Butter is a prevalent ingredient in most forms of traditional baking. This is because butter provides a richness as well as a stiffness to the body of the dish involved.
Not only that, but the fat provided by the butter helps these dishes form peaks and keep them there.
Buttercream icing or frosting is a very traditional, popular topping for desserts. This decoration uses butter, some milk, and sugar; however, the butter is interchangeable with other solid fats that are spreadable in texture (think margarine).
But there have been some conflicting reports about butter when it comes to our health.
There are some studies that connected butter with both increased risk of heart attack and stroke. But there have been conflicting studies that say that butter is pretty much fine to use.
Still, with the uncertainty surrounding whether or not butter is okay to implement into your cooking on a regular basis, there are some who are looking for alternatives to this rich, salty ingredient.
There is also the option of Decorating a Cake without Frosting.
Thankfully, there are quite a few different ingredients that can be changed out and keep your dishes just as tasty as ever before.
1 – Margarine
As mentioned previously, margarine is a common substitute for butter. And because it is similar in nature to butter, it can be swapped out in a 1-to-1 ratio to the butter. When making a frosting, you want it to have that rich, creamy, smooth texture.
Butter tends to produce that but when swapping out other ingredients for butter, margarine comes the closest to producing that same texture as well as the color that we are familiar with in frosting.
But one thing to keep in mind is that, depending on what type of margarine you use, the richness of the flavor can be different. If you like using a low-fat margarine, consider adding a little bit of meringue powder to provide a stiffening agent that will be lacking in the low-fat margarine.
That stiffness can be particularly important if you are attempting to pipe your icing in order to make decorative flowers and borders. The decorating requires precision and a loose frosting can make it difficult to accurately create the design that you are hoping for.
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2 – Standard Icing
Your basic buttercream will use something to the effect of a 1-to-5 ratio when it comes to your unsalted butter against your sugar content.
There are additional ingredients in your frosting that will include things such as a little bit of milk and vanilla extract. This is to get the frosting to be the right consistency overall.
When you use more sugar, you will get a thicker frosting. When you use more milk, you will get a runnier, thinner frosting. You can also make your frosting in advance of your baking for convenience.
Just make sure that you store it at room temperature and cover it securely with plastic wrap until you are ready to use it.
Exposure to the room air temperature can result in some of those ingredients breaking down and compromising the texture of your frosting so be certain that you have covered it securely with your plastic wrap.
3 – Shortening Frosting
If you don’t like the taste or consistency that you get out of margarine and don’t want to go with the butter option, there is also the choice to use vegetable shortening. This is something such as Crisco that can be used at the same ratio that you would use butter (1-to-1 ratio).
Making buttercream icing with vegetable shortening will still taste pretty rich but it may have a little bit of a lack of flavor to it that butter would provide. You will still get the same pure, white color that you would get with either margarine or butter.
The same case can be made with shortening as with margarine: you can add a little bit of meringue powder to your frosting to allow it to hold up a bit better. Really, it comes down to the kind of texture that you enjoy out of your frosting.
4 – Coconut Oil
Here’s something you may not have realized: when kept at slightly below room temperature, coconut oil will begin to solidify. This makes it a great choice when making a frosting instead of using something such as margarine or a shortening agent.
Keep in mind that using coconut oil will give it an obvious coconut flavor, though it will be lighter in nature. Not only that, coconut oil is prone to separating if you don’t make it correctly or you keep it stored at a temperature that is too warm for the coconut oil.
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In order to solidify your coconut oil, you will want to place it in the fridge. When it sets up, you can use it in place of the butter when it comes to your buttercream frosting.
Your frosting will also be sensitive to warmer temperatures so when your cake is done baking, give it time to cool down completely. If it is still warm, the icing will run and make for an uneven texture.
When you finally do ice the cake, make sure that you cover consistently and evenly throughout. After you have completed the icing process, keep your cake in the fridge until the point where you are ready to serve it.
It might seem tedious but using coconut oil can be a great alternative to butter and give you the same type of consistency that butter would while providing a little pop of coconut to your frosting.
5 – Cream Cheese
This should come as no surprise given that there are a wide range of cream cheese frosting options that can be purchased ready to use at the grocery store. They taste just as delicious and have the same type of consistency, making it a favorite for bakers everywhere.
In some instances, cream cheese can be used to replace some or even all of the butter content that would be used in a frosting. Keep in mind, though, that cream cheese will result in a much different taste and texture than if you used butter.
When you use cream cheese in place of butter, the frosting will turn out to be completely white whereas a butter and cheese blend might look a little beige in nature due to the butter that is implemented. Again, it all comes down to personal baking preferences.
In general, if you are still using butter, you would want to use something like a 1-to-2-to-4 ratio. This is your cream cheese to butter to confectioner’s sugar ratio.
This is used to make cream cheese and butter frosting. Make sure that you blend it thoroughly until you get that smooth, creamy texture that a good frosting has.
If you plan to use no butter and go with a pure cream cheese option, you would want to go with a 1-to-1-to-2 ratio. This is cream cheese to whipped cream to confectioner’s sugar. This type of frosting will be lighter in texture than it would be with a cream cheese and butter blend.
This is especially the case if you use something like a low- or non-fat cream cheese.
How to Make a Basic Cream Cheese Frosting Without Butter
To start, you will want to gather your ingredients together. This is your eight-ounce package of cream cheese, a teaspoon of vanilla extract or bean paste, three cups of powdered sugar, one or two tablespoons of cream or milk, and just a pinch of salt.
Mix your cream cheese, vanilla, and cream into a mixing bowl until you get that smooth, velvety, creamy texture. Be careful not to overdo the ingredients because it could change the texture of your frosting substantially and make it sit on your cake in a way that you won’t want.
Next, sift the sugar and measure out about three cups or so, gradually adding the sugar to your cream cheese mixture. You would also want to add in your salt at this point and then beat your mixture together until it becomes both smooth and fluffy in texture.
If the consistency of your mixture isn’t quite where you want it to be, you can try to add a bit more milk or cream in your mixture for spreading purposes. If you plan to pipe your frosting out, you will want to get a thicker consistency so that you can pipe it out exactly as you would want.
That’s all there is to making a quality frosting. You can then use it on anything from cakes to cupcakes and make some of the most luscious, delicious desserts that you have ever had.
Don’t have all the ingredients to make it? See my article on How to Make Frosting Without Key Ingredients.
It might seem to be a difficult endeavor but creating a quality frosting just takes a little bit of time and effort to create and you can store it for later use.
Whether you go with a butter-based frosting or decide to use an alternative to butter, creating the perfect frosting is something that anyone can do in short order with maximum flavor involved.
If you find that you don’t like your frosting too sweet, try these simple tips for making it less sweet.