Season: All | Active Time: 10 minutes | Total Time: 10 minutes | Difficulty: 2 (Easy)
In all my years of cake making, I have yet to try a plain or vanilla-flavored European buttercream that beats the deliciousness of good old American cream cheese frosting. Don’t give me a piece of carrot cake, red velvet, or coconut cake covered with anything else. This recipe is sweet but not saccharine, and well balanced by the tang of the cream cheese. Between the classic version, the flavor variations below, and Silkiest Chocolate Buttercream (this page), I never need another frosting.
Makes about 4½ cups
Special Equipment: Stand mixer
2 sticks unsalted butter (8 oz / 227g), at room temperature
1 pound (454g) full-fat cream cheese, preferably Philadelphia, at room temperature ①
Generous pinch of kosher salt
1 pound (454g) powdered sugar (about 3½ cups), sifted if very lumpy
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Make the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium-high, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the mixture is completely smooth. Turn off the mixer, add the salt and all of the powdered sugar, and cover the bowl of the mixer with a clean kitchen towel (to shield you from powdered sugar plumes).
Pulse the mixer on low several times to incorporate the sugar, then remove the towel and beat the frosting on medium-high, scraping down the sides once or twice, until the frosting is light, thick, and very smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in the vanilla seeds. The frosting is now ready to use.
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting: Add 6 ounces (170g) melted and cooled unsweetened chocolate to the mixer bowl after adding the vanilla. Beat, scraping down the sides once or twice, until the frosting is smooth and streak-free.
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting: In a medium saucepan, cook the 2 sticks unsalted butter over medium heat, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the sputtering subsides, the butter is foaming, and the solid bits turn brown, 6 to 8 minutes.
Scrape the butter and all the toasted bits into the bowl of the stand mixer and set it aside until the butter is completely cooled and solidified (you can stir it over an ice bath to speed up this process, but don’t let the butter harden).
Proceed with the recipe. If the consistency of the frosting is very loose and it won’t hold a peak, place the bowl in the refrigerator and stir every 10 minutes with a flexible spatula until it’s thickened and spreadable.
The frosting, stored airtight in the refrigerator, will keep up to 1 week. Let it come completely to room temperature, then beat again in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment to smooth out the frosting before using.
① Make sure the butter and cream cheese are both completely at room temperature (and, by extension, the same temperature), otherwise the colder of the two will form lumps. If this happens, take about ¼ cup of the lumpy mixture and warm it gently in the microwave until liquefied, then return it to the mixer bowl and beat until the frosting is smooth. The warm mixture should bring up the total temperature of the frosting slightly, smoothing out the colder lumps.