Up My Frosting Game
May 1, 2021 8:06 PM   Subscribe

I love cream cheese frosting. Whenever I make it, it's so sweet. I've not found a recipe I like.

I've tried doubling the cream cheese and keeping the butter the same. No dice. Is the answer a Swiss or Italian meringue base with cream cheese added?

Last week end I made a great chocolate bourbon pound cake and used their recipe for the bacon bourbon cream cheese frosting. It was so sweet. The cake was good though.
posted by kathrynm to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe give the recipe you used so people can make suggestions? In general the advice I've seen if frosting is too sweet is to add salt a little at a time to taste.
posted by potrzebie at 8:19 PM on May 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Try this cream cheese frosting recipe by Stella Parks - it uses a German buttercream-style vanilla custard as a base and is not too sweet.
posted by LNM at 8:31 PM on May 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

Whenever I make it, it's so sweet.

Have you tried reducing the sugar?
posted by Thella at 8:35 PM on May 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

Replace some or all of the sugar with unsweetened applesauce. I have not tested this suggestion but would use it myself.
posted by aniola at 9:24 PM on May 1, 2021

Or use minced dried fruit, but more sparingly than the applesauce, because it's sweeter.
posted by aniola at 9:25 PM on May 1, 2021

I'd definitely start with reducing the sugar. Whenever I make cream cheese icing/frosting, I add a wee bit of icing/confectioner's sugar, taste, and repeat until I get the flavour I want. Also, add a small amount (like 1/2 a teaspoon depending on the quantity of icing) of lemon juice. Helps balance sweetness and tang.
posted by BeeJiddy at 10:46 PM on May 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

I use Alton Browns cream cheese frosting recipe here, BUT, and it's a big but, taking a hint from reading the comments I only use as much sugar as necessary until it tastes right, and I think that comes to about half of what the recipe calls for.
It's a super simple and highly addictive frosting (based on what those I've served it to tell me) and easy to adjust to whatever sweetness you desire.
posted by newpotato at 2:37 AM on May 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I don't like it too sweet either, and I've had good luck with recipes that include a little lemon juice. Here is a Silver Palate recipe I've used & liked. (I probably used half a cup less sugar than it calls for too.)
posted by miles per flower at 2:52 AM on May 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I add, like, half the sugar most recipes recommend. Then I taste it and occasionally add a little more until it tastes right. American recipes in particular tend to go way too heavy on the sugar.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:00 AM on May 2, 2021 [7 favorites]

Seconding stillnocturnal: I reduce by half or a third the sugar in all baking/sweets recipes, unless from a trusted source. Ninety percent of the time I think the recipe is better, because it lets more flavor come through. When in doubt I take one for the team and do a small test bake or mix.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:01 AM on May 2, 2021

Best answer: Everyone who says to just use less sugar is forgetting that most cream cheese frosting recipes use butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar- the powdered sugar 'stiffens' the cream cheese as much as it sweetens it. So just using less won't work - in fact, I used to often find that I needed to use up to 25% to 50% more powdered sugar than called for just to get it to a spreadable consistency, depending on the general humidity or the wind direction or how the Baking Spirits were feeling towards me that day.

If you are using a cream cheese/butter/powdered sugar recipe, this will help:

Bake on a dry day. Or if you have a dehumidifier, turn it on in your kitchen for a few hours before you get started.

Make sure you are using Philly cream cheese in the block, not the tub. Not a store brand, not a fancy artisan cream cheese from the farmers market.

Check the butterfat percentage on the butter. Use the highest you can find. Everything else in the butter other than the butter fat is liquid and you want as little liquid as possible.

Unwrap the cream cheese and leave it in a covered dish at room temp for a few hours (you need your cream cheese and butter at room temp anyway). If there is any liquid separated in the bowl, pour it off before you proceed.

DO NOT OVERMIX. Add the base amount of sugar called for in the recipe, maybe a little less, and mix ONLY until it's smooth. Your butter and cream cheese were at room temp, right? That means you don't have to worry about tiny lumps. Mix until it's smooth and then stop. Overmixing dissolves the sugar too much instead of leaving it crystallised and your frosting will collapse. If you need to add more sugar because it's too runny, add it a tablespoon at a time and mix it as little as possible.

Adding lemon juice makes the frosting more tangy/less sweet, but it's liquid! We don't want it! If you can get your hands on powdered citric acid, add a tiny bit of that instead.

If you try all this and it's still a disaster, add a small spoonful of corn starch.

And finally, before you use it, refrigerate it. Make sure it's tightly covered (saran wrap pressed down on top of the frosting, or in a ziploc bag with the air pressed out) so it doesn't absorb more moisture. This will make it a good spreading consistency (you can even pipe it with a round tip) and will help it hold it's structure on the cake or cupcakes long enough for the sugar to slightly crystallise before it gets back to room temp.
posted by cilantro at 4:08 AM on May 2, 2021 [18 favorites]

I have never had an issue adding less sugar to either cream cheese or buttercream frosting. I understand it could happen, but at worstfor me it's been a little softer than ideal. I'm going for delicious rather than aesthetic so the frosting being a little too soft never bothered me. YMMV of course, and I am in the UK so different butter probably etc.

Personally I like to use marscapone frosting, similar enough to cream cheese it may work for you and I've never had issues with the consistency.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:45 AM on May 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I also cut the powdered sugar by half. The reason it stiffens the frosting is not just the bulk, it's that most commercially available powdered sugar contains cornstarch as an anti-caking agent. So if you taste it and dont want it sweeter but it's too thin, whip in a tsp or so of cornstarch until you get it thick enough. Dont go overboard, as too much will make it taste chalky.
posted by ananci at 7:22 AM on May 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

A left field suggestion: Ermine frosting is on the less sweet end of the frosting spectrum and is sometimes compared to cream cheese frosting. You may try that and see if you like it. I do.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:26 AM on May 2, 2021

Response by poster: I may have been overmixing. I may also try better butter. Since I bake a lot, I usually just buy it in bulk from Sam's.

This is the recipe I made last weekend. To get the bourbon in the cake, I subbed it for the vanilla and then since I only had powdered buttermilk, I used some bourbon in place of the water.

Thanks for the suggestions everybody.
posted by kathrynm at 9:24 AM on May 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Check the butterfat percentage on the butter. Use the highest you can find. Everything else in the butter other than the butter fat is liquid and you want as little liquid as possible.

Sub ghee for regular butter (or DIY). It's like a hundred percent butterfat.
posted by aniola at 1:12 PM on May 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I haven't tried it yet but I've had my eye on this Cream Cheese Ermine Frosting recipe. I personally didn't love the Stella Parks version - found it bland and not sweet enough - but I kind of love regular cream cheese frosting, so perhaps that sweetness level will hit the spot for you!
posted by mosst at 6:04 AM on May 3, 2021

Best answer: Ooops, that link is a bit unclear so the recipe itself is here.
posted by mosst at 6:07 AM on May 3, 2021

Response by poster: Mosst, my dad's go to frosting recipe is a ermine frosting (thanks for the name!). At Easter I tried to make that into a cream cheese icing and it was really soft. I just added the cream cheese. I'm going to try that recipe the next time I want cream cheese frosting. Hopefully their method will work better.
posted by kathrynm at 8:56 AM on May 3, 2021

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