There are so many kinds of frosting and icings out there that it takes a culinary degree to know how to make them all perfectly. If you aren’t a professional pastry chef (or maybe even if you are!), you may occasionally find that your frostings, icings and ganaches are a little too runny or not quite the consistency that you are looking for.
This guide will help you learn how to thicken all different kinds of frostings in order to get the texture that you are looking for. Be sure to follow the directions for the specific kind of frosting, icing or ganache that you are making in order to get perfect results!
Why Consistency Matters
If you have ever followed a frosting recipe exactly, you may think that the end result is just how the frosting is meant to be. That is not always the case and it can make a huge difference in how you are able to use the icing.
For example, if you measured just a tablespoon too much milk when making a royal icing recipe, you may have something very runny. If you added a tiny bit extra butter to your buttercream, you may have a frosting that is too stiff. A slight misstep in either the recipe directions or your personal measuring can make a big difference!
Getting your frosting, icing and ganache to be the correct consistency is very important and can have a huge impact on your baked goods. If your frosting is too runny, it will not hold a nice, piped shape on your cupcakes or it may slide right off of your cake.
If you are trying to ice cookies but your icing is too loose, it will be very opaque and drip right over the sides of your cookies. If you are using a ganache that is too thin, it will slip right off your cake, not adhering at all!
These are just a few examples of why you do not want to use a frosting, icing or ganache that is too soft. Take the time to correct it and you will be happy you did!
How to Thicken American Buttercream
American buttercream is a very standard frosting that many people use and love on cakes and cupcakes. It is made by creaming butter and powdered sugar together, adding a small amount of milk and flavorings.
While American buttercream is a favorite due to it’s taste, it is also a great option since most recipes are very forgiving.
If you make an American buttercream and end up with something very soft, there are a few ways to thicken it. First, you need to determine why your buttercream is soft, then use one of the below fixes to help thicken it!
Too Warm- American buttercream is made primarily of butter so when it is too warm or hot, it will be very soft since the butter is melting. If your buttercream frosting gets too hot, it will actually melt completely which would be impossible to use to frost cupcakes!
If you think that your American buttercream is too warm, place the bowl of frosting in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Place the frosting back on your mixer or use a hand blender to beat it again until smooth.
Make sure the reconstituted frosting does not get too hot again or you may need to repeat this step. Its also good to note that buttercream and many frosting can be hard to use in a warmer climate for this reason!
Too Much Milk- If you feel like your American buttercream is too soft because the recipe had too much milk (or you added a little to much by accident), try adding more powdered sugar.
Powdered sugar will help absorb some of the liquid in the buttercream, however, you do not want to add too much you’re your frosting will be overly sweet. Add a little at a time until your frosting is the consistency you’d like. Be sure to taste it a few times to be sure it is not getting too saccharine!
Too Liquidy in General- Sometimes, you may not be exactly sure why your American buttercream is so soft. When this is the case, start by adding a little extra powdered sugar to thicken the frosting.
If it starts to get too sweet, add about 1 teaspoon of cornstarch which will also act as a thickener for the frosting. Try not to add more than a tablespoon of cornstarch to the American buttercream or it can start to taste too starchy.
When all else fails, try adding some more soft, room temperature butter to your soft American buttercream. Soft butter can help the frosting come together, combining all the ingredients into the perfect texture that you are looking for.
You can get away with adding a decent amount of extra butter to your buttercream recipe since it won’t change the taste much. After all, buttercream’s main ingredient is butter!
How to Thicken Icing
Once again, the kind of icing that you are making and how you will be using that icing will depend greatly on the thickness that you need. The name “icing” can also be a little deceiving as many people may refer to buttercream frosting as “cake icing.”
For the purposes of this section, we will focus on royal icing which is very different from a traditional frosting.
Royal icing is commonly used to decorate cookies. It can also be used to ice cakes and cupcakes and make decorations for cakes. The consistency of royal icing can vary dramatically and you will need to thicken it or make it more loose depending on how you plan to use the icing.
Here are a few ways you can use royal icing and the consistency you will want for each:
- Frost a Cake or Cupcakes- You will want royal icing that is very thick and can hold its shape. The icing will be stiff and sticky, having the consistency of buttercream or whipped butter.
- Ice Cookies- When icing cookies with royal icing, you will want the icing to be slightly liquid so that it fully coats the cookie and makes a smooth surface on the cookie. However, you do not want the icing to be so loose that it drips right off of the cookie. The royal icing should coat the back of a spoon, making the spoon a solid white and not opaque at all.
- Decorate Cookies or Cakes- When you are using royal icing to decorate cookies and cakes, you want it to be thin enough that it is easy to pipe but thick enough that it holds it’s shape and does not run. The perfect decorating consistency is sometimes called 15 second consistency. This means the icing will hold its shape for 15 seconds and then slowly softens, blending into the cake or cookie that you are decorating.
So how can you change the consistency of your royal icing? Quite easily! Since royal icing is made primarily with whipped egg whites (or whipped meringue powder), powdered sugar and flavorings or extracts, it is easy to adjust these ingredients to get the consistency you want.
Make Royal Icing Thicker- To thicken royal icing, simply add more powdered sugar. Start off by adding about ¼ cup more powdered sugar to your icing and letting it mix in. Keep adding the powdered sugar in ¼ cup increments until you have the consistency you need for your icing application.
Make Royal Icing Thinner- To loosen your royal icing, add a tablespoon of cold water to the icing and let it mix in completely. A little water will go a long way in changing the consistency of the icing so be sure to add a little bit at a time!
Royal icing is a great icing to use as it is very forgiving and easy to manipulate the texture. More powdered sugar or more water will do the trick!
How to Thicken Ganache
Ganache is made with heavy cream (also called whipping cream), chocolate and occasionally corn syrup or glucose syrup. The majority of ganache recipes are quite easy, requiring you to bring the cream to a boil and then pour it over your chopped chocolate.
The heat from the cream will melt the chocolate and, when everything is whisked together, you will have a nice smooth chocolate icing that you can use to cover cakes, pour over ice cream or dip cookies and cupcakes into. Ganache is very versatile!
However, making the perfect consistency ganache can be tricky. A little too much cream (even just a tablespoon too much!) can make your ganache too thin. Ganache can also become too thin if you use a different kind of milk rather than heavy cream.
Heavy cream has the perfect amount of fat and liquid for ganache while whole milk, for example, is too watery and this will reflect in the ganache texture.
The first step to making a nice thick ganache is to use heavy cream or whipping cream when you make the recipe. This will ensure that the texture is correct from the beginning.
Next, be sure that the recipe you are following is written for the type of chocolate you are using to make the ganache. White chocolate will make a much thinner ganache than dark chocolate, so, you want to be sure your recipe quantities are directed toward your chocolate choice to make the perfect consistency of ganache.
If you make your ganache and it is still too thin, add a handful of chopped chocolate immediately while the ganache is still hot. Whisk the extra chocolate into the mix, working quickly to make sure that it melts in. Add more chocolate as needed until the ganache is nice and thick.
If you add extra chocolate to the ganache to thicken it but the additional chocolate is not melting (ganache can cool quickly as you whisk in cold air), place the bowl of ganache over a double boiler to heat it back up.
Whisk constantly to blend in the extra chocolate. Be sure to heat the ganache just enough to melt the chocolate as making it too hot may cause some of the oils to separate from the mix, ruining the ganache.
Hopefully this guide will help you thicken your frostings, icings and ganache, getting you to that perfect consistency for your baked goods. With a few tricks, we know that you will get the result you want and need to make bakery worthy desserts.
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.