When so much attention is given to the sponge (is it fluffy and light? has it risen or sunk?), decoration can often be an afterthought.
Unless you’re following one of the recipes above for a custom-made filling and topping, it’s likely to be plain vanilla buttercream that you slather over your cake. For speed, a fuss-free frosting from the supermarket can do the job.
Historically, shop-bought versions have been artificial and flavourless, with a sweetness that set one’s teeth on edge. That they remain artificial can’t be denied, but flavours have improved and the sugar levels seem more balanced.
Betty Crocker, the UK’s most popular baking product line, dominates the market with nine flavours of ready-made frosting, from zesty lemon to red velvet, while Waitrose has extended its Cooks’ Ingredients collection to include salted caramel and Tanzanian chocolate.
Little can beat freshly made icing spread straight from the bowl, but some of these come close.
Dr. Oetker classic vanilla buttercream style icing
£2.50 for 400g, Ocado
“Style” is a giveaway here: vegetable oil is the base of this thick, slightly granulated icing (as it is with all we tasted), so this is suitable for vegans. It does deliver a buttery flavour, and spreads well, but still tastes rather fake.
Mr Kipling almond flavour icing
£2.50 for 400g, Tesco
Delicately flavoured with almond, this frosting manages to taste like authentically buttery frangipane that you’ll recognise if you’re a fan of Mr K’s cakes. It is easy to spread and whips to a light texture, good for simple vanilla fairy cakes.
£5.85 for 700g, cakecraftworld.co.uk
This is a deliciously milky spread (it’s made with milk powder), with a distinct chocolate swirl through it. The texture is so light that it dissolves on the tongue, leaving a pleasant cocoa flavour behind.
Betty Crocker zesty lemon icing
£2.50 for 400g, Ocado
Serving suggestions include using this lemony frosting as a glaze which, taking into consideration its runny texture, would be a good idea. It’s light and zesty, with some visible sugar granules, but too much of it and it is a sickly concoction.
Cooks’ Ingredients salted caramel icing
£2.25 for 400g, Waitrose
With a firmer texture than the others, this proves tricky at first to apply to cupcakes or sponge. However, once spread with a warm knife it layers beautifully, offering lovely caramel flavour with just a hint of salt.
Cadbury Fudge flavour icing
£2.50 for 400g, Morrisons
This icing impressed from the off. The mousse-like texture is incredibly easy to spread and would perform well if piped, while the flavour is smooth and milky with plenty of fudgy backnotes. One for cupcakes and layer cakes.