By now, you probably know I’m a sucker for a good baking shortcut. Give me all the doctored up box cakes and pizza dough cinnamon rolls. I think what makes those things work, though, is incorporating a homemade component. Also, there are just some places you can’t cut corners! To me, that is frosting.
I’ve probably made frosting incorrectly more often than not. When I started baking, I got my frosting wrong every. single. time. Several times, it would taste and smell so much like butter that I couldn’t bring myself to even eat the cake! I didn’t know where I was going wrong – I was following recipes exactly. Then it dawned on me.. why was I so confident in these recipes I had just come across online? After more trial and error, I found the keys to making good frosting. And I haven’t looked back since! Once you have a good buttercream and cream cheese frosting base, you can easily tweak it to be more of a glaze, or have different flavors.
Beat your butter for at least 5 minutes. A lot of recipes I found said to beat your butter for 1-2 minutes or something along those lines. To me, the longer I let my butter go with my mixer turned all the way up, the better the frosting turns out! Seriously, don’t be shy, let that bad boy do it’s thing while you do the dishes.
After you add cream cheese or powdered sugar, beat the mixture again until it’s reached a smooth consistency. Do not assume it should reach this consistency after just a minute or two!
This made the biggest difference in the texture of my frosting, and it’s supposed to help the flavor be less buttery, too. If I could only share one secret with you, it would be this one!
Do not trust a recipe if it calls for equal parts butter and powdered sugar, and especially if it calls for more butter than powdered sugar! Once I realized there was a ratio that buttercream and cream cheese frosting should be following, I was able to discern which recipes were legit.
The buttercream ratio for butter to powdered sugar should be about 1:4, given the other ingredients in the frosting. That means if you use 1 cup of butter, you should use 4-5 cups of powdered sugar.
For cream cheese, it’s a little more complicated since there is such a thing as cream cheese buttercream, but I usually use a 1:1 ratio of butter to cream cheese, then follow the buttercream ratio. To me, this has the perfect amount of the cream cheese flavor.
Temperature doesn’t matter as much as the internet will tell you. Once I stopped being afraid of mixing my frosting for too long (I really don’t know why I was), I learned that using cold butter or cold cream, instead of room temp, could be compensated for by mixing. If you add cold cream and you notice your frosting start to clump as the butter hardens, just start mixing. The clumps will smooth with time.
Making frosting is less of a science, and more of an art. If your frosting is too thick, you can add milk or cream to thin it. If your frosting is too thin, add more powdered sugar! If your frosting is too sweet, a squeeze of lemon juice or a pinch of salt will do the trick. And if you decide you don’t want plain vanilla, substitute another extract. You can pretty much always fix frosting. Just remember, if you add something, mix, mix, mix!
Below I’m sharing my favorite basic recipes. I’ve gotten to a point where now, if I want to change my recipes, I’ll make some mental tweaks to these recipes to make them flavored, or turn them into more of a glaze. Consider these the only two frosting recipes you’ll ever need!
Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
8 oz cream cheese (1 block)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
4+ cups powdered sugar
Cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth, usually 5 minutes. Add salt and vanilla, mix well. Mix in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Mix thoroughly after each addition. Use a spatula or spoon for one final mix to get rid of air bubbles.
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 tsps vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
4+ cups powdered sugar
2-4 tbsps heavy cream or milk
Cream butter until smooth. Add vanilla and salt, mix well. Mix in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Mix thoroughly after each addition. Your frosting will be very dry looking at this point. Beat in cream, 1 tbsp at a time, until you have reached your desired consistency.
Both recipes should make enough to frost a two layer cake!
I’ll leave you with a short anecdote. While learning how to bake, I had no clue there were different kinds of buttercream frosting. The above mentioned is considered American buttercream, and is possibly the easiest to make. There are other kinds, such as Swiss and Italian (tbh those might be the same). Last Christmas, I saw a peppermint vanilla cake in a magazine that I thought I would make for a family function with my new in-laws. Well long story short, the buttercream called for whipping egg whites to stiff peaks. I stupidly tried to use my hand mixer instead of my standing mixer, not knowing any better. Needless to the say, the egg whites barely made it to soft peaks, but I had run out of time and had to ice my cake. That alone wouldn’t have been a problem if the recipe hadn’t called to decorate the cake with peppermint candies. Soft peaks and hard candy do not mix. By the end of the get together, all the peppermints had slid down the sides of the cakes, making it look like it was melting under the southern July sun. The cherry on top was realizing when I got home that my whole kitchen was covered in a layer of stickiness due to my vigorous whipping of egg whites and sugar..
I realized later that I had unsuccessfully made a Swiss buttercream. I learned my lesson – stick to American buttercream and never bring a new recipe to a party.
Hope this helps you up your forsting game!