So alright, cream cheese may not be the working of the Devil. But it is the working of 19th century dairy farmers in upstate New York, which is, you know…close. These shadowy men, whose real names are unknown to us, spent years of their lives working in secret to create an inexpensive American version of French Neufchatel cheese. What they came up with, a soft, vaguely tangy curd made from cream, milk and lactic acid-producing bacteria, has since seized over a quarter of the modern-day cheese market.
Which really isn’t all that evil I guess. Personally I love cream cheese on bagels, in cheesecakes, and as a base for that layered Tex-Mex dip no party-goer can escape. It’s also a critical secret ingredient in my favorite pie crust recipe. Yet I will resolutely produce my crucifix when I find it mixed with sugar and called frosting.
What’s my problem with cream cheese frosting you ask? It’s gummy. It’s heavy. It’s gamey. As one-dimensional as it is tooth-curlingly sweet. Far worse, it’s only 28% milk fat. And laugh though ye may, it is this kind of corner-cutting that leads to cake crime.
How so? When it comes to an indulgence like cake, we all want a satisfying experience. In fact I will go so far as to say we will accept nothing less than a satisfying experience. Which is why, presented with a counterfeit like cream cheese frosting, we demand more, more, more! Not because it tastes good, mind you, but because righteous cake eaters demand satisfaction, and even though most people might have a hard time defining exactly what “that satisfying feeling” entails, it usually comes down to fat. So how to get satisfaction from a cake that offers one-third the fat? You eat three times as much. It’s a kind of deprivation syndrome that leads to this kind of cake thinking, where you’ve got two helpless slivers of buttercake entombed in four inch-thick layers of ersatz joy. (Note: this woman should count herself lucky to be an American. Japanese bakers caught frosting cakes in this way are made to commit seppuku with icing spatulas).
The way to avoid such a fate is of course to prepare and consume the real thing: buttercream, applied in a judicious quarter-inch layer over a much larger volume of cake. Yes, you’ll have all the butterfat. But more importantly you’ll have a full dose of real cake love packed into a single average-sized serving. And that is pleasing to God.