This past weekend, my friend Sly celebrated a birthday, and in her honor, I baked Ina Garten’s impeccable Carrot and Pineapple Cake. It was actually the second time in three weeks that I’ve made the recipe for a birthday, which is significant only because the first time around, I couldn’t help but feel like Ina’s cream cheese frosting was a little… off.
Avid readers of this blog know that I think Ina Garten is basically flawless, but here’s the hardcore truth: the Barefoot Contessa cream cheese frosting veers way too closely into buttercream territory. In fact, it’s barely tangy at all. There, I SAID IT.
Nevertheless, as I prepared to bake Sly’s very own carrot cake, I wanted to learn from Ina’s missteps. I was determined to create a batch of cream cheese frosting that was tangy and amazing and decadent enough to be worthy of Sly.
I’m happy to report that I not only achieved this, but I actually knocked it out of the park. This was the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever made, and Sly herself even proclaimed it was the best she’d tasted. There’s no great science to it, but with a variety of cream cheese frosting recipes online, I think it’s important that someone drive a flag into the ground and declare that the Internet search is over: THIS is the only cream cheese frosting recipe you’ll ever need.
In order to nail down this recipe, I did a little research. I looked to Ina Garten as a guideline for volume — as in, I knew her recipe could sufficiently frost a two-layer, eight-inch diameter cake; so any recipe had to roughly feature the same amount of ingredients.
Then I did research. I looked at super popular recipes on Allrecipes.com and foodnetwork.com; I revisited a banana cake I once made with excellent frosting; and I drew inspiration from Ina’s pal Anna Pump, who adds orange zest to her frosting. The ratios of cream cheese to butter to powdered sugar all varied, but ultimately, I synthesized everything together and came up with this:
Ben’s Ultimate Cream Cheese Frosting
Provides enough to frost a cake 8 inches in diameter, two rounds high.
2 bricks of cream cheese (a.k.a. 1 lb) — at room temperature
1 stick of butter (a.k.a 1/2 cup) — at room temperature
1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
1 box of powdered/confectioner’s sugar (1 lb)
1. If you haven’t already, bring your butter and cream cheese up to room temperature (otherwise it will be a pain to make this frosting).
2. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer (or a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer) to mix the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract. Really go to town until it’s combined.
3. Dump in the whole box of sugar into the bowl and mix until smooth (you might want to dump in the sugar in phases to avoid a giant sugar cloud). Feel free to use less sugar for greater tanginess (but I personally think this is the perfect ratio of tangy to sweet).
4. With a microplane, zest about a teaspoon of orange zest into the frosting. Taste as you go along. You don’t want to make orange frosting. You just want to add enough to augment that tangy quality and give the frosting a real depth of flavor, as Ina would say.
And now you’re done. Enjoy the praise from your friends and try not to lick too much of the frosting out of the bowl.
Feel free to leave your thoughts and commentary about this recipe in the comments section!