Buttercream vs. Royal Icing

What's the Difference?

Buttercream and royal icing are two popular types of icing used in baking and cake decorating. Buttercream is made from butter, powdered sugar, and flavorings, resulting in a creamy and smooth texture. It is easy to work with and can be spread or piped onto cakes and cupcakes. Buttercream is known for its rich and sweet taste, making it a favorite choice for many. On the other hand, royal icing is made from powdered sugar and egg whites, giving it a glossy and hard texture when dried. It is commonly used for intricate designs, such as piping flowers or creating intricate patterns on cookies. Royal icing dries quickly and becomes firm, making it ideal for creating decorations that need to hold their shape. While buttercream is more versatile and delicious, royal icing is preferred for its decorative capabilities and durability.


Photo by Jenny Galloway on Unsplash
AttributeButtercreamRoyal Icing
TextureSmooth and creamyHardens to a firm, smooth finish
IngredientsButter, powdered sugar, flavoringsEgg whites, powdered sugar, lemon juice
UsageFrosting cakes, cupcakes, and cookiesDecorating cookies, creating intricate designs
ConsistencySpreadable and pipeableStiff and pipeable
TasteRich and butterySweet and slightly tangy
ColoringEasily tinted with food coloringCan be colored with gel or liquid food coloring
StorageRefrigeration requiredDries and hardens, no refrigeration needed
Royal Icing
Photo by Marcie Douglass on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to decorating cakes and pastries, two popular choices for icing are buttercream and royal icing. Both have their unique attributes and are used for different purposes. In this article, we will delve into the characteristics of buttercream and royal icing, exploring their texture, taste, versatility, and application techniques. By understanding the differences between these two icings, you can make an informed decision on which one to use for your next baking project.


One of the primary distinctions between buttercream and royal icing lies in their texture. Buttercream is known for its smooth and creamy consistency. It is made by combining butter, powdered sugar, and flavorings, resulting in a rich and velvety texture. On the other hand, royal icing has a firm and hard texture when it dries. It is made from powdered sugar, egg whites, and sometimes lemon juice or cream of tartar. Royal icing hardens quickly, making it ideal for intricate designs and decorations.


When it comes to taste, buttercream icing is often favored for its indulgent and buttery flavor. The addition of butter gives it a rich and creamy taste that complements a wide range of cake flavors. Buttercream can be flavored with various extracts, such as vanilla, almond, or citrus, to enhance its taste. On the other hand, royal icing is known for its sweet and sugary flavor. It lacks the richness of buttercream but provides a clean and crisp sweetness that pairs well with gingerbread, sugar cookies, and other treats.


Both buttercream and royal icing offer versatility in their applications, albeit in different ways. Buttercream is incredibly versatile as it can be easily tinted with food coloring, allowing for a wide range of vibrant and pastel shades. It can also be piped into various shapes and designs, making it suitable for intricate decorations and borders. Buttercream is commonly used for frosting cakes, cupcakes, and cookies, as well as for filling layers. On the other hand, royal icing is highly versatile in terms of its drying properties. Once it sets, royal icing becomes hard and can be used to create intricate details, such as flowers, lace, and delicate piping work. It is often used for gingerbread houses, sugar cookies, and other decorative elements that require a firm and durable finish.

Application Techniques

When it comes to applying buttercream and royal icing, different techniques are employed. Buttercream is typically spread or smoothed onto cakes using an offset spatula or a piping bag fitted with a decorating tip. It can be easily manipulated and shaped to achieve desired textures and designs. Buttercream can also be used for piping intricate borders, rosettes, and other decorative elements. On the other hand, royal icing is commonly used for flooding and outlining techniques. Flooding involves filling the outlined area with a runny consistency of royal icing, creating a smooth and even surface. Outlining, on the other hand, involves using a thicker consistency of royal icing to create defined borders and details. Royal icing can also be piped into intricate designs using a piping bag fitted with a small round tip.


In conclusion, both buttercream and royal icing have their unique attributes that make them suitable for different baking projects. Buttercream offers a smooth and creamy texture, indulgent taste, and versatility in coloring and piping. It is commonly used for frosting cakes, cupcakes, and cookies. On the other hand, royal icing provides a firm and hard texture when it dries, offering durability and intricate detailing capabilities. It has a sweet taste and is often used for gingerbread houses, sugar cookies, and other decorative elements. Understanding the differences between these two icings allows you to choose the one that best suits your desired outcome and application. Whether you prefer the richness of buttercream or the firmness of royal icing, both options are sure to elevate your baked goods to the next level.

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