Thursday, April 23, 2015

The frosting files: Unnecessarily opinionated base recipes

Yeah, sometimes I go on frosting spirals. Here's the results of the last several years' worth of base recipes, with notes on pros and cons and how I personally like to use it. I wanted to put them all in one place for future reference, and maybe possibly save someone the work...although, I mean, frosting research is pretty much the best kind of research so you know, don't let this stop you from, uh, required experiments.

Also: I don't have a stand mixer, so all of these are either with a hand mixer or just by hand.


1. Regular ol' American buttercream

You know the drill. I'm not putting a recipe here. Mix some butter, some powdered sugar, thin with some milk, throw in some flavorings. 
Pros: Fast, reliable, sturdy, endlessly customizable. Pipes, crusts, and holds shapes well. Easy to keep all of the ingredients on hand. Sweet and tasty. Stands up well to strong flavorings like cocoa powder and lemon juice. This isn't fashionable to say, but I like the mouthfeel of classic homemade mom frosting.
Cons: Can be stiff, once you add too much milk there's no going back, Very, very sweet by necessity - it's entirely made of butter and sugar. Gritty in that fine powdered sugar way. Can be hard to push through the piping bag. 

I like to use this for between layers, as it can be as thick as you need it to be. Classic and very easy.  You don't need a stand mixer, although that'll make it lighter and smoother and much easier. 

2. Light and fluffy whipped cream cheese/stabilized whipped cream

1 oz block cream cheese
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar (whiz it in the food processor/blender if you're nervous about it dissolving but honestly it's just fine)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Scant 1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
Pinch of salt

Throw it all in the mixer. Mix it until it's whipped. Use more or less sugar to taste - taste it when it's incorporated but before it's really gotten whipped, so you don't overwhip it or have grit in your frosting. I like what the almond adds, but less is more unless you're actually wanting almond cream cheese frosting.


Pros: Super light and fluffy! A little denser than whipped cream. Lovely piled on anything. None of the structure comes from the sugar, so this is the ideal frosting for anyone who "hates frosting" because "it's too sweet." Not runny and heavy like cream cheese buttercream. Good slathered on a single-layer cake, dolloped on cobblers, and as the cream layer in a fresh fruit cream pie (don't bake it!)

Cons: Not for decorating. This is fluffy and light, a very stable whipped cream, not for precision or 'gluing' things together. Needs a thick layer, or it'll sorta start to soak into a cake left overnight. Not ideal for piping, but you probably can. Use caution with it as a weight-bearing filling, but good for something piped in. Best used fresh.


3. Cheater's Swiss meringue buttercream

Okay DON'T JUDGE ME and don't knock it until you try it. I've spent hours fussing with making real Swiss meringue buttercream, successfully and unsuccessfully, and remember noticing that the egg white + sugar mixture tastes remarkably similar to marshmallow fluff. I gave it a shot, and...yep.

1 regular jar (not the big jars...sorry, don't remember the oz) of marshmallow fluff
16 tbsp cold unsalted butter (two sticks), cut into slices
Salt, to taste
Flavorings - at least some vanilla

Dump the fluff in a bowl and mix in the butter a few cubes at a time. Eventually it'll get fluffy and silky. If it breaks, add more butter! I like to use unsalted and then salt to taste but do your thing. Add in flavorings to your heart's content - I just threw in probably half a cup of dulce de leche and several tablespoons of cream cheese and it's totally fine. If you want chocolate, do melted cooled chocolate, not cocoa powder. Google 'swiss meringue buttercream' + your desired flavor and I promise someone will have you covered. Nutella! Raspberries! Peanut butter! Bourbon! Doesn't taste particularly like marshmallow, but I'd add a bit of vanilla at least or it's vaguely reminiscent of a rice krispy bar.

Pros: All the same ones as SMBC, plus almost instant. So, so silky and light and creamy. Easy to pipe, holds it's shape, perfect for topping cupcakes. Can be used as a filling as well. Incredibly stable and easy to flavor. No muss, no fuss, two base ingredients. Buttery and smooth, keeps well, I've even heard it can be frozen (but haven't attempted.) An awesome hack for a classic frosting. If you grab some gel food coloring, you can do pretty much anything you want with this.

Cons: Must be at room temperature for serving or it feels and tastes like cold butter, so needs some lead time out of the fridge if made in advance. Can't go too warm, or it can be a bit greasy.

4. Cooked flour frosting (roux frosting/grandma frosting)

Just use the Tasty Kitchen recipe. I haven't made this in several years, but it was my gateway to frostings other than American buttercream.

Pros: Light and fluffy and creamy, not gritty, less sweet, since the structure comes from the roux and butter. Fun to make and very tasty. More neutral than the tangy whipped cream cream cheese, but similar texture.

Cons: Does not last well - seriously. Gets weird if you frost the cupcakes and keep them in the fridge overnight. Can be bland. I like the taste and mouthfeel of this frosting a lot, but I haven't made it in at least four years because I can't handle the whole doesn't-last-well thing.


5. Ganache

Rich, dark, truffle-y. No really, this is what truffles are made of. It's chocolate + cream or butter and the ratio is variable based on what you want to use it for. A little corn syrup (don't faint, you totally eat candy) can make it a bit chewy and elastic, which is nice when pouring over a cake. Use super dark chocolate if you're one of those maniacs. One made with butter will completely firm up when cool, obviously, since both ingredients are solid at room temperature.The Kitchn has a good post. So does Joy of Baking,

I like to spread a slick of this over cupcakes, and then top them with a different frosting. It's easier than cutting out the middles and filling them, and is a nice even layer of tasty chocolate surprise. Great for when the cupcakes just seem a bit plain.

Pros: Rich, tasty, elemental chocolate. Great for filling, and as a glaze or drizzle. People get super into it.

Cons: Very very intense and can overwhelm a dessert very easily. I mean, it's pure truffle, which are eaten in small portions for a reason. Can be finicky with the texture - lovely and shiny when it works but easily becomes messy and dull.


Okay! Eventually I might put up some of my favorite variations, but these are the base recipes I use. 

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