Most of the time, when we think of frosting, we think of something sweet with a thick, smooth and spreadable consistency. Frosting can be very thin, like a glaze, when you want to drizzle a little extra something over the top of a bundt cake, but we usually want a thicker frosting for topping our cupcakes and layer cakes.
The exact consistency of frosting will vary depending on what type of frosting you are making. Cream cheese frostings will be much softer than buttercream frostings. Meringue frostings will have a much lighter consistency than cream cheese or buttercream frostings. Whatever type of frosting you are working with, there will be times when the frosting turns out thinner than you anticipate. The consistency of frosting can be impacted by everything from the ingredients you’re using to the weather. It can be frustrating to try to decorate with frosting that is not thick enough, but these guidelines for several basic frostings will help you to ensure that yours turns out with the perfect consistency every time.
Cream Cheese Frosting – You may have over-softened your cream cheese. You can stiffen it by adding additional confectioners’ sugar or even by adding both softened butter and confectioners’ sugar, as the butter will be a bit firmer than cream cheese.
Whipped Cream Frosting – Make sure the whipping cream is very cold before you start to whip it to stiff peaks. If it is runny, chill it thoroughly. You can add a small amount (1-2 teaspoons) of cornstarch to give it a little extra stability.
Simple (American) Buttercream – A runny American buttercream is usually caused by adding too much milk (or other liquid ingredients). You can thicken this by adding additional confectioners’ sugar. A very small amount of cornstarch can help, too, but more than a tablespoon will give your icing an unpleasant starchy flavor. If your buttercream has additional ingredients, such as sour cream, it will have a softer consistency than frosting made with butter alone, but extra sugar can still help thicken it up.
Italian Buttercream – A runny Italian buttercream is often caused by adding butter that is too soft to meringue that is too hot. While beating, dd in additional colder butter (slightly softened, not ice cold) to cool the mixture down and to allow it to thicken
Royal Icing – Royal icing that is too thin can be thickened by adding additional meringue powder or confectioners’ sugar. If it is very runny, it is best to start by adding in a little bit of meringue powder before adding additional sugar so that the icing does not become too sweet.
When making frosting in general, combine your ingredients gradually so that you don’t overdo the wet or dry ingredients accidentally. Make sure your ingredients, such as butter, are at the temperature recommended by the recipe to help ensure that they come together properly.