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If you want to level up your traditional cream cheese frosting, this brown butter cream cheese frosting recipe is for you. With brown butter as the base for this flavorful topping for all sorts of desserts, you’re in for a tangy cream cheese frosting full of notes of caramel and toffee and all of those flavorful brown bits.
There is something that cream cheese frosting can bring to a dessert that no other frosting recipe does: a lighter feel than traditional American buttercream and certainly a less sweet taste, but a tang that complements things like spice cake, homemade cinnamon rolls, classic carrot cake cupcakes, moist carrot cake, and of course, the iconic red velvet cake and red velvet cupcakes.
WHY ADD BROWN BUTTER TO CREAM CHEESE FROSTING?
So what makes brown butter cream cheese frosting even better? Those toasty brown milk solids we find in brown butter add a nutty flavor with notes of caramel and toffee that complement a wide array of flavors from banana to pumpkin.
What Is Brown Butter?
Brown butter is a type of melted butter made by slowly and carefully cooking solid butter in a skillet or pan on the stove.
While many folks use this ingredient as a standalone sauce for vegetables, pasta, and meat, it can add a whole new level of flavor to all kinds of baked goods like brown butter pumpkin cake and even properly substituted in classic chocolate chip cookies.
Brown butter is so versatile and can be used just about anywhere regular butter is used with some proper modifications and adjustments, which is exactly what I did with my favorite go-to classic cream cheese frosting recipe.
INGREDIENTS FOR BROWN BUTTER CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
The ingredient list for this frosting is not much different than it is with traditional cream cheese frosting.
For this browned butter cream cheese frosting, you will need:
• brown butter (melted and allowed to come back to room temperature– don’t know how to brown butter? I’m here to show you how!)
• full fat block cream cheese
• powdered sugar
• vanilla extract
HOW TO BROWN BUTTER
While I do have a comprehensive post about how to brown butter, I’ll go over how exactly to make brown butter in case you’ve never done it before.
I’ve burned my fair share of butter while trying to brown it, so let’s talk about how to make perfectly browned butter for this cream cheese frosting.
First, you’ll want ½ cup (113g, one stick) of unsalted butter, a light-colored pan or skillet, a small heatproof bowl, and either a wooden spoon or silicone or rubber spatula.
First, place your light colored pan or skillet on a burner on the stove. Then, place your heatproof bowl next to your work space.
Browning butter is a quick process, so prepare to stay with your butter for about 5-10 minutes without walking away.
Place the butter the pan or skillet, then turn the burner to medium heat. Use the spatula or wooden spoon to stir the butter constantly as it melts.
Once melted, the butter will start to sizzle and white foam will form on the surface. Continue to stir the melted butter as it cooks. If the butter is sizzling too rapidly, turn the heat down a bit.
After about 5 minutes, the foam will begin to disappear and you will notice white milk solids collecting at the bottom of the pan. These solids are what will cook and turn the butter brown.
As the bits cook, they will go from light brown to brown to amber colored very quickly, at which point, the mixture will start to smelly strongly of caramel and toffee and have a slightly nutty aroma.
Immediately remove the pan from the heat, continue to stir it around in the hot pan, then quickly but carefully pour all of the butter and the milk solids into the prepared bowl. This will stop the cooking process. Be sure to stop the process when the milk solids are dark amber but before they burn.
Bring Brown Butter To Room Temperature
This is an important step: you will need to let your melted brown butter come to room temperature before you use it in order for your cream cheese frosting to come together. If you just go straight for the melted butter, your brown butter cream cheese frosting will fall apart, leaving you with a greasy, gross mess.
You can speed up the cooling process by popping your butter in the fridge for a bit, but it should only take about 30 to 45 minutes for the butter to be ready to use.
If you can, plan well ahead and make it a day or several hours in advance of wanting to make your frosting, that way you aren’t waiting for the butter to cool or rushing the process.
Make The Frosting
At this point, you’ll follow the same steps you do to make traditional cream cheese frosting, but the difference is, you’ll be drooling more because that brown butter is going to take your frosting from delish to woah baby.
Place the brown butter and softened cream cheese in a large bowl, then beat until smooth.
Next, slowly add the powdered sugar and allow the brown butter frosting come together.
When it’s mostly together, add the vanilla and salt, then beat again until uniform in texture.
Here’s where you will want to taste the frosting and adjust.
Does it need another pinch of salt?
Does it need a little more vanilla?
Depending on your use for your brown butter cream cheese frosting, you may want it slightly saltier than what I have written here.
Those brown bits are complemented so nicely with salt, and if you’re a fan of salted caramel sauce, there’s a good chance you might like your brown butter cream cheese a little on the saltier side.
Do I Need To Add Liquid?
Most frosting recipes include heavy cream, milk, water, or some other form of liquid to thin everything out.
Adding liquid will be up to you. Since browning butter removes some of the moisture from the butter, I’ve adjusted the amount of confectioners’ sugar necessary to bring the frosting together.
Also, since even room temperature brown butter is a little looser than regular butter at room temperature, the texture of this particular cream cheese frosting may already be looser than you are used to.
What Can I Use Brown Butter Cream Cheese For?
This delectable brown butter cream cheese frosting will go well with anything that lends well to traditional cream cheese frosting, but might be best paired with something that already has warm spices and flavors (though it is not limited to just these things).
Try it on my carrot cake recipe, a banana cake or banana bread, anything with warm spices like my chai cake, any of my homemade cinnamon rolls (don’t miss my small batch cinnamon rolls and mini cinnamon rolls!), and anything that could benefit from a little something extra from those browned bits in some creamy, tangy cream cheese frosting.
LOVE FROSTING AS MUCH AS I DO?
There’s a pretty good chance you’ll love my cookbook, The Home Baker’s Guide to Basic Buttercream. In it, you will find more than 25 American buttercream recipes, all of my best tips for getting perfect buttercream every time, charts for scaling up or down based on your need, and suggestions for cake/cupcake pairings for each frosting.
BROWN BUTTER CREAM CHEESE FAQ
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
- ½ cup (113g) brown butter room temperature1
- 8 ounces (225g) full fat block cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 3 cups (360g) powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- In a large bowl with a handheld mixer or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the brown butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth.
- Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla extract and salt and continue mixing until smooth. Use as desired (this would go nicely with carrot walnut cake, carrot cake cupcakes, brown butter pumpkin cake, chai cake, or anything else that goes well with cream cheese frosting).
- Brown butter: you will need your brown butter at room temperature. I have tested this recipe with 113g of unsalted butter cooked down to about 90g of brown butter (the reduced amount is due to loss of moisture while cooking). You do not need a full 113g of brown butter. If you do not know how to make brown butter, please see my full tutorial about how to brown butter.
- To use: this recipe yields enough frosting for a two-layer 8″ cake or 24 standard size cupcakes.
- For more frosting recipes: check out my cookbook dedicated completely to American buttercream, with 25+ recipes, all my best troubleshooting tips, scaling charts, and suggested cake/cupcake pairings.
All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.