The Great Canadian Baking Show and the 'Icing/Frosting' Question

by Jet McCullough
December 21, 2020

Looking further into The Great Canadian Baking Show’s use of baking terminology, we can see more examples of the mixture of British and North American vocabulary that characterizes Canadian English. We shall consider usage of the terms “icing” and “frosting.” Both the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (COD) and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) mark “frosting” as a North American term, so we might expect Canadian English speakers to be familiar with it:

N Amer. icing for a cake etc. (COD)
… = ICING n. 1a. Now chiefly North American. (OED)

Linguist Charles Boberg writes, however, that Canadian English is more in line with British English on this choice of terms, favouring "'icing' rather than 'frosting' for the top layer of a cake” (“Canadian English,” The Canadian Encyclopedia). This preference is confirmed by the definition of “icing” in the COD bearing no regional marking, which implies that in Canadian English it carries no inflection of region, and is thus a default term, so to speak. We might expect, then, for usage in The Great Canadian Baking Show to tend toward “icing”, but perhaps include “frosting” as well. Is this tendency apparent in the series? “Icing” is easy enough to find on the show, as in the “marshmallow icing” seen on a s’mores-themed birthday cake in season 2, episode 1 (S2:E1), or the question “do you love icing?” posed to a contestant who “went a little heavy” with the cake’s coating (S3:E1). “Frosting” is not absent from the show, however, with “raspberry cordial frosting” being featured on an Anne of Green Gables-themed cake (S2:E1).

Another factor to consider in determining the dominance of “icing” is the use of the term “icing sugar.” Boberg writes that Canadians prefer “'icing sugar' rather than 'powdered sugar' for the finely ground sugar sprinkled on desserts” (“Canadian English,” The Canadian Encyclopedia). Other sources confirm this preference. The OED notes, in its definition of “icing sugar,” that the substance is “In the U.S., also called powdered sugar”. The COD is more explicit regarding Canadian usage, its definition of “icing sugar” carrying a region marker: "Cdn, Brit., Austral. & NZ: finely powdered sugar . . . for making icing for cakes etc.” The definition of “confectioner’s sugar” marks the term’s region, too: "US icing sugar.” “Icing sugar” seems unambiguously to belong to the Englishes spoken in these Commonwealth countries, and not to the one spoken in the United States. As we might expect, “icing sugar” can be found in the recipes for season one’s Battenberg cake (S1:E1), and season two’s orange chiffon cake (S2:E1). The series here uses a term unusual to American English, but apparently the standard in Canada, and this reflects the series’ choice more broadly on the "icing/frosting" question. 

The Great Canadian Baking Show, it seems, has gone for the British term “icing,” though not strictly so, just as Canadian English speakers would have it.