Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and that means red velvet everything abounds!  In my opinion, red velvet just isn’t the same without a great cream cheese frosting.  (None of this seven minute frosting business, thank you very much.)  As it turns out, cream cheese frosting is one of the recipes I receive the most questions about, so I thought it would be a perfect topic to cover in Cupcake Basics.  The single most common issue people report is that their frosting doesn’t hold its shape and doesn’t look attractive when piped.  Thankfully, that problem is easily remedied with two simple strategies.

First, always use chilled cream cheese.  Most recipes will call for room temperature cream cheese, but that will lead to a wimpy, runny frosting.  No bueno.  Using cold cream cheese helps keep the frosting stiff and pretty.  Of course the cold cream cheese will require more mixing to get a nice smooth result, but that’s okay.  It’s worth the extra time or effort.  (Also if you have a stand mixer and don’t yet have a beater blade, please buy one at your earliest convenience.  You’ll thank me later.)

Second (and very random) – use clear vanilla extract.  In pretty much all other recipes I use my homemade vanilla extract, but for cream cheese frosting I have found that you get a much nicer result with imitation vanilla.  I stumbled upon this fact completely by accident, when imitation vanilla was all I had available and so I used it.  Normally the frosting would fall a bit when natural vanilla was added but not so with the clear stuff.  As a bonus, it keeps the color a brighter white rather than off-white.  I always keep it on hand now specifically for use in cream cheese frosting.

In the event that your cream cheese frosting is still softer than you might like, a quick chill in the refrigerator should help it firm up a bit.  The recipe below is just right for generously frosting two dozen cupcakes.  In addition to red velvet, I looove this frosting on my favorite chocolate cupcakes (pictured above).  The combination is dangerously good.