Cream cheese frosting is a variation on a buttercream frosting recipe. Buttercream frosting is traditionally made with powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla extract or other flavoring. In a cream cheese frosting, the texture of buttercream is lightened with the addition of cream cheese as a main ingredient. Cream cheese frosting recipes became popular in the 1960s, with the increasing availability of packaged cream cheese in supermarkets. The frosting is a traditional frosting choice for red velvet cakes, carrot cakes, and spice cakes, and is also a popular choice for cupcakes.
Classic frosting recipes and many variations can be found in cookbooks and online. The merits of the taste, texture, and versatility of buttercream and cream cheese frostings have been debated in many online cooking and wedding forums. Cream cheese frosting is typically described as being lighter and tangier than buttercream. Individuals who prefer cream cheese frosting over buttercream often find buttercream to be too rich and sugary, and enjoy the tangy nature of the cream cheese as a balancing contrast to the sugar.
Both buttercream and cream cheese frosting are typically flavored with vanilla extract. The traditional basic recipe is extremely versatile, and other flavorings can be added. Popular choices for flavoring cream cheese frostings include maple syrup, orange peel, chocolate, coconut, and ginger. In addition to different flavors, food coloring can be added to the basic mix to create different decorative effects.
Cream cheese frosting can be used to frost the outside of a cake, or as a filling between the layers of a cake. A cream cheese glaze is another use for the basic recipe. To make a glaze, small amounts of milk are added to the frosting mix, which thins the texture. The glaze is then poured over the top of the cake and allowed to drip down the sides.
The dairy content of cream cheese can make this frosting problematic for individuals who are lactose intolerant. Cream cheese frosting is also high in fat. There are recipes available that use cream cheese substitutes or fat-free or reduced-fat cream cheese. These alternative healthy versions are usually described as not having the same flavor as the traditional version.
Cream cheese is perishable, and cream cheese frosting requires refrigeration. This type of frosting is not a good choice for cakes that will dry out if refrigerated. Cream cheese and buttercream frosting tend to melt if applied when the cake hasn’t completely cooled, or if the cake is exposed to the sun.