All About Frosting – The Recipes42

Posted by chockylit in Cheese,Chocolate,Step-by-Step Photos (Tuesday December 11, 2007 at 11:13 pm)

chocolate ganache

I get many a question about frosting. I thought I would compile my thoughts on the subject in two part series of posts – a sort of one stop shop for all things frosting… from my perspective, of course! First up… the recipes.

Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate ganache frosting is one of my favorite frostings to use. Why? Let me count the ways. One, because I love chocolate. Two, because the taste is very “adult” and not too sweet. Three, because it’s practically no fail and adaptable to what I have on hand.

Reviewing my posts, I apparently have as many ganache recipes as I do posts with ganache recipes – a testament to its versatility. If I get one point across about ganache it is that ganache is indeed adaptable to your personal taste and preference.

Ganache is typically made by bringing heavy cream to a simmer then pouring over chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, stirring to combine, and then adding remaining ingredients – pretty straightforward.

The typical ganache recipe I use contains the following ingredients:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt

I have used as little as 6 ounces of chocolate with 1 cup of cream, as that is all I had on hand, and it worked out fine. I have also interchanged various types of chocolate, bittersweet, semi-sweet, different brands, etc. It changes the flavor of the ganache but not the outcome. The exception is with milk and white chocolate which don’t come up to spreadable consistency using this basic ingredient list.

I like to use Valrhona, 61% cocoa or higher, for its intense, full-bodied, earthy chocolate flavor. I have tried to stay local and use Scharffenberger, which I like to eat on its own, but I find it too bright and tangy to bake with. I have used Ghirardelli in a pinch. While I don’t like the flavor as much as Valrhona it’s an acceptable alternative and readily available in most grocery stores. The brand is really up to you, but the quality of the chocolate makes a big difference in flavor so spring for the good stuff if you can.

How I treat the ganache depends on the cupcake I am making. If I want a very adult flavor I will stick to the basic recipe (see above) and either pour it on, spread it on, or beat it then spread it on.

Poured Chocolate Ganache

Poured chocolate ganache results in a gorgeous, shiny layer of frosting that is very dramatic and very grown up. I used the method for my version of an “Opera” cupcake. Just let the mixture cool slightly and pour it onto the cupcake (or cake) before it starts to thicken. It will thicken in place and stay very shiny if you don’t touch it. Top it with something special – white chocolate dipped candied ginger, an edible flower pedal, or a smuggled dragée. Very classy…

Spread Chocolate Ganache

Cupcakes often form an attractive dome rising over top the cupcake paper. I like this look (more cupcake!) but it doesn’t support the poured ganache method. When spreading ganache, let the mixture come to room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it’s spreadable. Then spread a relatively thin layer on to the cooled cupcake with a small palette knife. To get a smooth finish, dip the palette knife in hot water, wipe dry, and then smooth the frosting.

I use this method when I want a small, but intense quantity of frosting… when I want to have the flavor of chocolate without overwhelming whatever else is going on. See examples of this method here, here, and here.

Beaten Chocolate Ganache

If you want the intense flavor of a straight up ganache, but still want to pipe it on because, well, it looks so nice piped on, then beat the cooled ganache with an electric mixer fixed with the paddle attachment for a few minutes. This will incorporate air and increase the volume of the frosting without diluting the flavor. The ganache will lighten in color compared to the unbeaten version. See an example here.

Whipped Chocolate Ganache

I have been exploring a variation on ganache that is sweeter than the simple version just discussed. I use this when I want the cupcake to appeal to child and adult alike. It’s more akin to a chocolate buttercream, but with a more intense chocolate flavor. I have experimenting with various versions of this approach.

Version 1 – Basic Ganache but with Butter and Powdered Sugar

This is basically a mixture of ganache and buttercream. Most chocolate buttercream recipes use cocoa or just a small amount of melted chocolate beat into the butter and sugar. This method of making the ganache first then beating in butter and sugar makes for a more chocolate tasting frosting.

See examples here and here

Version 2 – A Totally Different Take

I first saw this method in a book by pastry chef Emily Luchetti. I have definitely tweaked it significantly since I first tried it many years ago. The recipe includes bittersweet, semi-sweet, and unsweetened chocolate and can be tailored to your personal taste by simply adjusting the quantities of the various chocolates while keeping the overall quantity the same. For example, to make it sweeter, increase the semisweet by a couple of ounces and decrease the bittersweet or unsweetened. The unsweetened chocolate imparts a rich cocoa flavor, the bittersweet gives the frosting bite, and the semi-sweet sweetens the whole thing up.

See examples here, here, and here

There are other recipes and methods out there, of course. I plan to try recipe on David Llebovitz’ site which uses water instead of cream. I know that dairy products mellow the flavor of the chocolate, but I have also been hesitant to combine chocolate and water for fear the chocolate will seize. I hope to post about my attempt soon.


cherry-vanilla cupcakes

There is nothing more frustrating to many readers than buttercream frosting. A classic and main stay, buttercream is also one of the sweetest frostings of the bunch often too sweet for the average adult. I however love American-style buttercream especially paired with a simple cake and in moderation. This post has a pretty typical recipe for American-style buttercream. I understand though that not everyone is a fan. So if I am serving cupcakes to adults I typically do not use buttercream! The only exception I have found is with this recipe, somehow the mint makes the frosting more palatable.

American Style Buttercream

American-style buttercream is simply butter beat with confectioners’ sugar and a little vanilla and a little milk. In order to get to a piping consistency a lot of sugar is required. This results in a very sweet frosting. Like I said I actually like this. I have a sweet tooth though and not everyone does. There is no way I know of to decrease the sweetness of this frosting.

Swiss and Italian Style Buttercream

There are less-sweet alternatives to American style buttercream, Swiss and Italian style buttercreams for example, but these frostings have a different quality that I simply don’t like. They leave a film in my mouth and taste as though they are made with vegetable shortening even if they weren’t. I can’t stand them! Just like I can’t stand Génoise cake, but that is for a different post. But you might like them. Its worth trying for yourself before ruling these styles of buttercream frostings out of your repertoire.

The bad news is that I don’t have any recipes for Swiss or Italian style buttercream frostings. In this case, google is your friend.

Cream Cheese

sweet corn cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting

Cream cheese frosting is my friend. It is my very favorite frosting to use. It’s always a crowd pleaser and balances out the sweetness of any cake well. I work with two versions. One has a higher proportion of cream cheese. It is tangy, on the soft side, and my preference for recipes where I want to really taste the cream cheese (carrot cake, hummingbird cake, red velvet, etc). The second version has less cream cheese. The cream cheese tang is more subtle and its really just there to balance the sweetness of the sugar. I use that recipe as an alternative to buttercream for just about any cake.

Cream cheese frosting takes on flavor very well. Just to give you an idea, this recipe uses Thai Ice Tea as a flavor, this recipe uses citrus, this uses ginger and this uses tarragon. But there are more, just peruse the table of contents to find other flavor suggestions.

I have jut started using the “buttercream alternative” method. Here are some examples, one with matcha and one with salted caramel. But any of the above cream cheese recipes can be adjusted to this method by simply decreasing the amount of cream cheese and increasing the amount of butter.

Meringue Frosting

The thing I love about meringue frosting is how easy it is to have a dramatic presentation. It’s sweet, but not sweet as butter cream. It takes flavor well, but don’t try to add a substantial amount of liquid. It will collapse. Small amounts of extracts (vanilla, mint, lemon), spices, very thick flavored simple syrup, or crushed things (like red hots). And the best thing about meringue is that you can take your culinary torch to it.

Whipped Cream

I don’t use whipped cream very often. It’s just not terribly exciting. I pair it with a cupcake that is plenty exciting on its own like this one. It is very easy to adjust the sweetness though. So, if you have a very sweet cake, whipped cream is a good option. Beware, it doesn’t hold well. So if you use it, keep the whipped cream refrigerated until you are ready to use it and frost the cupcakes just before serving.

There are of course other frosting options, but this is all I have for now. Part 2 of the series will cover frosting technique, frequently asked questions, and more on flavoring frostings.

42 comments for All About Frosting – The Recipes »

  1. Hooray for this post! Thank you so much for sharing so many of your tips and thoughts! I’ve admired your cupcakes for a long, long time and really appreicate your insight.

    Comment by Julie — December 12, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  2. Very helpful! I pretty much make the same chocolate frosting every time I make cupcakes, now I will diversify!

    Comment by Chic and Charming — December 12, 2007 @ 11:49 am

  3. Wow! This is a wonderful resource. Also, I’ve been meaning to tell you that you were a huge source of information and inspiration when I was preparing to bake my own wedding cupcakes (which I wrote about on my blog today, if you’re interested). So, a belated thanks!

    Comment by Kristin — December 12, 2007 @ 12:36 pm

  4. wow, i’m such a fan of your website. before i started discovering baking blogs, my friend showed me this one, and i’ve been hooked ever since. thanks for sharing with us all that you bake and learn!

    i recently started a baking blog myself. if you want to check it out: its no where near as complete/informative as yours but hopefully you’ll enjoy it. :) all the best!

    Comment by annie — December 12, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  5. Posted this on our site.

    Comment by All Things Cupcake — December 12, 2007 @ 2:26 pm

  6. So helpful for a bake-o-phobe like me! I’m going to print and save this post (and part 2). My cupcakes often taste good but look a bit ragged. I’m sure this frosting primer will help.

    Comment by Lydia — December 12, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

  7. great tips and techniques, thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Kat — December 12, 2007 @ 6:11 pm

  8. Thank you for sharing. I’m hoping to be a more serious baker and in the future “turn professional”. I haven’t a blog but maybe documenting my progress with baking will be useful to me and maybe other bakers out there.

    I really admire what you do and thank you again for sharing this with all of us.

    Comment by Yvonne Menon — December 12, 2007 @ 8:36 pm

  9. One of the reasons that I rarely make/ice cupcakes is because I just can’t get them to look right – this is a brilliantly instructive guide to how to style the little buggers! Cheers! :D

    Comment by Ellie — December 12, 2007 @ 9:18 pm

  10. I love the texture of American buttercream but yes, it can be too sweet. Swiss buttercream is just sweet enough, but I think the texture is like sweet mayo. If only there were a compromise.

    I’ve combined chocolate with water lots of times, and it works, as long as you have a lot of water. Sometimes water is better, because the fat in cream dilutes the chocolate flavor. A great recipe with water and chocolate is the fallen souffle cake in Alice Medrich’s Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts.

    Comment by Jessica "Su Good Sweets" — December 12, 2007 @ 10:24 pm

  11. Wow, thank you so much for this post–there’s so much information about frosting my head is about to spin!:)

    Comment by Amy — December 13, 2007 @ 12:17 am

  12. Thank you so much! I have been waiting for Chockylit training!!! :-) I hope you continue to share your tips and techniques with us. You have inspired so many of us, it really helps. I would love to know what your favorite brand products and types are. What type of Vanilla and do you use cake flour? Thank you again!!! :-)

    Comment by Kimberley — December 13, 2007 @ 6:34 am

  13. This is an absolutely spectacular post. I love this blog because it combines amazing creativity with hardcore analysis. I so appreciate your completeness and your analytical approach because it so makes it easy for others to follow your great ideas – thank you!

    Comment by Lucy — December 13, 2007 @ 6:57 am

  14. Yay for frosting. Thanks for this post, it’s a great resource! Oh, and yay for people thst share recipes – we all have that friend that doesn’t like to share…

    Comment by Megan in Miami — December 13, 2007 @ 7:51 am

  15. Thank you so much for this. This is invaluable! I’m bookingmarking this gem!

    Comment by TEK — December 13, 2007 @ 8:01 am

  16. thank you so much for sharing these techniques.
    It really made my life easy. I am a big fan of chocolate and Chocolate ganache is the wonderful form of icing chocolate cake.

    Comment by Anamika Singh — December 13, 2007 @ 8:25 am

  17. Thanks SO much for all your time and effort with your blog. Just reading, for example, that other people also have trouble with buttercream makes me feel worlds better about my frosting skills. You provide a lot of inspiration for my baking and my blog. Thanks a gajillion times over.

    Comment by A Baker in Brooklyn — December 13, 2007 @ 8:39 am

  18. Very cool post! I love buttercream frosting – it’s all about the vanilla, too. The better quality it is, the better-tasting the frosting is. That ganache looks great!

    Comment by Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy — December 13, 2007 @ 9:01 am

  19. What a great guide…I am going to bookmark this one for reference. THANK YOU for presenting it in such a reader-friendly and accessible way! And…I am intrigued by red-hots in meringue!

    Comment by Cakespy — December 13, 2007 @ 9:02 am

  20. That was a great post! I am making all sorts of holiday treats today and I will be sure to use some of these tips.

    Comment by Melissa — December 13, 2007 @ 10:20 am

  21. I hope its useful!

    Sara, great point about the vanilla. I so agree. I will add something to this post and definitely elaborate in the next (when I cover flavoring…)

    Comment by chockylit — December 13, 2007 @ 10:23 am

  22. didn’t you do an italian meringue bc for the alfajore cupcakes?

    Comment by kristina — December 13, 2007 @ 11:47 am

  23. Help!

    I’ve tried the American Buttercream recipe over and over, and no matter how much sugar I’ve put into it, it always seems to melt and collapse when I pipe it.

    I’ve even tried cornflour to stiffen it a bit but no luck.

    Could I be over-beating the butter? I think if I beat it enough it will become lighter and fluffier.

    Has anyone experienced temperamental buttercream?

    Comment by Thomas — December 13, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

  24. thomas–it melts ’cause of the butter. You could stiffen it up with more sugar, or chill it for a bit (and pipe FAST), or if you are really determined to pipe with it a lot of people replace some (or all) of the butteer with shortening.

    Comment by kristina — December 13, 2007 @ 9:18 pm

  25. I have only ever used butter and haven’t had this problem. I don’t like the taste of shortening and don’t recommend it. I do recommend refrigeration though, that can help stiffen it up.

    I am perplexed though. A handful of folks have written in with this problem and I simply can’t imagine what is going on. Perhaps you aren’t adding enough powdered sugar? I have added as much as 8 cups of powdered sugar for 2 sticks of butter. That is a lot of sugar!

    Comment by chockylit — December 13, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

  26. I totally agree on American buttercream versus Swiss buttercream!

    Comment by Melisser — December 14, 2007 @ 12:09 am

  27. I don’t understand where you could go wrong on the american buttercream…but for reference, I like to add a little corn syrup to my buttercream (1 Tbsp per stick of butter.) Not sure what it does, exactly, but my buttercream turns out great. I have attempted ganache before…but ended up with so much of it I didn’t know what to do. I’m excited to try this recipe…and maybe try whipping it, but I might try making a boston cream pie cupcake. have you made one of those, chockylit?

    Comment by Jennifer — December 14, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  28. Corn syrup.. interesting. Also something I *try* to stay away from (but end up using none the less), but I am interested to see what it does to the end result.

    And yes I have done Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

    Comment by chockylit — December 14, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

  29. thanks for the informative post!! i have one question. which cream cheese do you use? i tried to use philadelphia cream cheese, but i did not like it. would mascarpone be ok?

    Comment by toprak — December 14, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

  30. I have to add that bit to the post… I only *ever* use Philly cream cheese. It is the best cream cheese to use. I have tried to use organic cream cheese but the texture of the frosting was god-awful. That said I have used mascarpone, but it isn’t close to cream cheese in its tang and texture… But if its your preference, by all means… Its a straightforward swap…

    Comment by chockylit — December 14, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  31. Nice rundown of frostings, even if I don’t share the same opinions that you do. :)

    Swiss Buttercream and ganache are probably my number ones (or even chocolate buttercream!) I’m not sure why you have the ‘film’ sensation. Italian Buttercream may help alleviate that issues since it’s a bit thicker with the cooke meringue.

    Personally I can’t stand cream cheese frosting on anything but carrot cake, it always tastes like sour milk to me.

    Comment by Jef — December 15, 2007 @ 1:08 am

  32. Great Post. If you add rue to the buttercream, it helps with the sweetness. (2Tbl flour and 1/2 cup milk). Let it cool and then beat it in. Also, I made your cranberry cupcake with the white chocolate frosting, yum. I added an extra 1/2 flour and a tsp of baking powder and it did not sink.

    Comment by carrie — December 15, 2007 @ 9:11 am

  33. This is the buttercream recipe I use, that I was talking about before:

    It’s lovely every time…I add more or less powdered sugar depending on consistency. I love that they have variations, and ALL have worked very well. I’ve been baking cupcakes about 4x a week for the past month (my friends LOVE me) and pretty much everytime it works out well.

    I had friends request a Boston Cream Pie cupcake, and I used the search tool, but it didn’t come up! Thanks for the link; I’ll try it soon and check back. Looks yummy!

    Comment by Jennifer — December 15, 2007 @ 11:07 pm

  34. Wonderful post! I doubled the chocolate ganache recipe to frost a birthday cake – so simple, super delicious and a great hit! I was wondering how to store the remainder. So far I have it in a container in the fridge. Should I freeze it instead?

    Comment by TY — December 20, 2007 @ 10:37 pm

  35. Very helpful and informative. Thanks for the information!

    Comment by Gayle — December 21, 2007 @ 7:26 pm

  36. I LOVE your recipies and have really enjoyed the chocolate ganache icing.

    I have a question about it though… when I make it the icing takes forever to thicken up to a reasonable consistency. It seems to take most of the day even if refridgerated. What am I doing wrong?

    Comment by Nikita — January 24, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

  37. Thanks for your informative post. I have a question that I would like to ask you. Do you know if buttercream/creamcheese icing on cupcakes requires refrigeration…since most recipes ask for few spoons of milk.
    I have visited few cupcake places and I noticed they just display their cupcakes over the counter.

    Comment by mona — February 5, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  38. I am one adult who loves american-style buttercream, and like you can’t stand the other kind. I use less powdered sugar and milk than you do though.

    Cream cheese is another of my favorites, and I was thrilled to find out that regular sugar can be substituted for powdered sugar (which I always seem to be out of when I want to make frosting.) I isn’t as fluffy, but the grains do dissolve if you let it sit a bit.

    Comment by Linda — February 18, 2008 @ 7:30 pm

  39. wow great post, am bookmarking this right away!

    Comment by aamena — March 23, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  40. Help! Is there any frosting recipe you could recommend that is less sweet than american buttercream. I make cakes for all occasions and too often people say the frosting is just too sweet. After all the work I put into a special occasion cake I hate to see people not eat it. What do you suggest. I need one that can be piped. I look forward to any suggestions.

    Comment by Dolores — April 12, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

  41. Do you have a recipe for a caramel ganache? I’m making caramel mud muffins and would like to top with a caramel ganache.

    Comment by Vanessa — April 21, 2008 @ 2:16 am

  42. Oops forgot to add white chocolate ganache. Both this and the caramel are for piping, as is the whipped dark chocolate on above.

    Comment by Vanessa — April 21, 2008 @ 2:18 am

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