Cream Cheese Frosting is a versatile topping for your favorite cakes, sweet rolls, or cookies. It has a creamy, slightly tart, flavor. I think it’s a great frosting for decorating cakes because it holds its shape.
Other cream cheese frostings can be fickle beasts. At times they can be cooperative. Other times, they melt all to crap for one reason or another. I’ve experienced the frustration of working with a frosting that’s so soft it won’t hold up a layer of cake. And, you know what? It wasn’t a pretty sight. My nerves, nor the cake. If you’re a baker, I’m sure you can relate.
Once upon a time, I owned a cake decorating business. This recipe is one I have always used to decorate my cakes because of how firm it is, and because it stands up to warmer temps. Now don’t be mistaken, most cream cheese frostings are characteristically softer than American buttercream (shortening mixed with powdered sugar). While this one is softer than American buttercream, it’s firmer than a straight cream cheese and sugar frosting would be. When it comes to butter or cream cheese based frostings, heat is the enemy. No matter what recipe you use, take care to chill the prepared frosting every chance you get to avoid a literal meltdown.
Let’s get to it.
What is Cream Cheese Frosting?
If you’re a fan of cinnamon rolls, red velvet, or carrot cake, you’ve probably tasted cream cheese frosting before. It’s most commonly used for those types of cakes and pastries. Essentially, all it is is softened cream cheese whipped until fluffy with powdered sugar. Often, flavorings, like vanilla extract, are added to give the frosting a little depth.
The biggest hangup with this frosting is, again, how naturally soft it is. Cream cheese, even at its coldest is still pliable. When mixed with sugar and other flavorings, it tends to become even softer. Add heat to the equation, and it can be a disaster.
I’ve altered my buttercream recipe to take some of the stress out this cream cheese version. By cutting the cream cheese with other fats that help stabilize the frosting, I’m making this one more user-friendly without compromising flavor.
What goes into this Cream Cheese Frosting
A high-quality powdered sugar like Imperial makes up the bulk of this frosting. Cream cheese, unsalted butter, shortening, fresh lemon juice, vanilla, and a hint of salt will be its supporting cast.
If you’re a purest and only want to use cream cheese, you can replace the butter and shortening with it. However, you’ll need to increase the amount of sugar (by a half pound) and make it on a fairly cool day. Oh, and chill it between mixing and spreading.
Sift to Eliminate Lumps
One thing that’s important is to sift the powdered sugar. I’m guilty of not having sifted my powdered sugar only because I was being lazy. I paid for it in the end when my piping tip got clogged with a lump in the frosting. Don’t be lazy like me. Be better than me.
Using a sifter, sift the powdered sugar in a separate bowl. You may want to sift 2 additional cups in case it’s hot or humid. This will also come in handy if you find you need to make your frosting stiffer after mixing. Set aside the bowl of powdered sugar once you’ve sifted it.
Blend, to Eliminate Lumps, Too!
Another way to ensure you have a smooth cream cheese frosting is to first blend together the fats until creamy. Use cream cheese and butter that are at room temperature, but not softened. You want them to feel slightly cooler than the room you’re in. Anything softer and your final frosting will be too soft.
Once your fats have reached the proper temperature, combine them in a large mixing bowl. A large mixing bowl. You’re dealing with powdered sugar later, so it will come in handy. Add the salt now, as well. Since the salt is grainy, mixing it from the start allows it time to dissolve. Use your electric mixer to blend the fats and salt together, first on low speed to break things down.
Once the blocks of fat are broken down, increase the mixer’s speed to high and whip the fats until they are combined and slightly smooth. You don’t need to whip these right now, just mix until creamy, which usually takes 1-2 minutes.
Add the Sugar Gradually
After the fats are creamed, gradually add the sifted powdered sugar. I usually add my powdered sugar two cups at a time. Getting sprayed with powdered sugar after adding too much is no fun…ask me how I know. After you’ve added the first quantity, blend the sugar into the fats on low speed. When all of the sugar has been incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
Increase the mixer’s speed to medium and blend in the sugar a little bit more- only 20 seconds or so, before adding the next quantity of sugar. Keep adding the sugar this way until it’s all mixed in.
Mix in the Flavorings and Finish Whipping
After the last of the sugar has been added, flavor your cream cheese frosting with fresh lemon juice and vanilla extract. Add anywhere from 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice, depending on how much pucker you want it to produce. I go all out and add 2, because we love the tartness. It will make your icing a little looser, though, so keep that in mind.
Once the flavorings have been mixed in, increase your mixing speed to high and whip the frosting for 3 minutes, or until fluffy.
Your finished frosting should be thick, fluffy, and hold a peak. You can use it now, but I prefer to chill it for a half-hour to give it a chance to firm up a little- especially if I’m decorating a cake with it.
How to Store Cream Cheese Frosting
To store your finished cream cheese frosting, transfer it to a food storage container. Avoid storing it in open containers for two reasons: first, it will develop a crust on it that will prevent it from spreading smoothly. I go a step farther and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of my frosting to prevent any crust at all from forming. I then wrap the bowl in more plastic wrap before chilling it. Second, if you store it in an uncovered container, it will take on any strong odors that are in your fridge. Frosting has a tendency to absorb the flavors it’s stored near, so those red onions on the shelf below? No bueno.
Keep the frosting in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. When you’re ready to ice, pipe, or spread, pull the frosting from the fridge and let it warm up on the counter for 10-15 minutes prior to doing so.
Freeze your cream cheese frosting for up to two months. Transfer the frosting to a freezer-safe storage bag and press out any excess air. Allow the frosting to thaw in the fridge for a few hours prior to using.
How to use this Frosting
You can truly use this cream cheese frosting however you want. Hell! You can eat it straight from the bowl with a spoon, for all I care! You made it, after all, you do you, Boo!
Might I suggest, though, using it to fill and decorate a 10″ Carrot Cake (or any cake, for that matter)?
This recipe makes enough for you to fill, cover, and decorate a 2 layer 10″ cake. Obviously, that means a smaller cake will leave you with some frosting to squirt in your mouth.
If you don’t want to use a straight cream cheese frosting, like the recipe that tops these Soft Sugar Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting; use this recipe, instead.
Cherry Sweet Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing is another way to go, too.
No matter how you use this Cream Cheese Frosting recipe, make sure you have it in your recipe box for the future. Pin and share this post so you have it handy.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- electric hand or stand mixer
- 8 ounce package (226g) cream cheese room temperature (not softened)
- 4 ounces (113g) unsalted butter (1 stick) room temperature (not softened)
- 1/2 cup (95g) vegetable shortening
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 pounds (907g) powdered sugar sifted, plus more as needed to thicken
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- milk or water as needed to thin the icing
- Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar, 2 cups at a time, to the creamed fat in the bowl. Blend in the sugar on low speed until it's incorporated, then stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
- Increase the mixer's speed to medium to continue blending in the sugar (20 seconds or so) before adding the next quantity of sugar. Keep adding the sugar in this way until it's all mixed in.
- After the last of the sugar has been incorporated, add the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Use the higher amount of lemon juice if you want a frosting with more tartness. Once the flavorings have been added, whip the frosting on high for 3 minutes, or until fluffy.
- The finished frosting should be thick, fluffy, and hold a peak. If you're using the frosting to decorate a cake, chill it for a half-hour to allow it to firm up.
- Store this cream cheese frosting in a sealable food storage container away from strong odors. Use as desired within 1 week of mixing.
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