Frosting that isn't so sweet?
September 1, 2016 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I enjoy baking and I really enjoy decorating and want to try doing more of it. However, I've lost my sweet tooth and while I can adjust the baked goods to my tastebuds, any frosting like fondant, buttercream and royal icing is far too sweet and ruins the cake and cookie for me. Are there alternative neutral or even tangy-sour-sweet icings that I could use instead?
posted by dorothyisunderwood to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
You might like Ermine Icing (the old school accompaniment to red velvet cake, at least in my grandmother's house). It's got a cup of sugar but is very light compared with other frostings. And it's so, so good. I've been unable to get on board the red velvet trend of the last several years because the standard cream cheese frosting everyone uses is way too sweet and heavy.
posted by something something at 8:26 AM on September 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

You could do a lemon glaze, at least for some cakes. That works really well for poundcake, for example. It has sugar, of course, but it has offsetting sourness from the lemon juice. Here's an example.
posted by holborne at 8:28 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Plain whipped cream.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:29 AM on September 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

I'm like you - I hate super sweet toppings on my cakes. Try searching for "cream cheese frosting" and "sour cream frosting" and adjust to your taste (I usually add lemon juice to make it extra tangy).
posted by travellingincognito at 8:29 AM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Cream cheese frosting seems like it would be up your alley.

Depending on how the cake is going to be served, I am often perfectly satisfied with a simple whipped cream filling/topping. Maybe with a couple drops of vanilla or lemon zest or other flavoring as appropriate. I find whipped cream fillings to be best with less sugar than more.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:31 AM on September 1, 2016

2 cups of heavy cream, whipped into whipped cream, and stabilized with half a brick (4 oz.) of softened cream cheese is divine. It's rich and decadent, and you can sweeten as desired. I usually only use about 1/4 cup of sugar in the whole thing.
posted by PearlRose at 8:41 AM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you live in an area with a large immigrant population, you can go to the nearest ethnic grocery and get a packet to make a whipped frosting, usually from a Polish maker. It will be lighter and less sugary than the standard icing/frosting that comes in tubs.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:44 AM on September 1, 2016

So, the thing about fondant and royal icing is that they are really there more for the look than for the flavor. Cream cheese frosting or ermine or lemon glaze will taste wonderful, but you won't be able to get the same kind of super detailed and precise decorations that you can get with fondant/royal.

I've had really good luck with using a Royal Icing Mix and then flavoring it with Lemon Extract (or almond, or even peppermint) to add a bit of bite to fight against the cloying sweetness of the icing itself.
posted by anastasiav at 8:46 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I see no reason why you couldn't use straight-up whipped cream cheese as a cake frosting. In fact, I might try that myself.

[Edit: This might not work so well for decoration/aesthetics. I'm thinking solely about flavor here.]
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:46 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I sometimes use stencils (check craft stores, online sources, or make your own) for just a dusting of powdered sugar on chocolate cake. I suppose cinnamon or cocoa on a lighter colored cake might be good, too.
posted by amtho at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mascarpone also works well as a not-too-sweet frosting - just mix in icing sugar to taste (I like to add rosewater or almond essence too depending on the flavour of the cake it's going on).
posted by theseldomseenkid at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Some tips that can help you modify your frosting recipes to be less sweet:
How to Thicken Frosting Without Sugar
How to Thicken Frosting With Cornstarch

You could also think about adding nonsweet flavors such as coffee, cocoa, citrus zest, strawberries, herbs, and plain nut butters.

The simplest frosting is whipped cream. A tablespoon or so of powdered sugar will add a touch of sweetness and help stabilize the structure. This is my go-to, with a touch (or more) of vanilla, bourbon, or rum. But this is a "not long before serving" type of frosting.
posted by zennie at 9:08 AM on September 1, 2016

I would suggest whipped cream with not much sugar added. You can use a packaged stabilizer from the store or there are recipes online for stabilizing with things like cornstarch if you need it to last. That will help keep the consistency, but you won't get a smooth surface like you could with the other frostings.

Have you tried an Italian or Swiss buttercream? They still have sugar, but they are nowhere near as sweet as the standard American buttercream (butter/powdered sugar/milk/flavor). I use Martha Stewart's Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe and get lots of comments about how not-too-sweet it is.
posted by thejanna at 9:33 AM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

If it's the overwhelming sweetness that's your only problem with traditional buttercreams, I'll give you an apparently-nonsensical bit of advice: try going with something denser and richer. It's kind of like steering into the skid, but you'll be surprised how much less cloying icing tastes when it's SO rich that you only want a thin layer of it on your cake. My go-to is a swiss-meringue buttercream, which has... well, more butter than can possibly be healthy, but which gets most of its texture from whipped egg whites. It's divine on cupcakes.
posted by Mayor West at 10:05 AM on September 1, 2016

The frosting from this chocolate cake recipe (which is awesome, by the way) may work for you.

It's just equal parts melted semisweet chocolate and sour cream, and it fits the "tangy-sour-sweet" bill nicely.
posted by bdk3clash at 10:31 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

you can frost a cake with a whipped ganache. Make one with a high percentage of cocoa and use on a genoise soaked with something boozy.
posted by JPD at 10:37 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for tangy/sour/sweet, add powdered sports drink mix. You'll definitely get tangy/sour/sweet.
posted by aniola at 11:46 AM on September 1, 2016

Seconding plain whipped cream as a divine topping. Found on my favorite cake, Norwegian bløtkake, a jammy layer cake that's basically rustically fancy fruit shortcake, to which I sometimes add a drop of vanilla extract or cardamom for flavoring, but which would probably support other essences or spices for kick. Quite tasty, vær så god!
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 1:58 PM on September 1, 2016

Also egg white icing has sugar in it but is light and fluffy and can dress many cakes!
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 2:08 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can replace a significant amount (1/3-2/3) of the sugar in a frosting recipe with non-instant powdered milk to reduce the sweetness.
posted by jhawk1729 at 5:33 PM on September 1, 2016

There are various versions of chocolate sour cream frosting out there, like the one bdk3clash links to above, and they are usually credited to Helen Evans Brown, a friend of James Beard (you can find variations by googling her name).

Here's one I have had: melt 6 ounces semisweet chocolate (either squares or chips/pieces) over hot, not boiling water (a double boiler works well for this). When melted, stir in 3/4 cup full fat commercial sour cream with a dash of salt. Frost in the usual way. (A sprinkling of finely ground almonds goes nicely with this.)
posted by gudrun at 5:50 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Smitten Kitchen's sour cream chocolate icing starts out very sour and allows you to sweeten to your liking.
posted by Liesl at 5:53 PM on September 1, 2016

Goat's milk and goat's milk cheese (chevre) are tangy-er than cow's milk. You might find that to be an interesting substitute for recipes calling for milk or cream cheese.
posted by vignettist at 3:51 PM on September 6, 2016

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