A rich and tangy alternative to vanilla buttercream
Crème fraîche is one of my food obsessions. If you’ve never cooked with this decadent, slightly sour cream, you’ve been missing out. I thought I’d used it in every way possible…until someone asked if I’d ever tried crème fraîche frosting.
What?! Why didn’t I ever think of that, a woman as obsessed with cake as I’ve been most of my life. (I did write a book called Eat Cake Naked after all!) But perhaps I should back up here to elaborate. It might be hard to understand my excitement if you’ve never tried crème fraîche.
What is crème fraîche?
Crème fraîche, the base for this frosting recipe, is a dairy product similar to thickened cream but with a distinctly tart flavor. According to Larousse Gastronomique, crème fraîche is “cream to which a lactic bacteria starter has been added which thickens the cream and gives it a slightly sharp, but not sour flavor.” Originally, this process happened naturally when cream was left to sit at room temperature.
Today, crème fraîche is made under controlled conditions, typically from pasteurized dairy. The resulting product is similar to sour cream only with a more buttery color and distinct weight on the tongue. (Crème fraîche typically has about 10% higher butterfat content than you would find in sour cream.) In crème fraîche frosting, that richness is used to replace butter to make an opulent topping for cakes. And although I have many recipes using crème fraîche, this cake topping might be my favorite.
A three ingredient frosting recipe
As I experimented with crème fraîche, I used Chrysta Wilson’s Cream Cheese Frosting as my base recipe, only after a couple of tries I decided to omit the vanilla (too distracting). The final crème fraîche frosting recipe is one that offers the powerful tang of crème fraîche balanced by the unbridled sweetness of powdered sugar to make something that could be called a crème fraîche buttercream but is slightly more whipped and less firm than a true buttercream. Best of all, it takes just three ingredients. And I’ve found that this three ingredient frosting recipe makes a wonderful topping for all sorts of cakes from red velvet to this chocolate avocado cake.
A few tips for mastering crème fraîche frosting techinque
Before you embark on a crème fraîche cake frosting odyssey, you must be prepared that the consistency of this tangy frosting varies from batch to batch. (Here’s an amazing article on the subject, if you would like to learn more.) It seems dependent both on the temperature of the kitchen and the brand of crème fraîche…possibly even the time of year.
You might be tempted to make a more stiff frosting by addition extra powdered sugar. Do not to this! You will wreck the balance of flavors. Instead, try refrigerating your frosting to see if you can get your desired consistency and if not, spoon it over your cake.
In addition, it is important that your crème fraîche and the butter be warmed before blending the two. The butter should be softened and creamy smooth before you add the crème fraîche. And be sure to take crème fraîche out of the refrigerator before you start whipping the butter. It should not go into the mixer ice cold. This will help ensure that the two forms of dairy incorporate properly. Then blend only until smooth. Over blending can cause the mixture to break.
Crème Fraîche Frosting
- 4 oz unsalted butter softened
- 3/4 cup creme fraiche
- 2-2 1/2 cup powdered sugar sifted
- Remove the creme fraiche from the refrigerator. (If the creme fraiche is too cold, it can cause the butter mixture to break.)
- Beat the softened butter in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until it is fluffy.
- Add the creme fraiche. Continue to mix until the creme fraiche is fully incorporated and the frosting looks creamy.
- Add the sifted powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, with the mixture on low. Continue to add the powdered sugar until you’ve added 2 cups. If it is not at your desired thickness, continue to added powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time up to 2 1/2 cups. (The final frosting will be slightly softer than buttercream.)
- Mix on medium speed until the frosting is completely smooth.
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