Joy the Baker

Cream Cheese Frosting 101

March 15, 2008

These are simple Lemon Scented Buttermilk Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting, decorated with fondant flowers and edible pearls.

Cream cheese frosting is one of my favorite toppings for cakes and cupcakes!  From citrus scented cakes, to rich chocolate cupcakes, cream cheese frosting is a decadent and versatile cake topping.

Cream cheese frosting is also fairly easy to make.  But what happens when cream cheese frosting goes wrong?

Have you ever found yourself with a mixing bowl full of curdled cream cheese frosting?  Ugh! How frustrating!  It’s more than frustrating… it’s an outrage, and I’m here to get to the bottom of it.

I’d experienced my fair share of curdled cream cheese.  While I don’t claim to understand the science behind curdled cream cheese, I do have my theories on its prevention.

Cream cheese frosting is a combination of butter, cream cheese and sugar.  The temperature of the ingredients and the manner of incorporation are important when it comes to the curdling factor.  Cream cheese must be at room temperature.  I make sure my cream cheese is completely soft by letting it sit out overnight.  Butter is a different story.  I leave my butter out for about 2 to 3 hours before making the frosting.  It should be at room temperature, but still a bit cool.  The butter shouldn’t be completely soft and mush in the package.  It should be soft, but still hold its cube shape.  Got it?

In the mixing bowl, start with the cream cheese alone.  Beat it in the mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the butter. Beat the butter into the cream cheese for about 1-2 minutes.  At this point, you’re just seeing that the butter and cream cheese are incorporated into one another.

Here’s the kicker- I find that if the butter is overly warm, and I start it off in the mixer with the cream cheese, my end product is  curdled cream cheese.  I think that the water in the butter, separates from the fat and creates a curdled mess.  The trick is to keep a soft but slightly firm butter cube and beat the cream cheese before adding the butter.  I think the incorporation of these two fats is important, so be kind to them, and mind their temperatures.

Once the fats are friends, add the brown sugar, vanilla extract, sifted powdered sugar, and milk for thinning.  You should be clear of curdling from here on out, and have a oh-so-yummy topper for your cupcakes!

Lemon Scented Buttermilk Cupcakes

adapted from Demolition Desserts

Print this Recipe!

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon lemon zest

2 large eggs, at room temp

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oen to 325.  Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda.  Add the kosher salt after sifting and set aside.  Measure out the buttermilk.  Rub the lemon zest into the sugar until fragrant and tinged a slight yellow.

2. Cream the butter and the lemon sugar using an electric mixer, until the mixture is pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, letting the eggs beat for 1 mintue in between additions.  Scrape down the bowl in between additions.

3.  Add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients.  Start by adding one third of the flour mixture.  Mix just to incorporate.  Add half of the buttermilk.  Add another one third of the flour mixture.  Mix to incorporate.  Add the last half of buttermilk, followed by the last third of flour.

4. Spoon into paper lined cupcake pans.  Check the cupcakes after 12 minutes.  Makes 12 cupcakes.

The cupcake recipe should be doubled for the amount of frosting the below recipe produces. The make 24 cupcakes, or a two layer 8-inch or 9-inch round cake, double the cake recipe above, and use the frosting recipe below as is.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/2 cups butter, softened

8oz cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

4-6 cups powdered sugar

2-4 tablespoons milk

depending on desired consistency

Cream the cream cheese in an electric mixer for 1 minute.  Scrape down the bowl and add the butter, beating for 1-2 minutes, or until incorporated.  (Be sure that the two are at room temperature.  Cold cream cheese or butter can make your frosting lumpy.)  Add the brown sugar, pinch of salt and vanilla extract, and beat until incorporated.  Turn off mixer and add 2 cups of powdered sugar.  Turn the mixer on a low speed so the sugar doesn’t fly out of the bowl.  Slowly add more sugar alternately with the milk until you reach your desired consistency.  I like my cupcake frosting to be slightly more thick than cake frosting, so it can hold its shape on the cupcake.


64 Comments Add A Comment

  • Hi, I came across your site after I just ruined a whole batch of strawberry cream cheese frosting. I have a feeling it might be that the butter was too warm plus it is warmer outside. I do have a question though..Could it also be too much liquid that can cause the separation? Just wondering if I may have added too much of the strawberry pureed juice. thanks. love your blog by the way!!

  • I haven’t tried brown sugar in my cream cheese frosting before but it sounds delish! My question is does the brown sugar leave the frosting gritty?

  • Your cupcake has been chosen for ATC’s Weekly Cupcake Collection! Click the link to see more. Looking forward to your next cupcake creation!

  • i LOVE cream cheese frosting :) those cuppies are so cute! i guess i am lucky in that my cream cheese frosting has never curdled before; didn’t know it was an issue for some!

  • These cupcakes are so cute!! I’ve never tried a brown sugar cream cheese frosting before, but it sounds delicious!

  • steph- You inspired me to write this post! I hope it helps!

  • thanks so much for this post, joy!! i really feel like you wrote it just for me! and having my butter too warm could totally be the problem, because sometimes it splits and sometimes it doesn´t…while i always make sure the cream cheese is RT, i haven´t really paid attention to whether or not my butter is too soft (often i take them out of the fridge at the same time, so the butter could definitely be getting too soft by the time the cream cheese tempers). thanks again!

  • Those cupcakes are so cute. And the frosting and decorations is fantastic. Very pretty.

  • I haven’t worked with cream cheese enough to encounter this yet, but this is definitely some good advice for when I do. By the way, those cupcakes look immaculate–I’d almost feel bad eating them they look so good! Sounds like I need some cupcakes…

  • You’ve solved my curdled cream cheese frosting mystery. I love your blog!

  • I love the colors of your fondant decorations!

  • I admit I do not follow those rules all the time and get curdled results. I need to learn to be more patient. thanks for the class Master chef joy! haha.
    -Clara

  • cream cheese frosting is like heaven to me. I could eat it by the spoon :) But the first time I attempted to make it, it curdled and got nasty and gross. Since then, i always bought the kind from the store. But following y our advice makes sense. Leaving the butter out instead of nuking it in the fridge will keep it the same temp as the cream cheese. Hence no curdling :)

  • They looks so cute! Perfect for spring!

  • These are the perfect spring delectable. So sweet and simple.

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