No cake is complete without a thick, luscious coating of gluten free frosting. Except for those that actually do better with a thinner glazing of gluten free icing.
Whichever topping you prefer, I've got a list of my favorite gluten free frosting recipes for you to try, plus tons of info about how to prepare them, so they turn out better than anything you can buy at the store.
Is cake frosting gluten free?
Considering how often gluten appears in prepackaged foods, you're right to wonder if canned frosting is gluten free.
And you may be surprised to learn that many store-bought frostings are indeed gluten free.
Those varieties that aren't gluten free typically contain gluten due to the use of wheat flour or even wheat starch. And some brands may not use any gluten-containing ingredients, but they won't label their products as gluten free because they may be manufactured on shared equipment that could lead to cross-contamination.
If you ever come across a packaged frosting — or any other food product — and aren't sure if it's gluten free, you should always contact the manufacturer to get the official word.
Is cake icing gluten free?
While icing is made with slightly different ingredients than frosting, those ingredients also tend to be gluten free. However, don't assume that an icing is gluten free just because you don't see flour or starch on the label. If the icing is prepared or packaged in facilities that also process gluten-containing foods, there's always the risk of cross-contamination.
Gluten free frosting brands
Many brands of canned frosting are gluten free, but formulas can change and availability will vary depending on where you are in the United States, and of course where you are in the world if you're not in the U.S.
I love the taste of canned frosting, but I rarely buy it since I find it to be too sweet by half. When I do buy gluten free packaged frosting, here are the brands I tend to choose first:
- Betty Crocker brand “ready-to-spread” frostings are all labeled gluten free, according to the company's website.
- Duncan Hines brand basic canned frostings (“creamy chocolate” and “creamy vanilla”)are generally free of most allergens, and, according to the company, contain no gluten (click on the nutritional information link if you click through). Any of their more specialized frostings, like their “cookie dough” frosting, contain wheat and should be avoided.
- Pillsbury “Creamy Supreme” frostings all appear to be gluten free, according to the company's website at the time of this writing.
- Simple Mills brand frostings are all gluten free, as are all of their products.
Why you should be making your own gluten free frosting
Even though many popular brands of prepackaged frosting are gluten free, there are many reasons why you should ditch them for a homemade gluten free frosting recipe. As it were, I just so happen to have six of those reasons right here:
- Many of my gluten free cake frosting recipes require just one bowl for preparation, and you know what means: easy cleanup!
- Speaking of easy, my gf frosting recipes couldn't be more quick and easy to make — in most cases, you just whip the ingredients together! Most of the time you start with room temperature ingredients, so read the ingredient list carefully and plan well.
- Making your own gluten free frosting gives you control over the ingredients; you can make substitutions for allergies and taste preferences.
- On the subject of control, extracts like vanilla, lemon, peppermint, and even coffee let you whip together a frosting that complements your baked goods perfectly.
- When you make your own homemade frosting, you can research the individual ingredients and be sure that's its truly gluten free.
- Let's be honest: Fresh frosting just tastes better than any preservative-laden product you'll find on a store shelf.
The best gluten free frosting recipes
What are you to do when there's the possibility of gluten lurking inside tubs of frosting from the store? Learn how to make gluten free frosting! Here's a rundown of some of my favorite frostings. I'm sure you'll find one (or three) that you can't wait to make.
Tips for making the best gluten free frosting
Tools you'll need to make gf frosting
Making your own light and fluffy frosting really isn't that difficult. As a matter of fact, most recipes only require two pieces of equipment: a mixing bowl and the simplest electric mixer (or sometimes a blender!).
If you'd like to add a bit of flair to your cakes and cupcakes, you can add a piping bag and tips to the equipment list. But really, a spatula or even a butter knife is just fine for getting the frosting to the cake.
Sift your powdered sugar for a smoother result
If your gluten free frosting recipe calls for confectioners' sugar (which is powdered sugar with an anti-caking agent like cornstarch added to it), it can be smart to pull out your sifter (or fine-weave metal strainer, or even a whisk).
Sifting your powdered sugar as you combine it with the recipe's other ingredients will help ensure that your frosting is smooth and clump-free. The result is a frosting that's super smooth and easy to pipe or spread on your favorite gf cake, cookie, or cupcake.
Soften your butter for easier mixing
I'm sure that at one point or another, we've all tried to mix hard, cold butter. It just doesn't work, and your gluten free cake frosting recipes won't be any exception.
Assuming you don't want to turn your gluten free baking adventures into an arm workout, let your butter soften before you start making your frosting. The best way to do that is to simply pull it from the fridge an hour before you get to work — room temperature butter is the perfect consistency.
If you forget or are otherwise short on time, avoid using the microwave to speed up the process, since “room temperature” butter is at cool room temperature, and doesn't feel greasy to the touch. You want softened butter, not melted butter, which separates from itself and makes greasy frosting that doesn't hold its shape.
To help soften your butter a little faster, instead of the microwave, try chopping your butter up into cubes to increase the amount of the surface area of the butter that's exposed to the room temperature air. You can also pour boiling water into a glass mixing bowl, pour the water out, and then place the hot bowl over the butter on the countertop. The ambient heat will help gently and evenly warm the butter.
Use purple (coloring) to make white (frosting)
Let's say you're making an incredible gluten free vanilla frosting, but it's looking a little dingy, perhaps because your butter was just a tad too yellow.
An easy way to make white appear whiter is to add just a tiny drop of purple food coloring. I know, it sounds like it shouldn't work, but I promise you that it does.
Gel coloring works better than liquid food coloring
While we're on the subject of food coloring, I recommend that you use a gel coloring rather than a liquid one. Liquid coloring can throw off the moisture balance of your frosting, resulting in a more weepy consistency. Plus, the color is so weak that you have to add enough that it tends to make your frosting taste bitter.
My favorite gel food coloring is made by AmeriColor (affiliate link.) It's pricier than what you're probably used to seeing at the grocery store, but its colors are so vibrant, and a tiny bit of the stuff goes such a long way. It also lasts forever, and is gluten free.
Make a frosting bag on the cheap
Feeling creative but don't have a frosting bag handy? Grab a zip top storage bag, fill it with frosting, and snip off a corner. Voilà! You've got a cheap but effective piping bag.
Storing gluten free frosting in the fridge
Making gluten free icing or frosting in advance? Finding yourself with more frosting than cupcakes? Store your frosting in the fridge in an airtight container, and it will stay good for two weeks. Let it sit, covered, on the kitchen counter to let it warm to room temperature before piping or spreading it.
Storing gluten free frosting in the freezer
Can you freeze gluten free frosting? Absolutely! Again, you'll want to store it in an airtight container so it doesn't pick up odors from the freezer or dry out. In the freezer, your frosting will easily last up to three months.
When you're ready to use your frosting, simply transfer it to the fridge and leave it overnight. Then, let it warm to cool room tempearture on the counter, transfer it to a piping bag, and frost away.
Protip: Planning to pipe your frosting? Save yourself a step by freezing your gf frosting inside a ziptop freezer bag. After defrosting it in the fridge, all you have to do is cut the tip of the bag — instant piping bag.
What's the difference between gluten free frosting and icing?
Frosting and icing are made using slightly different ingredients, so they each have their own unique consistency.
Frosting is generally thicker and used as a coating for cakes. Icing is typically thinner thanks to the addition of a liquid like water or milk. This makes gluten free cake icing more suitable for drizzling or glazing.
Is powdered sugar gluten free?
Most powdered sugar is gluten free, but always check product labels as some brands may be made with gluten-containing starches to help prevent clumping.
Also keep in mind that powdered sugar with an anti-caking agent like cornstarch is called confectioner's sugar. If you can't have corn, you can find corn-free confectioners' sugar, or just sift in a touch of arrowroot to powdered sugar for the same result.
Is vanilla extract gluten free?
In most cases, pure vanilla extract is gluten free. But again, you'll need to check the product label and possibly research ingredients in case there are hidden sources of gluten that haven't been removed in the alcohol distillation process.
Is food coloring gluten free?
Food coloring is usually gluten free because it's not made with any gluten-containing ingredients. However, it could be subject to cross-contamination, so you'll want to be sure the brand you choose is safe. Wilton brand food colorings are not reliably gluten free, but AmeriColor brand usually is.
Are sprinkles gluten free?
As with food coloring, sprinkles aren't usually made with any gluten-containing ingredients. But because they may be processed in facilities that also package wheat products, or they may be made with wheat flour or wheat starch, you have to be careful.
Look for sprinkles that are labeled gluten free to be safe. CakeMate and Betty Crocker sprinkles and nonpareils are usually gluten free in the U.S., but you should call the manufacturer and provide them with the lot number on the package you're using to be sure.
How do I make gluten free, dairy free frosting?
If your frosting recipe contains butter (as my gluten free vanilla buttercream frosting does), you can use a nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening or vegan butter in its place to make gluten free, dairy free version.
I'm a fan of the Melt and Miyoko’s Kitchen brands of vegan butter, but they do have more moisture than shortening. If possible, you'll get the right moisture balance and that buttery taste if you use half Spectrum brand nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening and half vegan butter as a butter replacement.
Can you change the flavor of homemade gluten free cake frosting?
You can absolutely change the flavor of homemade gluten free frosting to suit your tastes.
The easiest way to alter frosting's flavor is to use an extract. You don't need much of these concentrated flavorings (maybe just a few drops) to make a big impact.
Other flavoring options including spices, such as cinnamon, and freeze-dried fruit that's been finely ground into a powder. Avoid adding anything with extra moisture, which will cause your frosting to weep or leak liquid at room temperature.
How long does gluten free frosting last?
When you store your gluten free cake icing or frosting in the fridge in an airtight container, it will last about two weeks.
If you freeze frosting, you can expect its shelf life to increase to about three months.
What can I put gluten free frosting on?
Maybe a better question is what can't you put frosting on? Honestly, you're only limited by your taste. In addition to gluten free cakes, feel free to slather a bit of gluten free frosting on pancakes, cookies, pretzels, and even fresh fruit.