Sugar-free Ermine Frosting


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Hi all! :) I'm new here, and I'm happy to have found a place for all my burning questions! (No pun intended.) This is something that's been bugging me for a while: my go-to cake topper is a sugar-free ermine frosting that has consistently produced awesome results in terms of texture, pipeability, and how it takes icing colors. The taste is what throws me, though--it always has a slight tanginess similar to cream cheese frosting, even though there's no cream cheese in it! Is this flavor inherent to ermine frosting, even one made with sugar? What could I add to counteract the tanginess without changing the texture? I'd love to taste the vanilla only, so it becomes a base frosting that's good on its own or with variations (I like to play around with different flavors in my frosting, but with the recipe as-is, they all wind up having that cream-cheesy undertone).
 
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Unless you are using cultured butter, there shouldn’t be any reason for the frosting to taste tangy. American butter is sweet cream butter, unlike french butter which is cultured, so has a delicious tangy flavor. American butter is just bland and flavorless.
 
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Hi, Norcal! Just realized it would've been helpful to everyone to know my recipe ;)
Here's what I've been doing:

(1 1/2 c sugar) equivalent in sweetener (I use NatraTaste)*
1/4 c flour
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c fat free milk**
1-2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c Smart Balance buttery spread
2/3 c vegetable shortening plus enough SB spread to equal 3/4 c total***

* NatraTaste is dextrose, maltodextrin, and aspartame; it comes in packets only, each one equal to the sweetness of 2 tsp. sugar, so I use 36 packets= 1 1/2 c sugar
** I've also used reconstituted nonfat milk powder, with no change to final results
*** We use Smart Balance as our "butter"; through math and trial, I've found this ratio to be the best approximation of butter's 80% fat content.

I've also used just half butter/half shortening, and SmartBalance/shortening/coconut oil...the butter one is more firm when chilled, but that's the only difference--all the versions have that slight tangy flavor.

I had a thought in the middle of the night (as one does, of course ;)): I use the same sweetener in all my baked goods, with no flavor issue. Unlike cake batter and pie filling, the sweetener in the frosting is cooked over a direct flame, and doesn't have a lot of "heat buffer" ingredients around it. Is it possible the heat is too much, so even though it doesn't look burnt, the sweetener's flavor is chemically affected? And--would cooking my frosting base in a double boiler help solve this, or would I just wind up with a soggy mess that cooks improperly and doesn't thicken?
 
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Hi, Norcal! Just realized it would've been helpful to everyone to know my recipe ;)
Here's what I've been doing:

(1 1/2 c sugar) equivalent in sweetener (I use NatraTaste)*
1/4 c flour
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c fat free milk**
1-2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c Smart Balance buttery spread
2/3 c vegetable shortening plus enough SB spread to equal 3/4 c total***

* NatraTaste is dextrose, maltodextrin, and aspartame; it comes in packets only, each one equal to the sweetness of 2 tsp. sugar, so I use 36 packets= 1 1/2 c sugar
** I've also used reconstituted nonfat milk powder, with no change to final results
*** We use Smart Balance as our "butter"; through math and trial, I've found this ratio to be the best approximation of butter's 80% fat content.

I've also used just half butter/half shortening, and SmartBalance/shortening/coconut oil...the butter one is more firm when chilled, but that's the only difference--all the versions have that slight tangy flavor.

I had a thought in the middle of the night (as one does, of course ;)): I use the same sweetener in all my baked goods, with no flavor issue. Unlike cake batter and pie filling, the sweetener in the frosting is cooked over a direct flame, and doesn't have a lot of "heat buffer" ingredients around it. Is it possible the heat is too much, so even though it doesn't look burnt, the sweetener's flavor is chemically affected? And--would cooking my frosting base in a double boiler help solve this, or would I just wind up with a soggy mess that cooks improperly and doesn't thicken?

Everything in there is artificial, so nothing in there should give it the taste of cream cheese. it doesn’t even contain any milk fat or cream. There must be some artificial flavor in the spread you’re using that is interacting with the aspartame.

Aspartame is not the best choice for baking and cooking as it breaks down in heat. They make a special form specifically for a baking perhaps not that brand but they do make a baking form. Diabetes runs in my family so I’ve done some sugar-free baking and I always select a sugar substitute specifically developed for baking.

But I really don’t see anything in your ingredients that could be making your icing taste like cream cheese.
 
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Just an aside I’ve also use the smart balance spread in vegan recipes and have not had an issue with it creating an off taste.
 
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Thanks for that info about the aspartame! I didn't realize that there were different versions of it meant for baking (this is the standard add-it-to-your-coffee stuff).
I'm working sugar-free for the same reason. We'd tried Splenda but too many of us had severe GI problems with it, and stevia seemed to have a very strong (almost unpleasant) aftertaste in all uses. My local grocery store has finally started carrying something called Swerve, which is supposed to be a 1:1 erythritol; I was considering giving that a try, as it comes in both granulated and powdered forms--that would probably offer me the chance to try a stabilized whipped cream as well as the standard ermine.
 
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