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The measurements are for covering the top, sides, and in between the layers (if layered). Most standard recipes will make between 3 and 4 cups of frosting. If the frosting is too stiff to spread, try placing the bowl in to another bowl of warm water. Stir to soften the frosting to desired spreading consistency.
If you are trying to determine how much frosting you need and are questioning whether you will need additional or not, you should probably go ahead and make more. The last thing you want to happen is to get almost done decorating your cake, cupcakes, or cookies and then run out of frosting. It would be better to end up with leftovers than to run out. :)
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