Whether it’s cake, cupcakes, or cookies, we can all agree that icing any baked good to a whole other level!
The thing is, icing comes in so many styles used for enhancing flavor and/or decoration that telling them apart can be quite a challenge. Fondant is a type of icing, and so is royal icing, buttercream, and glaze.
These varieties of icing have different flavors, textures, application techniques, and uses. Knowing what each icing offers directly affects the deliciousness factor of your desserts.
Today’s guide is an in-depth comparison of fondant vs icing types to help you choose the right one for your next recipe.
Fondant is a type of icing. Many people don’t know this because fondant has a firm consistency that’s unlike typical cream icing.
Fondant has a playdough-like texture that you can knead, roll, cut, and shape. Its finish is silky smooth, and its color is white, but you can add food colors to change the shade of your fondant.
You can also incorporate artificial flavorings such as orange extract, lemon extract, vanilla extract, rose water, or almond extract to tweak the taste of the fondant. Without added flavors, fondant tastes like sweet dough meets marshmallows.
Much like other styles of icing, fondant is available in many types. Generally, these are broadly categorized under the following four types:
- Rolled fondant
- Gum paste fondant
- Sculpting fondant
- Pour fondant
Each type of fondant has different consistency and applications, providing amateur and professional bakers with great versatility to express their creativity in decoration. (more on this in the next section)
Now that you’re familiar with the concept of fondant vs icing, let’s go into the differences between them in types, ingredients hardness, coverage, application, and more.
The basic ingredients of fondant are powdered sugar and water.
Gelatin, cream of tartar, liquid glucose, and corn syrup are added depending on the consistency you want to achieve.
You can also add food colors and flavorings.
As for types, here are the four main fondant styles:
- Rolled fondant: with the appearance of smooth pie dough, this type of fondant is usually wrapped around and over cakes or cut into shapes/strips for decoration. Rolled fondant is the most common fondant.
- Gum paste fondant: a variety of rolled fondant with extra durability, gum paste fondant dries into a hard, tear-resistant consistency that’s perfect for creating edible structures and sculptures.
- Sculpting fondant: this type of fondant hardens the most, so it’s the go-to for making larger decorations.
- Pour fondant: unlike the types above, pour fondant has a liquid and creamy consistency with a subtle sheer finish. You can use it as a coating or filling for cakes, candies, pastries, and so on.
Typically, the ingredients of royal icing are powdered sugar, egg whites, and sometimes lemon, lime, or cream of tartar.
Probably the most common type of icing (and the easiest to whip up), buttercream icing is made using powdered sugar and butter mainly.
Once these two ingredients are thoroughly mixed, you can add whatever colorings or flavorings you like.
Making glaze is quite simple; just mix powdered sugar with a liquid such as water or juice.
How does fondant compare to other types of icing when it comes to hardness? Let’s take a look:
The consistency of royal icing starts soft but turns hard and brittle after some time as it dries. To keep it from getting too stiff, you can add glycerin.
Creamy and soft are the two words that best describe the consistency of buttercream icing. That said, it can also be made stiff, gooey, or thin.
The consistency of glaze depends on the amount of liquid you use to dissolve the icing sugar. It can be anything from a drizzle if you use more liquid to a syrup-like thickness if you use less liquid.
Keep in mind that glaze gets slightly thicker as it sits.
Fondant usually covers the entire cake and it can be shaped or cut into strips for decoration. But where do other types of icing go on a dessert?
Due to its tendency to crack, royal icing isn’t a good option for covering curved or large surfaces. It’s best for intricate garnishing and creating ornaments such as flowers, leaves, and so on.
Versatility is buttercream icing’s strongest suit, and it particularly shows in coverage. You can spread it all over cakes, use it as a filling, or create decorations, but be sure to keep your dessert in the fridge until serving time.
Thanks to its pourable consistency, you typically use glaze to cover the top of a cake in a shiny crust.
Fondant is typically rolled but can also be added as a shape or poured as a coating. Let’s see how other icing types are applied:
The brittleness of royal icing after it dries calls for extra care when handling it. It can’t be rolled, but it’s ideal for piping and layering.
The smoothness of buttercream icing makes it pretty easy to work with. You usually apply it in layers or pipe it onto desserts.
Glaze icing isn’t suited for piping or layering, but rather pouring on top of cakes. You do need to work somewhat quickly as it thickens slightly once it sits.
Fondant is usually placed on top of buttercream to better stick to the cake. What about other types of icing?
You’ll probably see royal icing layered on top of marzipan to preserve its color.
You can use buttercream icing on its own or as a base for other varieties of icing such as fondant.
You can pour glaze icing directly over the cake or on top of buttercream icing.
Icing sugar is a key ingredient in making icing, including fondant. But when you accidentally get some icing sugar on your finished fondant, you need to remove it to prevent deformation.
Here are some techniques to help you get the job done:
- Use water and a paper towel; add a couple of water drops on the fondant surface with powdered sugar stains then dab it gently with the paper towel until clean.
- Use vodka and a food-safe paintbrush; pour a little bit of vodka into a small bowl then dip the brush in the vodka and run it over the fondant surface with icing sugar stains. It’ll also make your fondant shinier.
- Use a piece of fondant; make a ball of the same color fondant and rub it over the fondant surface with powdered sugar stains. The fondant should pick up the icing sugar particles.
- Use glaze spray; a couple of sprays should do the trick.
- Use shortening; rub a little ball of shortening on the icing sugar stain.
Fondant is a type of icing with a firm consistency. On the other hand, royal icing starts soft but turns hard and brittle, buttercream icing is generally soft, whereas the pourable consistency of glaze icing depends on the amount of liquid added.
While fondant can be rolled, cut, or shaped, royal icing is layered or piped, buttercream icing is spread or piped, and glaze icing is poured.
The differences in ingredients, texture, application, and coverage between fondant and other icing styles make each of them unique and ideal for certain uses. However, we can agree they all look pretty and taste delicious!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.