is often used on Christmas or Wedding Cakes.
Making Your Own Fondant Icing
To every 450g (1lb) of icing sugar, add 1 whisked egg white and 50g (2oz) liquid (use half liquid glucose to give a more flexible set – make up the rest with colouring or flavouring).
Making Your Own Royal Icing
For Royal icing, blend 450g (1lb) icing sugar (choose Royal Icing sugar if possible) with 2 whisked egg whites, and add 1tsp of liquid. If you’re planning to roll the icing, add more sugar until it reaches a kneadable consistency.
There’s a word to strike terror into your heart. Sugarpaste is a mouldable icing paste used to make intricate roses, veined leaves and other decorations for your cake. It sets hard so it’s ideal for 3D decorations. Sugarpaste is traditionally the domain of experienced cake decorators, but it needn’t be! If you’re uncertain about your artistic skills in this department, why not enlist the children… 5-year-olds can get away with wonky eyes and big noses far better than you!
Making Your Own Sugarpaste
Sugarpaste is a simple mix of 3tbsp liquid to every 450g (1lb) icing sugar. Use half lemon juice and half water, or try your own flavourings, and add a little at a time until you reach a kneadable consistency. It is recommended that adding a little soft butter (about 1tbsp) to the paste makes it a easier to model as the butter melts slightly in your hands.
Try Making a Rose
Glam up your next cake with a scattering of sugar roses. They’re beautiful to look at and surprisingly simple to make. Start with a 3D teardrop piece of paste – this will be your rosebud. Now pinch off several more small pieces of paste, and shape them into flat petals. Layer them around the bud one at a time, pinching at the bottom to secure. You’ll soon get the hang of it.
Possibly the easiest and the most delicious form of icing is Butter Icing. It’s no wonder this is such a popular choice! There’s no need for marzipan or first coats: you just slather Butter Icing straight onto the cake, and it sets (softly) to create a textured covering.Making Your Own Butter IcingIt couldn’t be easier to make your own. Beat 225g (8oz) softened butter with 1tbsp liquid (use milk, lemon juice, coffee, rum, brandy, Tia Maria, or even Baileys – but don’t forget this may change the colour). Slowly add 275g (10oz) icing sugar (you may need up to 350g (12oz) it's laborious to achieve the consistency you like).
Glacé icing is a runny, spoonable icing that sets to a crackable surface. This is the icing used on cupcakes and drizzled over tray-bakes. It’s incredibly versatile and easy to make, but don’t expect an impressive finish: glacé icing forms a thin, matt covering with a distinctly homemade feel!
Making Your Own Glace Icing
To every 110g (4oz) icing sugar (enough for a 7-8” cake) you’ll need 1-1.5tbsp of liquid, depending on how thick you’d like the finished result. You can make chocolate glacé icing by substituting 2tbsp of the sugar for cocoa (use a superior cooking cocoa for best results). Your liquid can be anything from espresso to orange juice. If you’re making a simple tea-time cake, make a drizzling syrup using 50g (2oz) icing sugar to 2tbsp liquid. This leaves the cake super-moist and flavourful.
You’ll find some modern alternatives to icing in our section on Flavoured Fillings. Birthday Cake Icing ideas can be found in Special Occasion Cakes. And if you’re interested in advancing your icing skills, we’d recommend the long-standing sugarcraft bible, The International School of Sugarcraft.
I worked with sugar paste etc in the uk however i have since moved to the caribbean and i really struggle with the heat. Any suggestions apart from trying to find a large fridge to sit in? thanks
missstitch - 17-Jun-13 @ 12:11 PM
what is the best thing to use to write / pipe messages on fresh cream cakes?
tanya - 3-Jun-13 @ 11:49 AM
i want to create millifiori with fondant icing, does anyone know how to do this
lu lu - 2-Mar-12 @ 9:40 PM
hi i am making fondant roses to put on cupcakes for february so 4 weeks away.how long will my roses last but still taste nice.how far in advance do i need to make my roses
tam - 7-Jan-12 @ 8:53 PM
I have been given cutters to make stand up snowflakes with. the centre of the cutters also press out the gaps between the (veins/shapes) of the snowflakes and I have absolutely no idea how to use them or what type of icing to use. Help?
JudyT - 6-Dec-11 @ 6:03 AM
Hi Mandy - there's some useful information in this article which should help.
CakeBaker - 25-Jul-11 @ 12:36 PM
I've made a rich fruit cake for my wedding in september and want to know when I can marzipan it and then cover it will roll out icing?How long will the roll out icing last when its on the cake? I am getting married on 3rd September and want to know when I can start this?
mandy - 24-Jul-11 @ 4:30 PM
Hi I have just tried to gold leaf two initials for a wedding cake anR and U.
this is the first time I have tried using this and what a mess I got in, I researched how to do it and followed it to the letter, but...it seemed to disintegrate, I very lightly used boiled cool water to coat the letter then very very gently put the gold on to it and with a soft brush tapped it on, it seemed to come off again in parts and looked very grainy, I had another go using glue this time but the same thing happend, what am I doing wrong? is this an art in itself?
thankyou so much
mary - 15-Jul-11 @ 3:00 PM
Wow, everything I have been looking for on the one page, and all in UK terms too!*bookmarked*!