Carrot cake with classic cream cheese frosting

Carrot cake with classic cream cheese frosting

Cream cheese frosting is one of those mainstays in a baker’s repertoire that we take for granted.  Its a critical topping for some of those richer, flavour packed cakes like Carrot cake or Hummingbird cake, and some folks say for Red Velvet cake (I like to use a lighter “Ermine” frosting, but that is another blog post).

If you go on a search for Cream cheese frosting recipes, you will find most are pretty vague as to the method – which I find puzzling, as its one that most people have resigned themselves to something that tastes good, but has a gloppy, spreadable consistency rather than being perfectly pipeable.  Most of the “fixes” you will see out there range from

  • Adding less cream cheese and more butter – a less than optimal fix, since what’s cream cheese frosting without cream cheese!
  • Adding more icing sugar to firm it up – also a less than optimal fix as it makes the cream cheese icing too sweet, dulling down the cream cheese flavour
  • Beating for only a few seconds – also not ideal, since you end up with lumps of cream cheese in your frosting, which is not so attractive or practical when you are piping!
  • Using only Philadelphia brand cream cheese – this one has some merit, but isn’t always ideal if another brand of cream cheese happens to be on a super-sale.

Given all of the above, and given I make quite a bit of cream cheese frosting each week, I thought I would share my proportions and method for making pretty bombproof cream cheese frosting that pipes like a dream.  This doesn’t have a lot of sugar in it, and uses science to give you a bit of a buffer on the slump factor.

The fact is that even the best quality cream cheeses contain water, which when combined with confectioners sugar, seeks out the water molecules and bonds immediately causing a liquid – in technical terms, sugar is hydrospcopic.  THIS is what causes your cream cheese frosting to get all weepy on you!

In order to circumvent this little bit of science, you need to add some fat into the mix to jam up the works, so to speak.  By creaming the butter and confectioners sugar FIRST and very well, you effectively disrupt this natural affinity of the water in the cream cheese for the sugar molecules.  If you do this first, you can then add your cream cheese, and still be able to beat it to a nice smooth, fluffy consistency.  Here’s the process (and amounts to frost 1 9″ layer cake or 1 9×13 slab cake)

  1. 227 grams (1 cup) butter + 3 bricks (250 grams each, OR 750 grams total) full-fat (55% milk fat)cream cheese – do NOT use light cream cheese, it has too much water in it
  2. Make sure your butter and cream cheese are at room temperature!
  3. Place in a stand mixer with 2 cups of confectioners sugar and 1 tsp or so of vanilla extract.  Beat at low speed until the sugar is mixed into the butter, then turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy (it will actually get near-white in colour).  You may need to scrape the bowl of your mixer part way through to make sure the butter is fully incorporated.
  4. Cut the cream cheese into 1″ cubes and add in stages to the butter and sugar mixture.  Beat at medium-low speed for about 1 minute, until the frosting is nice and smooth.  Don’t beat beyond this point.  Even with this method, it will become a bit runny if you overdo it!
  5. Load your frosting into a piping bag and frost away!
  6. If you are not going to use the frosting immediately, store in the fridge.  Let it come back to room temperature before using.
  7. Happy piping!
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Janice Mansfield is a personal chef who specializes in creating customized catering and baking for people with food sensitivities. A recipe developer and baker by day, by night, she enjoys delving into the history of classic cocktails and created a line of cocktail bitters for no other reason than she wanted chocolate bitters in her Manhattans! In her spare time, she documents the antics and unbearable cuteness her two Shiba Inus over at Life in the Shiba Shack.

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