Frosting should taste good. Like really, really good.
Frosting is what makes a cake a cake. I’m not talking about bundt cakes or mini pound cakes other things that generally forgo fluffy frosting. I’m talking C-A-K-E. Birthday cake. Wedding cake. That thing you pick up at the bakery and eat by yourself when you’ve had a bad day.
So why do most frostings I come across taste so disappointing?
Most cakes (and cupcakes for that matter) use some form of buttercream meant to create beautiful decorations – and that requires either using a ton of butter, which can be overwhelmingly rich, or buckets of confectioner’s sugar, which tastes like sugar on steroids. While it is certainly possible to make a buttercream that tastes amazing, I feel both amateur and professional bakers too often prioritize making their frosting a workable medium for decorating rather than making their frosting taste really good. And as a result, half the people in the room end up scraping the frosting off onto their plate.
My opinion is that frosting should taste amazing above all else. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with using study frostings for decorating purposes, and sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do to make your cake pretty. But when I bake, I want my frosting to be so delicious that I can eat it by the spoonful.
In my quest to find the perfect frosting recipe, I eventually landed on whipped cream. These frostings generally use granulated sugar, rather than overly-sweet confectioner’s sugar, and are rich without being too rich like some butter-heavy recipes.
However, I quickly learned the catch with whipped cream frostings: if you don’t have the right recipe and technique, decorating can a miserable experience. And despite my taste-trumps-all attitude, beautiful swirls and piped borders also make a cake a cake.
Most of the recipes I tried at first called for whipping heavy cream into stiff peaks and gently folding it into some kind of butter-sugar mixture. It tasted fine, but not surprisingly, the texture was just like regular old whipped cream. I tried sticking the bowl of frosting in the refrigerator to help stiffen the cream a little bit, but it didn’t take long before having my hand on the piping bag was enough warmth to make my cupcakes look like a sad snowman melted on top.
So after a lot of trial and error, a little research, a coincidental discovery at the grocery store and years of determination, I think I’ve just about mastered making a delicious whipped cream frosting that decorates as well as it tastes. Here’s a few tricks that have worked for me:
- Add heavy cream directly to your creamed base (butter, cream cheese, sugar, etc) – then whip. It makes the frosting develop as one thick unit, rather than flattening your whipped cream with a heavy base mixture.
- Whip the cream just past the stiff peaks stage (yes – it’s ok to “over whip” a little bit). This makes the frosting much easier to work with. If there are any unintentional lumps, they’ll smooth out as you frost the cake.
- Use Dr. Oetker Whip It or another flavorless whipped cream stabilizer. I came across this in the grocery store baking section and had never heard of it before then, but it really makes a difference. I’ve also read that using gelatin or dry milk powder helps. I haven’t tried either of those, but perhaps I’ll give them a whirl sometime to see how they compare to Whip It.
And now, here’s my signature frosting recipe that I use for almost everything…
Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
Yields: Just enough to cover a small cake or 24 cupcakes. See note at the bottom.
- 1 (8 oz) package of Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 packet of Dr. Oetker Whip It or other unflavored whipped cream stabilizer (optional, but you’ll thank yourself later)
In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment (or a mixing bowl and a hand mixer), cream the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and salt until well mixed and fluffy.
Switch to the whisk attachment. Starting at a low-medium speed, slowly add the heavy cream. Stop and scrape the sides if needed to make sure everything is combined.
While mixing, sprinkle in Whip It if you have it, then gradually begin turning up the mixer to high, taking care not to splatter your kitchen and yourself with cream. The frosting will be done when it’s thick and sturdy, usually just past the “stiff peaks” stage (you’ll notice changes in the texture will pretty much plateau at this point, but don’t get carried away with the mixer).
For best decorating results, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to make sure the frosting is plenty firm. But it should be fairly workable for impatient types, too.
Note: I prefer to make plenty of frosting up front so I don’t have to worry about conserving while decorating. I usually make 1.5x or 2x this recipe for decorating 24 cupcakes, and at least double for a cake.