Eating red velvet cake is hardly worth the calories unless it’s frosted with thick, slightly tangy cream cheese frosting. This topper is the perfect pairing for pumpkin bread, carrot cake and apple slices, too, but only if it’s perfectly made. That’s simple to do, as a basic batch of cream cheese frosting only contains four ingredients. For safety, refrigerate foods topped with this frosting, but let them warm up to room temperature before digging in.

The Basic Ingredients

Once you’ve mastered the basics of making cream cheese frosting, you can adjust the amounts to your taste, such as by adding more sugar or cutting back on butter to reduce the fat. In general, use about 1 cup of cream cheese to every 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and anywhere from 2 to 4 cups of confectioner’s sugar. You may use reduced-fat cream cheese if you wish, and you can enhance the frosting’s flavor by adding pureed pumpkin or fruit, molasses or maple syrup.

The Basic Technique

Soften both the butter and cream cheese at room temperature or in the microwave. Use an electric mixer to beat these two and the vanilla together until the mixture looks light and whipped. Add the sugar, a cup at a time, and beat the mixture after each addition. Continue adding sugar until the frosting is stiff but spreadable and tastes sweet but not overpoweringly sugary. Add a few splashes of milk or cream if the frosting becomes too thick.