What’s the difference between royal icing, sugar paste, and fondant icing?

When I’m doing consultations for wedding and celebration cakes, I’m often asked to explain which sorts of icing are available, so I thought it might be worth writing a post on the subject.

Sugar paste (UK) and fondant icing (US) are the same thing, and are typically made of sugar, gelatine and glycerine formed into a soft dough that can be rolled out to cover a cake, or moulded into figures, flowers etc. In the UK, Regalice is the branded version. It stays soft once it is put over a cake, and can be easily ‘peeled off’ if people don’t like it! It is easy to cover a cake in sugar paste, but difficult to achieve a smooth, even, polished finish.

I use sugar paste with added strengthening gum to make very fine flowers, or when I use moulds to make cameos etc. This sort of modelling sugar paste (Mexican paste, flower paste etc.) differs to the regular sugar paste you would cover a cake with because it dries harder, meaning it will hold its shape.

Royal icing is made up of sugar and egg white, and dries hard when applied to a cake. Lots of people refer to Royal Icing as ‘the icing that cracks when you cut the cake’. The icing is applied in coats and gradually built up, using a method not too different to plastering a wall! Glycerine is often added when using Royal Icing to coat a cake to make the icing soft enough to cut.

As well as cake coverings, I use piped royal icing to create intricate string work, which creates a beautifully sophisticated and retro design. This is extremely fiddly and time consuming, but looks fantastic. I’m also a massive fan of brush embroidery, which involves painting royal icing on to a surface.

A professional cake designer should be able to explain these differences to you, and make suggestions as to which icings would best suit your cake design.
Visit my website www.pippabradbury.co.uk to order your Pippa Bradbury Baked wedding cake in sugar paste, royal icing, or other*!

*other cake coverings will be blogged at a later date :-)

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