Traditional buttercreams call for cooking the sugar to the soft ball stage before incorporating it into the egg whites. Cream cheese does not lend itself to this method without breaking. By blending the cream cheese with butter and confectioners' sugar before adding it to the meringue, you get the silky smooth texture of buttercream with all of the tangy flavor of a cream cheese frosting. —janeofmanytrade
Test Kitchen Notes
This frosting has a great balance of cream cheese and butter. Sometimes cream cheese can be a little overpowering (or completely disappear altogether), but janeofmanytrade has the ratio down pat. I paired the frosting with vanilla cupcakes and they were a hit! Everyone commented on how light the frosting tasted, even though it contained butter. —gigi.hotchkiss
cream cheese, slightly chilled
unsalted butter at cool room temperature
confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring
Beat the cream cheese with a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until slightly fluffy. Add the butter, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy, scraping the bowl well so there are no lumps of butter or sugar. Set aside.
Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Dissolve the sugar by stirring it, but once dissolved, do not stir any longer or sugar will crystallize. Instead, swirl the pan gently, washing any crystals from the side of the pot with a wet pastry brush. As the mixture comes to a boil, place a candy thermometer in the pot and cook to 238 degrees F, the "soft ball" stage.
As the sugar cooks, place the egg whites into a mixing bowl set up with the whip. As the sugar syrup approaches the correct temperature, turn the mixer on to medium-low and begin whipping the whites. When whites are foamy and the sugar reaches temperature, slowly pour in the sugar, avoiding contact with the whip or it will splash. Once all of the syrup is added, turn the speed to medium-high and whip until the meringue has cooled to room temperature and has formed stiff peaks. (Ed. note: Make sure the meringue has cooled fully and that the butter-cream cheese mixture is not warm, or buttercream may become soupy or break.)
Turn the speed to low, and slowly add the cream cheese mixture, a spoonful at a time. When it is all added to the meringue, turn the speed to medium and whip until smooth and fluffy.