Carrot Cake, Red Velvet Cake, Fluffy Coconut Layer Cakes, Intense Spice Cake, Citrusy Lemon or Orange Cake, each with layer after layer of luscious loveliness separated by pillowy clouds of fluffy frosting - and in most cases that frosting is the beloved Cream Cheese. Sweet, a touch of tartness, a hint of vanilla or other flavor, it's the perfect foil and growing glory for many baked goods.
Better? It's easy! Four ingredients! That's it - and that's awesome. It's also easy to adapt - if you wish you can change the ration of butter to cream cheese to the point of dropping the butter entirely if you want (although I'm not sure why anyone would want). Add more or less powdered sugar, according to your taste. (Imagine my stunned expression when it turned out my Beloved Little Darlings actually prefer it LESS sweet!) Change out the vanilla for another extract, and add citrus zest or cocoa. There's nothing this stuff can't do. At least in the kitchen - can't make claims here for health benefits, but I wouldn't be surprised if serving up a fat slice of cake with this stuff on it goes a long way toward fostering World Peace.
Make this frosting a time or two, and let your imagination roam. You'll quickly find yourself continuously stocking your fridge with the few ingredients necessary, and it'll become your favorite go-to concoction anytime you need to finish off a lovely baked good to perfection!
Although the basic Cream Cheese Frosting is fabulous on it's own, there are so many ways to tweak it that you'll never get tired of reaching for this awesome icing. I haven't tried all of these yet, but I certainly intend to, especially some of the more exotic variations!
You can swap out the regular cream cheese for Neufchatel cheese or low fat cream cheese if you wish, and the ratio doesn't change. Just make a one-for-one substitution. I wouldn't go so far as to make a change to fat-free cream cheese though - I have't done it, but in looking around I saw it was nixed by quite a few bakers online.
If you wish a softer consistency, add a tablespoon or two of whipping cream to the frosting after you've added the powdered sugar. Milk will also work. Just add it after you've added all the sugar you wish - this is great if you want a really sweet frosting using lots of powdered sugar, but a more spreadabe consistency. Instead of milk or cream, try using orange, lime or lemon juice concentrate, or the juice from maraschino cherries or pineapple.
A couple of awesome and subtle changes can be made by swapping out half or all of the vanilla extract with others - try walnut, banana, almond, lemon, orange or coconut. I'd say raspberry or strawberry extract would be delicious as well. Mix in a tablespoon of citrus zest - orange, lemon, or lime, to really make the citrus flavor pop. Mix in toasted or sweetened coconut flakes. Try mixing in a tablespoon of any liqueur - Chambord, or Banana or Godiva or Bailey's - anything that strikes your fancy. Or try adding a half teaspoon or so of cinnamon. Carrot or spice cake would be fabulous with a llittle freshly ground ginger, and I read that Chinese Five Spice Powder is amazing with chocolate cakes. Earl Grey tea has been a welcome addition to cream cheese frosting for years, and I'd say chai spice would be just as delicious.
Something I haven't tried but can't wait to for a rocking spice cake: swap out 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar with 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar melted into all of the butter with a ittle milk, then cooled before beating in the cream cheese.
You you wish you can even make it chocolate. Either add 1/2 cup of sifted cocoa powder along with the powdered sugar, or make a slurry of melted chocolate. Mix about 5-6 ounces of melted semi or bittersweet chocolate with a few tablespoons of water or coffee. Mix until smooth, cool, and stir in at the end with the vanilla (or other extract!).
To make a glaze for a coffee cake, use just a 3 oz. package of cream cheese, skip the butter, use just 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar, and enough milk or cream or half and half to get the consistency you wish.
This recipe is huge - feel free to cut it in half. I tend to make cakes that are ridiculously tall - I usually make this when I make four to eight layer red velvet or carrot or lemon or coconut cakes, or batches of 4 dozen cupcakes for school treats.
2 8 oz. packages of cream cheese, cold
2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
3-5 cups of powdered sugar (confectioner's or XXX sugar), sifted
2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1.In the bowl of an electric mixer (or do it by hand if you want to feel the burn), beat together the cream cheese and butter until very light and fluffy. This will take a couple-three minutes - and you'll want to scrape down the bowl at least once to make sure that every last bit is well incorporated.
2.Gradually add in the sifted powdered sugar, until fully incorporated, and the icing begins to stiffen up. Once you've added it all, it should be of great spreading consistency, and very white and gorgeously fluffy. Start with the smaller amount of sugar, and taste. If you want it more sweet, feel free to continue adding until it suits what you like.
3.Stir in the vanilla extract. Again, start with the small amount, and add a bit more if you wish. The vanilla will however, take off a bit of the whiteness, and add a touch of creamy color, due to the color of the vanilla.
Tricks For Perfection!
Although it's far easier to work with cream cheese that has been softened to room temperature, the absolute fluffiest frosting will result if the cream cheese is still chilled. This is how you get frosting that will hold whirls and swirls on the top of the cake, and give a huge portion of the 'oooo' factor to the final appearance.
Also - don't overbeat. Overbeating the cream cheese will also break it down and produce a grainy looking final product that will also be too soft to hold shape well. So when mixing, mixing just as much as you need, but no more.