Difference Between Icing & Fondant

Written by farozan jivraj
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Difference Between Icing & Fondant
Icing makes or breaks a cake. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Terry Johnston)

Icing is the essential decorator's tool, making cakes appear beautiful and delectable while adding to the flavor of the cake. There are many different types of icing that can be used for decoration. Fondant is also a type of icing. Different varieties of icing, like buttercream, royal, poured sugar and glaze, all have different textures, flavors and uses in cake and cookie decoration. Many cake decorators use a combination of icings to embellish a cake to bring out the theme of the decoration.

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Icing is a combination of sugar and a liquid that can be either butter or water or even sugar syrup. The cake decorator has to choose the right icing for the cake so that the finishes come out well. Some icings remain soft, some harden after drying and some are great for piping.

Buttercream is a popular icing that is made with a combination of butter, sugar and flavoring. It is good for smoothing over cakes, piping designs and flowers, and writing.

Royal icing is used for making flowers, piping decorations and for decorating cookies and gingerbread houses. It dries on contact with air and has a sweet flavor.

A cake piped with buttercream.
A cake piped with buttercream. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Tracy Hunter)


Fondant is also a type of icing that is used in different ways to ice cakes. Fondant has a clay-like consistency that can be shaped to make flowers and decorations and also rolled out to cover cakes. Since it covers cakes completely and seals out air, fondant is also used to preserve fruitcakes.

There are different types of fondant used in cake decorating. Rolled fondant is the traditional fondant used to roll out and cover cakes smoothly. It has to be kneaded like dough and has to be covered during use to prevent drying out.

Quick-pour fondant is made over the stove and poured over cakes and petit fours to dry and harden, making a satin-smooth finishing possible over baked goods. Leftover fondant can be reheated and used again.

A cake covered with fondant.
A cake covered with fondant. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Tracy Hunter)

Difference Between Fondant and Buttercream Icing

Buttercream is quick and easy to make and spreads easily. It is the perfect icing to use for beginner cake decorators. It stays well at room temperature and can be colored using liquid or gel food colors.

The consistency of buttercream can be varied depending on the use. Stiff buttercream can be used to pipe flowers and borders. Slightly thinned out buttercream can be used to spread smoothly over cakes and pipe lace-like decorations to cover cake surfaces.

Fondant can be made at home, but many decorators prefer the easy availability of ready-made fondant. Professional cake decorators like the ease of use and the beautiful finish that fondant gives to cakes. Marshmallow fondant is a standard recipe used by wedding cake decorators who like its pliability and flavor.

The consistency of fondant depends on the recipe used. Unlike buttercream icing that can be thinned out using water, fondant has to be made from scratch from a different recipe if you want a different consistency.

Buttercream iced cupcakes
Buttercream iced cupcakes (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Bruce)

Difference Between Royal Icing and Fondant

Fondant is sweet and melts in the mouth. It is also used in candies, where it acts like the center base on which different toppings are poured to make candy. Fondant tints easily, but gel colors are preferred so that the consistency and setting time is not altered.

Fondant remains soft after decorating and does not dry out completely. It might form a crust, but never dries hard.

On the other hand, royal icing dries to bone-hard consistency, becoming brittle and easy to crack. Royal icing decorations have to be handled carefully to prevent breaking. Exposure to moisture makes royal icing soft and gummy, spoiling decorations and altering the consistency.

Royal icing is easy to pour and dries very fast. It is easy to work with compared to fondant, which needs practice and expertise.

Tools for Decorating

When working with any type of icing, you must have clean, moisture-free tools so that the icing flavor and consistency are not altered.

Fondant has to be rolled using a rolling pin. Different cutters and rollers can also be used to give embossed or imprinted effects. A fondant smoother is also helpful to remove bubbles and bumps from the cake after rolling out the fondant and placing it over the cake.

Fondant does not use the tips and piping bags that are used for buttercream and royal icing. To use buttercream or royal icing, you need a piping bag to pour the icing in, and different tips and nozzles to produce designs and flowers. The shape and design of piped decorations depends highly on the piping expertise of the decorator.

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