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Everything You Need to Know About Glazing Sweet Desserts

Abby Slutsky worked in a commercial kitchen while she completed an internship for culinary school and currently owns a baking business.

Some glazes can be poured on a cake for an impressive, decorative look.

Some glazes can be poured on a cake for an impressive, decorative look.

The Purpose of Glazing Desserts

Glazing is an essential finishing touch for many breads and pastries. This article will focus on glazing cakes and pastries.

Glazing pastries and cakes has several purposes:

  • Enhances the attractiveness of the pastry, cake or bun.
  • Adds moisture to the confection, which can extend the shelf life.
  • Adds a touch of flavor or extra sweetener to the product.

What Temperature Should the Confection Be for Glazing?

An old law professor of mine used to always tell my class, “It depends.” The same is true when glazing a cake. It depends on the type of glaze you are using and whether you intend to spread it or allow it to drip down the cake.

Thin, Syrup-Like Glazes

If you are using a very thin glaze, you are probably glazing to add moistness to the cake. This can be done before frosting a cake (a common restaurant or bakery technique), or you can glaze a cake with a syrup without putting a frosting on top of the glaze. In this case, you want to glaze the cake while it is barely warm.

When I use a thin syrup-like glaze, I like to put toothpick holes in the cake and glaze it while it is warm. The small holes make it easy for the glaze to seep into the cake and moisten it. This is a nice technique for a pound cake or other pastry that may dry out or is not frosted.

Bottom line: For thin, syrup-like glazes, the cake should be barely warm.

Non-Syrupy Thin Glazes

If you plan to use a thin glaze that is not a syrup, you will want to glaze your cake or pastry when it is cool. If you are spooning or pouring the glaze over the top of the cake or pastry, a cool cake will allow the glaze to decoratively run down the cake without getting too thin. A warm cake is likely to change the glaze’s consistency causing it to run off the cake.

Bottom line: For thin glazes that are not syrups, the cake should be cool.

What About Spreadable Glazes?

When glazing a cake with a thicker glaze that you need to spread, glazing will be easier if the cake or pastry still has a touch of warmth. However, most glazes that are a spreadable consistency are usually considered icing.

For those who are not sure of the difference, frostings are stiffer than icings, and icings are a stiffer consistency than glazes. Glazing involves applying a sweet topping that is thinner than an icing or a frosting. If you happen to be using thicker glazes, very slight warmth will help make the glaze easy to spread. For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume you are making a glaze that you pour, spoon or brush on your baked goods since many would consider a spreadable glaze an icing.

Bottom line: For thicker glazes that you need to spread, the cake should have a touch of warmth.

Brushing a thin glaze on a cake makes it easy to evenly distribute the glaze. Photo by Abby Slutsky

Brushing a thin glaze on a cake makes it easy to evenly distribute the glaze. Photo by Abby Slutsky

How to Apply a Sweet Glaze

The best technique for applying the glaze depends on its thickness.

Thin, Syrupy Glazes

If you are applying a syrup, as opposed to a glaze, make some toothpick holes in the cake. Then, brush the glaze over the cake. Brushing, as opposed to pouring the syrup, allows you to evenly distribute it over the cake.

I prefer a silicone brush that does not release stray brush hairs on the cake. Although I have many silicone pastry brushes, the 4-Piece Silicone Brush set I purchased on Amazon is one of my favorites because if I use more than one brush at a time, I can easily remember which brush I used for which product because the brushes are different colors. They are comfortable to hold, inexpensive, and wash beautifully by hand or in the dishwasher.

Pourable Medium Glazes

When applying a medium glaze, I like to use a combination of pouring and spooning the glaze.

  1. Place the cake on a cake plate or cake board.
  2. Cut four 4-inch wide strips of parchment that are slightly longer than the cake.
  3. Fold the strips in half lengthwise, so they are approximately 2-inches wide.
  4. Using a spatula, gently lift up each side of the cake, one at a time, and tuck the parchment strip under each side of the cake, so that it just sits under the cake but is mostly extended beyond the cake.
  5. Gently pour most of the glaze over the cake, but reserve a small amount to spoon over the cake.
  6. Spoon additional glaze over any area of the cake that is not covered as much as you would like.
  7. Wait about 20 minutes, or until the glaze is set. Gently pull the parchment out from under the cake, and your cake plate or board will be free of glaze without cleaning it.

My Favorite Glaze Recipes

These are some of my favorite, tried and true glaze recipes:

Thin Syrup Glaze


  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water, orange or lemon juice


  1. Warm the ingredients over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Brush on a slightly warm cake that contains toothpick holes.

Keep in mind that you may have recipes that require you to glaze a cake with a thin syrup prior to applying frosting or icing. The syrup helps prevent the cake from becoming dry and extends its shelf life. (When I worked in a commercial kitchen, every cake we made had a syrup glaze applied before it was frosted.)

Medium Rum Glaze


  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon rum
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Warm all the ingredients, except the tablespoon of rum, over a low flame until the sugar is dissolved and the butter is fully melted.
  2. Put toothpick holes in the cake, and brush the glaze lightly over the cake.
  3. Pour about ⅓ of the glaze into a small cup, and mix in the extra rum. Brush this mixture over the cake first. After the cake is lightly brushed—use it all.
  4. Then pour the remaining glaze, which will be slightly thicker over the cake. This is also a nice glaze for cinnamon buns.

Shiny Fruit Glaze

A shiny glaze makes a cake look very impressive.

Pro Tip: Before making a glaze that uses jam, try straining it to avoid large chunks of fruit in your glaze. You will make a smoother product that is easier to apply than one that is chunky.


  • ½ cup apricot jam
  • 2 tablespoons apricot brandy


  1. Place the ingredients in a small pot, and stir them over a low flame until the mixture is slightly warm and the apricot jam becomes a little thinner.
  2. Immediately, brush the glaze over a cake or tart.


  • I usually brush this over a cool, fruit-topped cake or tart while the jam mixture is slightly warm.
  • Feel free to modify this recipe by using a different flavor jam. Note that a light-colored jam will not discolor the top of your tart or cake. You can also substitute an extract in lieu of the brandy.

Happy Glazing!

Although this article focuses on glazing cakes or pastries, if you are making breads and want to learn about glazing, refer to my article Glazing Breads: It’s All About the Crust.

Given that glazing can help enhance the beauty and flavor of many baked goods, experimenting with glazes can be a wonderful way to take your baking up a notch.

© 2021 Abby Slutsky