Working With Your Icing

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.

Butter Icing

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.

<h5><span class=Making Your Own Butter Icing

It 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

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.

More ideas…

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.

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