I want to have my cake & frost it, too!
October 13, 2008 3:23 PM   Subscribe

[Cupcake-Filter]: Why is my cream cheese frosting an irreparable mess? How can I make some that is temperature stable?

Great culinary minds of the hive, I beseech you! I recently finished a test-batch of Mummy cream-cheese frosted red velvet cupcakes that I plan on making again for my younger sister’s halloween party in two weeks. They are darling and festive, and she is over the moon with the presentation. However, frosting them and having them retain their shape is a NIGHTMARE!

While the recipe I used results in a delicious frosting, it ends up being a hugely goopy mess when it warms to room temperature. Getting the ribbons to keep their shape is difficult; even applying the ribbons in the first place was a challenge, as the frosting kept melting in the bag while in my hands. Making cupcakes should never be this frustrating! (I want them to taste like love, not bitter resentment.)

I’ve tried refrigerating them first to “set” the frosting, but 20 minutes after being set on the counter the frosting begins to melt. This is problematic as these cupcakes will have to sit out in room temperature for approximately 2 hours during the course of the upcoming party.

The recipe I used is as follows:

12 ounces or 1-1/2 packages of Philly cream cheese
1/2 stick Smart Choice (Vegan Butter Substitute)
4-5 cups sifted powdered sugar
seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

What is the secret to finding a temperature-stable cream cheese frosting?
Should I substitute the vegan butter with vegetable shortening? Should I be using more of something, and less of another?

I know that there must be some solution, as evidenced by the numerous cupcake bakeries (Magnolia, Sprinkles, Miette, Yummy Cupcakes, etc.) that leave their cream-cheese frosted cupcakes on display with great success (and no melting!). What is their secret? I would like the frosting to be as close to this recipe as it can be (no HFCS if at all possible, for instance), but I am definitely open to suggestion. Thank you!
posted by numinous to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I do not know what the problem is, but I have never had good experiences with butter substitutes. They're typically a suspension of oil in water that's fine cold, but completely liquefies at room temperature. If you're already using creme cheese, why not just use butter? The cheese already makes it non-vegan and pretty high in saturated fat. You could use shortening but I'm not sure about the flavour - I find shortening to be pretty obvious in cheap cake icings.

So my #1 suggestion is to use plain ol' butter.
posted by GuyZero at 3:43 PM on October 13, 2008

Yes. Use butter.
posted by Wolfie at 3:45 PM on October 13, 2008

Is there any particular reason you're using a butter substitute? I want to say that's the cause of your problems, unless you've had success in the past making a buttercream frosting using it.
posted by brain cloud at 3:45 PM on October 13, 2008

Response by poster: I originally used the butter substitute instead of butter in an effort to curb the amount of cholesterol in the cupcakes - but I've worked with cream cheese frosting in the past (using real butter), and the problem remains - the frosting must be refrigerated, or else it becomes a melty mess!

Would using vegetable shortening change the consistency? I'm doubtful, since it's such a small amount compared to the cream cheese. What do proper bakeries use in their recipes? I am dying to know!
posted by numinous at 3:52 PM on October 13, 2008

Since you're using the dairy product cream cheese, can you use real butter? Don't use vegetable shortening...it'll just fall apart, tastes terrible, and isn't good for anyone.

You might also try mixing it slightly less, refrigerating your icing bag every 10min or so (common when decorating with heat-sensitive ingredients), rinsing your hands every 10min or so under cool water, and keeping your hands only at the top and tip of the bag to keep from over-warming it.

You can also add more powdered sugar to firm it up. Just keep adding until it's a texture you can work with.

Any of this may or may not be what the bakeries are doing. You could also call and ask them.
posted by batmonkey at 3:57 PM on October 13, 2008

Also: try substituting neufchatel for the straight cream cheese. Lower in fat, same body.
posted by batmonkey at 3:58 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Most commercial bakeries use trans-fatty shortening in their frosting to retain the shape. Off-hand, I would suggest adding a small amount of corn starch to make it a little more firm. In the past when I've made buttercream or cream cheese frosting I found it held up a little better with a small amount of starch (like less than 1tsp).
posted by fiercekitten at 4:00 PM on October 13, 2008

It's either the powdered sugar or the butter substitute, or the interaction of both. I would think powdered sugar, with smaller crystals, that would lead to more melting.

Try this:

Buttercream by Alton Brown

Show: Good Eats
Episode: The Icing Man Cometh

4 eggs, room temperature
1/2-cup sugar
1/2-cup dark corn syrup
10 ounces butter, cubed and at room temperature

In a large mixing bowl, whip the eggs until light and fluffy.

In a small saucepan bring the sugar and the corn syrup to a boil. Lubricate the inside of a metal baster with a small amount of vegetable oil and dispense it completely. Then use this to drizzle the sugar mixture into the mixing bowl with the eggs. The mixer should be on low speed until you finish drizzling in all of the sugar mixture.

Once the entire mixture of the sugar is incorporated, slowly add the butter pieces. Only add more butter when you can no longer see the previously added pieces. It will go fast at first and then slow down. Continue to whip until the mixture is creamy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:00 PM on October 13, 2008

Seconding adding more sugar, then. It's the only thing in there holding all the fat together.

And I suppose it goes without saying, but perhaps this isn't the best recipe to be cutting back on the cholesterol - it's party food fergoshsakes!
posted by brain cloud at 4:00 PM on October 13, 2008

They possibly use more sugar or use a cooked icing. Maybe a little corn starch (which should already be in the icing sugar) to help bind the water. Note that you can use cream cheese in icings that are not what you would traditionally call a cream cheese icing like you find on traditional carrot cake. Possible they're making a cream cheese fondant icing or something that's a lot more solid. Like you say, all my cream cheese icings are typically soft affairs that do not hold any real shape. So suggestion #2 is more icing sugar.
posted by GuyZero at 4:01 PM on October 13, 2008

If the cream cheese is a "light" version it liquifies. It needs to be the full fat kind to work.
posted by slightlybewildered at 4:50 PM on October 13, 2008

Oh my god, cutest cupcakes ever.

I think the ratio of cream cheese to butter in your recipe might be a little too high. I'd try using real butter, and maybe even using a little more than the recipe calls for (counter-intuitive, I know, but I too have had this problem with cream cheese frosting, yet never with buttercream frosting).
posted by arianell at 5:06 PM on October 13, 2008

I made these cupcakes in August, started with room-temperature butter and cream cheese, and never refrigerated them. The frosting held up great. The major difference I can see is that there's not as much sugar in your frosting; to preserve the ratio you'd need 6 cups of powdered sugar (maybe more) instead of 4-5.
posted by range at 5:34 PM on October 13, 2008

You need to use more powdered sugar. As a last ditch attempt, you could add a small amount of cornstarch to the mixture. There is already a small amount of starch in the powdered sugar to stabilize it. I think that you should switch to either butter or shortening. Shortening will probably hold up better than butter. Whipping the fat and powdered sugar soundly may also help.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:09 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're really set on using a butter substitute, you might want to try adding xanthan gum to thicken the mixture. The stuff is amazing and it'll thicken anything.
posted by HotPatatta at 7:19 PM on October 13, 2008

- Use real butter
- Use full-fat cream cheese
- Add a teaspoon of cornstarch
- User more sugar

- Skip the vanilla extract and use vanilla sugar instead. For six cups of sugar, split three vanilla beans and put them, intact, in the sugar and seal in an airtight container for at least a week, two if you can. The sugar will absorb the flavor and will be really good.
posted by Dreama at 11:12 PM on October 13, 2008

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