Cream Cheese Frosting 101

When it comes to cupcakes, Artie and I pack a one-two punch: he makes a delicious cupcake and I make a mean frosting. To be honest, my real favorite part is the frosting. I could probably (okay, I have!) eat frosting with a spoon.


There are lots of great types of frosting you can make, but cream cheese frosting is one of my favorites and also one of the easiest to prepare. And it tastes delicious.

The ingredients include:

  • 8-ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 8-ounces butter, softened
  • 16-ounces powdered sugar, sifted
  • Flavorings, as desired

In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar and beat slowly until incorporated. Once incorporated, increase the speed of the mixer and beat frosting until smooth and fluffy. Add any flavorings you desire and mix until fully incorporated.

For Artie’s cardamom and orange cupcakes, I used the zest of an orange, a splash of cointreau, and a splash of vanilla. For my pumpkin whoopie pies, I used a healthy shake of cinnamon. Experiment with your favorite flavors and have fun coming up with tasty new combinations.

IMG_0005Frost cupcakes with a pastry bag or a spatula. Store leftover frosting (if there is any!) in a container in the refrigerator.

This is a great go-to frosting that requires relatively few ingredients and is very versatile. Enjoy!

Horchata Cupcakes

The Friday before Cinco de Mayo this year, I stopped by a local cupcake shop to pick up a few cupcakes for dessert that evening. They did not have any of our regular favorites, but they did have a new flavor to celebrate Cinco de Mayo — Horchata cupcakes. After eating some crispy black bean tacos, we each broke into our cupcakes. Although the flavor of the cupcakes was enjoyable, we agreed that they were too sweet. Inspired by these cupcakes, I decided to venture out and make my own, less sweet version of horchata cupcakes.

I wavered between making horchata, a rice and milk based beverage flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, so I could use actual horchata in the cupcakes, or focusing on the key flavors of horchata and weaving those flavors into different elements on the cupcakes. I finally settled on the latter. I opted to use rice milk in the cupcake recipe instead of soaking rice in water with cinnamon overnight and adding milk and vanilla, as is traditionally done when making horchata. I incorporated the vanilla and cinnamon into both the cake and the frosting.

Ingredients to capture the flavors of horchata
Basic Horchata Flavors

To make the cake portion of my horchata cupcakes, you need the following ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used double-strength)
  • 1/2 cup rice milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin pan with paper baking cups. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt) together in a mixing bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, cream the sugar and the room temperature butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and add the vanilla extract. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients. Once the dry ingredients are incorporated, slowly mix in the rice milk. Pour the cupcake batter into the baking cups, filling them about 3/4 full, and bake for 20 to 23 minutes, until they are a golden color and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the cupcake. This recipe makes 12 regular-sized cupcakes, but there is usually enough batter left to make a few mini-cupcakes as well (bake the mini-cupcakes for 18 to 20 minutes).

Mixing rice milk into the cupcake batter
Using rice milk captures the flavor of horchata without having to soak rice in water overnight

For the horchata frosting, you need:

  • 1 pound confectioners sugar (1 box)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting the cupcakes
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese (1 block), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used double strength)

Sift the confectioners sugar and the cinnamon together into a mixing bowl. Blend in the room temperature butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla and mix until the frosting is smooth.

Cinnamon and vanilla frosting for the horchata cupcakes
Cinnamon and vanilla frosting for the horchata cupcakes

Top the cupcakes with the frosting and give the cupcakes a light dusting of ground cinnamon. Serve and enjoy. Buen provecho!

Horchata Cupcakes
Horchata Cupcakes

White Chocolate Margarita Cupcakes

The inspiration for this recipe came from a text message from my friend Joshua. He came across a bar of white chocolate flavored with key lime and Bolivian Rose sea salt and challenged me to incorporate it into a cupcake with tequila. I accepted his challenge.

White Chocolate Margarita Cupcake Challenge
The Challenge

Tequila laced cake? Yes please. I opted for white cake with a hint of lime and tequila.

To make this cake, you need the following:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used Hawaiian red sea salt)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used organic low fat milk)
  • 1 ounce Tequila
Lime zest for the white chocolate margarita cupcakes
Lime zest gives the cupcakes a bright, citrus flavor

Preheat an over to 350 degrees and line a muffin pan with paper baking cups. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, lime zest, and salt.

Dry ingredients for white chocolate margarita cupcakes
The red salt and the bright green lime zest add a bit of color to the dry ingredients.

In a separate mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and the softened butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix the dry ingredients in slowly, then add the milk. Mix until the batter is a uniform consistency. The batter will be thick.

Batter for white chocolate margarita cupcakes
The lime zest is mixed throughout the batter

Fill the baking cups up about 3/4 of the way full. The recipe should make about a dozen cupcakes. Bake the cupcakes for 22 to 25 minutes, or until the cakes are a light golden color. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and let them cool to about room temperature. Once cool, use a toothpick to poke small holes into the top of each cupcake. With a pastry brush, brush each cupcake with tequila. An ounce of tequila was enough for all of the cupcakes. When the tequila has soaked into the cupcakes (and the tops are no longer wet), frost the cupcakes with the white chocolate frosting (recipe below).

Brushing tequila on the cupcakes
Brush the cupcakes with tequila

We all know that the favored part of a cupcake is the frosting. The added white chocolate and tequila make this cream cheese frosting especially flavorful. For the frosting, you will need:

  • 2 ounces World Market white chocolate with key lime and Bolivian Rose salt
  • 1 teaspoon tequila
  • 8 ounces cream cheese (1 block), softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1 pound confectioners sugar (1 box), sifted
Lime and Salt White Chocolate
The inspiration for the cupcakes

Using a double boiler or a small glass bowl set over a small pot of gently boiling water, slowly melt the white chocolate. Stir continually to avoid scorching the white chocolate. Once the white chocolate has melted, remove from heat and stir in the tequila. Let the melted chocolate cool to room temperature.

Gently melt the white chocolate for the frosting
Gently melt the white chocolate

In a mixing bowl, beat together the softened cream cheese and the softened butter. Mix in the melted chocolate. Slowly mix in the sifted confectioners sugar. Whip until the sugar is incorporated into the frosting. Top each cupcake with the white chocolate frosting. Garnish with a little Hawaiian red salt.

White Chocolate Margarita Cupcake garnished with red salt
White Chocolate Margarita Cupcake

These cupcakes reflect my favorite elements of a margarita — the salt, the lime, and the bite from the tequila. Unlike the cheap, happy hour margaritas from many Mexican themed restaurants, these cupcakes are not syrupy sweet. The margarita flavors are subtle and the salt balances out the sweetness of the frosting. Of course, if you want the added sweetness, just add another spoonful of frosting to the cupcake. Or eat the frosting straight out of the bowl.

Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes – Batch #1

With Autumn just around the corner and pumpkin ales starting to show up in grocery stores and at my local Coop, I decided to preview the season and experiment with making pumpkin ale cupcakes. I took notes as I made the cupcakes to keep track of the recipe. For Batch #1, I used Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Although these cupcakes were quite tasty, I have a few tweaks in mind for the next experimental batch.

Recipe notes
Recipe notes

For batch #1, the ingredients I used were:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 and 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 bottle Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale
  • 3 eggs
  • 7oz container 2% Fage Greek yogurt

To replicate this recipe (for anyone who can’t wait for a revised Batch #2 recipe), preheat the oven to 350 degrees and mix together the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt.

The Dry Ingredients

In a separate mixing bowl, add the melted butter and let it cool to room temperature. Pour the pumpkin ale into the butter. Mix in the three eggs, one at a time. After mixing in the eggs, add the Greek yogurt and mix until well blended.

Butter and Beer
Melted butter and Pumpkin Ale

Slowly blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until a smooth, slightly liquid batter forms.

Pumpkin Ale Cupcake Batter #1
Pumpkin Ale Cupcake Batter

Pour the batter into lined muffin tins, filling each about 3/4 full. I had enough batter to make about 28 cupcakes.

Uncooked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes
Uncooked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes

Bake the cupcakes at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Test the cupcakes by inserting a toothpick into the center of one. If the cupcakes are done, the toothpick will come out clean.

Cooked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes
Cooked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes

Let the cupcakes cool to room temperature before topping them with frosting. For Batch #1, Jill make a frosting by mixing a softened 8 oz block of Neufchâtel cheese (reduced fat cream cheese), 1 stick of butter (softened), and a 1lb box of confectioners sugar. As the frosting mixed, she add a couple of shakes of cake spice (a combination of cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cloves).

Pumpkin Ale Cupcake with Spiced Frosting
Pumpkin Ale Cupcake with Spiced Frosting

Although I am posting this recipe on the blog, the recipe is not perfect. The cupcakes were good, but there are a few things I will do differently in Batch #2. To help elevate the flavor of the cupcake, I will probably add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to the batter. Jill also recommended that I add some canned pumpkin to the mix. For the frosting, I will probably go with a buttercream frosting with some added cinnamon instead of the cream cheese frosting with cake spice. The cake spice was a little too spicy for the cupcake. I opted for Neufchâtel cheese instead of cream cheese, hoping that it would not be as rich. Unfortunately, the texture of the frosting was too gluey, probably because Neufchâtel cheese has a higher moisture content than cream cheese. With some of these modifications, I hope to improve this recipe and share it on the blog soon.

A Birthday Cupcake Tasting

Every year I typically try to do something fun for Jill’s birthday. It usually involves a small party with multiple variations on a type of food. One year I made three types of pizza from scratch, one year I made three different types of brownies, and one year I made four types of macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately, due to schedule conflicts, we did not have a party last year. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass un-celebrated this year, we decided to pick the tradition back up. This year Jill requested a cupcake tasting.

We ordered three 20 inch pizzas from Decent Pizza: a cheese pizza, a pizza with Bradley’s Sausage (a locally made sausage) and fresh mushrooms, and a pizza with eggplant and spinach. The pizza was served, of course, with a selection of Cupcake Vineyard wines, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot.

Decent Pizza makes delicious pizza

I made a spinach and blueberry salad with the most delicious spinach (grown in my parents garden), organic blueberries from New Leaf Market, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. My parents always grow this amazing, hearty, dark green spinach; it makes the spinach from the grocery store seem flat and tasteless.

A spinach salad
Garden fresh spinach, organic blueberries, and parmesan

Following the pizza and salad came the cupcakes. I made a selection of regular-sized and mini cupcakes in four flavors. The wildflower honey cupcakes were made with honey from the bees Jillian’s family used to keep to pollinate the orange groves. Sunflower seed butter cupcakes were a more subtly flavored spin on peanut butter cupcakes. Chai tea cupcakes were a boldly spiced cupcake to contrast the more delicately flavored wildflower honey and sunflower butter cupcakes. The red velvet cupcakes, a cupcake standard, were made with natural red food coloring made from beet and hibiscus extract. The natural food coloring did not give the cupcakes the same intensely red color traditional red velvet cupcakes have, but they tasted great. While we liked each of the cupcakes, Jill and I both agreed that the sunflower butter cupcakes were our favorite.

Happy Birthday, Jill!

Assortment of cupcakes
An assortment of cupcakes