Cream cheese frosting is a pain to make in humid weather. If you are not familiar with Hong Kong, it is blazingly hot for at least half of the year and unfortunately for us, it is a very humid heat.
When I used to sell my cakes, I used to dread hearing my clients ask for Red Velvet. Cream cheese frosting is difficult enough on a good day, but throw in heat and humidity and you could easily end up with a sloppy pile of goo.
After lots of experimenting, I find that this cream cheese frosting recipe holds up reasonably well even during Hong Kong summers – for the commute from my fridge to the destination fridge at least! You can definitely pipe with this frosting recipe as well.
MY RECIPE for (relatively) stable and pipeable CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
Fills 2 layers of 6-inch cake layers, double for frosting 12 regular cupcakes
125g cream cheese, Philadelphia only, cold
80g butter, firm room temperature, cubed
2.5 to 3 cups icing sugar
Dash of vanilla extract
1. The only thing you need to know about this recipe – DO NOT OVERBEAT. And watch the frosting like a hawk. Only beat for literally 10 seconds at a time. Got it? Ok, here we go.
2. Beat the cold cream cheese straight out of the fridge on a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, or a hand held mixer. Room temperature cream cheese makes the frosting too unstable. It also has to be Philadelphia cream cheese – I have tried other brands of cream cheese, but I always end up with lumpy frosting if I used anything else.
3. Beat the cream cheese until it is smooth and pliable when you scrape it with a spatula. Do not overbeat.
4. Add in the butter. Whilst you do not want to add in very cold butter, make sure that it is still firm and not soft. Again, soft butter will make the frosting unstable. As above, only beat until the butter and cream cheese mixture is pliable when you scrape it with a spatula.
5. Sift the icing sugar. More sugar means more stability for the frosting. As Hong Kong people in general have a lower tolerance for sweetness, I tend to use just enough sugar, about 2.5 cups for this recipe. If you like sweetness, you can up the sugar to 3 cups or more. If you will be piping cupcakes with this frosting, err on the side of more sugar.
6. Add in the vanilla and then the icing sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating in very short intervals just until the sugar is barely combined with the cream cheese mixture. Do not overbeat. The frosting will be soft, but should not be drippy. If it is, add more sugar.
7. Put the cream cheese frosting in the fridge and only take it out when you need to use it. It will not harden in the fridge, so you would not need to re-beat being using it.
TIPS FOR USING CREAM CHEESE FROSTING in hot and humid weather
Use it as a filling only for cakes, not the coat
I once had the audacity of filling and coating a red velvet cake entirely in cream cheese frosting… and delivering it on a hot summer day with 80% humidity. I ordered the customer to go straight from the train station to the restaurant and put it in the fridge.
If your cake needs to travel in humid weather, it would be a good idea to fill your cake with the cream cheese frosting, but to coat the cake in sturdy buttercream. It would save you a lot of anxiety!
Do not use cream cheese frosting as a crumb coat underneath regular buttercream coating
I tried this once… big mistake! Due to the different consistency, the cream cheese frosting would move underneath the buttercream and cause cracks in the buttercream coating.
Use minimal food colouring or anything liquid
Adding anything liquid to the cream cheese frosting will make it more gooey.
Freeze cupcakes with cream cheese frosting before travel
I freeze all my cakes and cupcakes as it improves the flavour, but for cupcakes piped with cream cheese frosting it is especially important that you freeze them to set the frosting. It would make travel much, much easier.