This week I’ll be posting three of my best frosting recipes, a basic frosting for every occasion. Today’s topic: Perfect Crusting Cream Cheese Frosting.
I’m always getting ornate and impractical ideas, usually in the middle of the night, of desserts/designs I’d like to try and make. The fun part is trying to figure out what I can make look good with the limited skills and materials I have. I can’t make a buttercream rose, I don’t know how to get razor-sharp corners on my cakes and can’t even fathom some of the gorgeous hand-painting of the true sugar arts professionals. I just need to make a pretty good, pretty smooth cake to try out my newest decorating idea on. This crusting cream cheese frosting does just that.
I’m not good with fondant. I’m not good at using it and I’m not good at eating it. It’s gummy, it’s bland and I also think it’s sort of cheating. No one eats it, right? Your cake looks nice and smooth but you’ve had to cover it with something basically inedible to get it that way. I want something that looks and tastes delicious. But I also want everything to look smooth and precise and, if possible, extremely perfect. The only way for me to get a nice smooth cake with buttercream is to make one that crusts.
A crusting buttercream will set up, or cure about 15 minutes after you pipe it out. This dry-to-the-touch outer layer makes it possible use this technique for a perfectly smooth cake. It also allows you to pipe ornate decorations that will stay exactly where you put them. Any crusting buttercream has these advantages but I love to use a cream cheese frosting for these types of cake because I think it’s much more forgiving and has a nice white appearance that takes food coloring well. Ever try to make baby pink frosting with a buttercream and end up with something that looks more like a salmon or peach? Well I have and it made me real sad.
It’s heaven with red velvet cupcakes or sandwiched between two red velvet cookies. But it also pairs well with so many other flavors and fillings like blueberry, almond, or chocolate. It was outstanding with a negroni-inspired blood orange cake. I’ve never used this frosting and thought later, “I wish I had just used a regular buttercream.” I’m pretty sure cream cheese makes everything taste better. Whenever I’m at a party and I complement the hostess on a dish and ask for the recipe and they say “Oh you don’t want to know what’s in there!” and you make them tell you anyway, it’s always cream cheese. Lots of cream cheese.
Over the years I’ve adapted this fine recipe by upping the salt and extracts, simplifying the method and skipping some of the measuring. Like the Best Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream and Rich Chocolate-Almond Buttercream, for this frosting you just cream the butter, cream cheese and shortening for awhile then dump in everything else and beat the heck out of it.
- You really do have to use fully room temperature cream cheese. I don’t worry about this as much with butter but if your cream cheese is too cold you will end up with unappetizing little blobs of cream cheese lurking in every bite.
- If you’re super-concerned about super-white frosting you can also switch out the regular vanilla extract in this recipe for some clear imitation vanilla extract.
- Actually beat it for at least four minutes. That’s just the kind of direction I would read, get impatient after two minutes and say, “Meh. That’s probably good enough.” But unfortunately the magic happens between minutes 2 and 4. Wait for it.
- Always make sure that your frosting is warmer than your cake or cupcakes. Put the it/them in the fridge for a bit (or make it a week ahead and freeze it!) then frost with the room temperature frosting. It will be so easy to get it just how you want it.
- If you’re making a cake, fill the layers then put on a crumb coat. Put the whole thing in the fridge for 15 minutes. You will be amazed at how much nicer the end result is when you’re working on a nice firm foundation.
- An offset spatula and a nice big piping tip (like a 1M) are really all you need to make a beautiful cake. Use the spatula to straighten and level the top and sides then pipe wide rosettes on the top and you’re done!