The History of Icing & Frosting

Written by patricia hunt
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The History of Icing & Frosting
The ingredients for icings have changed over the years. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Some call it frosting, and others call it icing, originally from "ice" because sugar granules resemble ice pellets. Whether it's icing or frosting, your name preference for these synonyms does not matter, nor does it affect your enjoyment of this sweet topping on desserts. The history of this sugary treat goes back centuries.

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Frosted Marchpanes, 1494

According to Simon Charsley in "Wedding Cakes and Cultural History," food historians describe marchpanes as a paste made of almonds and sugar that is served at celebrations. Invented for topping marchpanes in 1494, icing first appeared inseparable from them. Icing on marchpanes could have additional decorative items (67).

The History of Icing & Frosting
Sugary toppings have been popular for centuries. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Frosted Cake, 16th Century

What tastes sweeter than one layer of cake but many, topped with essentially a sugar-based coating? In the 16th century, a French chef baked the first frosted, multilayered cake, and the most lasting use for icing was born. A one-layer cake does not need icing in the same way that many layers use frosting to hold the entire cake together.

The History of Icing & Frosting
A multilayered cake is quite a construction project. (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

First Frosting and Icing Recipe, 1655

Beaten egg whites proved invaluable in the development of icing or frosting, according to "Wedding Cakes and Cultural History". In 1655, Rebecca Price instructed her cook "to 'frost' the newly-baked cake over with the white of an egg beaten together with rosewater 'and strew fine Sugar [sic] upon it, and then set it again into the Oven [sic] that it may Ice [sic]" (68). Note how the inventor described the cake as frosted and iced.

Wedding Cakes with White Icing, 1840

The wedding cake first appeared in the late 1700s at aristocrats' wedding ceremonies, according to "Wedding Cakes and Cultural History." However, in 1840 Queen Victoria of England designed the wedding cake still seen today, a multilayered cake with white icing. Originally, the whiteness of the wedding cake's icing revealed the amount, quality and ultimately, expense, of sugar used. Use of pounds of sugar for cake topping signalled wealth.

The History of Icing & Frosting
Modern wedding cakes were invented in the 19th century. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Cupcakes and Icing, 1900-1950

Although Hostess Bakery sold the first mass-produced cupcakes in 1919, frosted cupcakes did not appear until the 1950s. Buttercream frosting, made of icing sugar, butter, cream and flavourings, appeared around the same time.

The History of Icing & Frosting
Icing is not enough on cupcakes. Sprinkles must be added. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Current Icings

Some of the many ingredients of modern frostings include: fruit butters, custard, meringue powder, lemon curd, coconut, strawberry and raspberry purée that go far beyond the vanilla and chocolate offerings of the past. Butterscotch and caramel now top cakes. Professional bakers use rolled fondant, with its doughy consistency, for wedding cakes despite the difficulty in handling.

The History of Icing & Frosting
Fruit toppings continue in popularity. (Media Bank/Photos.com/Getty Images)

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