Sweet & tangy, stiff & pipeable. A simple blend of butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla. This is the perfect cream cheese frosting recipe for all your cakes, cupcakes, and cookies!
I have a love/hate relationship with cream cheese frosting. LOVE the flavor, hate the consistency. Or rather that it’s so difficult to work with.
Even though I am not a cream cheese fan (you’ll never catch me ordering a cheesecake), there is something insanely delicious about cream cheese frosting. Especially when it’s paired with certain flavors like Carrot Cake, Hummingbird Cake, and Pumpkin Cake.
Frosting a cake with it, however, is the bane of my existence. It’s SO difficult to work with. It’s soft and impossible to get a nice, smooth look so I always just opt for something rustic like a swirl.
I have resigned myself to the fact that this is just how cream cheese frosting *is* though and accepted the fact that cream cheese frosted cakes will never be pristine and perfect but they will be delicious and that’s all that matters.
Over the years I have tried countless different combinations and ratios of cream cheese to butter to powdered sugar and can finally say I have found one that I love and that works best for me. It is the most stable one I’ve made too. Yay!
So, let’s get to it.
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting
It only takes a few simple ingredients to make a delicious and stable cream cheese frosting. Here’s what you’ll need:
- unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- powdered sugar (sifted)
- vanilla (or any other flavoring)
- cream cheese (chilled! read on for why)
- cornstarch or meringue powder (optional, read on)
Cream Cheese Tip!
Be sure to use full-fat block style cream cheese. Low fat and tub cream cheese is too watery and will make an already soft frosting even more so.
The method is simple. While most recipes call for beating butter and cream cheese first, I beat the butter and powdered sugar first and add the (chilled) cream cheese at the very end.
I learned about this technique — beating the butter and powdered sugar together first — from my friend Janice over at The Bake School. There is some science behind it that I won’t try to explain but it made sense to me so I gave it a go and it worked great!
Using Chilled Cream Cheese
Cream cheese is already somewhat soft even straight out of the fridge so there is really no reason to have it come to room temperature. Using it chilled makes for a stiffer frosting. The frosting will obviously soften the longer it sits at room temperature but it starts out stiffer and easier to work with this way.
I take my cream cheese out of the fridge when I start making the frosting. By the time I’m ready to add it it has been out of the fridge for 10mins or so.
I cut it up into small cubes (about 1 Tbsp each) and add them one at a time while the buttercream is whipping. Because the cream cheese is cold you want to make sure you incorporate it well so that there are no chunks of cream cheese in your frosting. Just give it a good whip once it’s all been added.
How to Thicken Cream Cheese Icing
The easiest and most common way to thicken cream cheese frosting is to add powdered sugar but this would make a sweet frosting even sweeter.
If you find that your frosting is still too thin you can add either cornstarch or meringue powder a little bit at a time at the end to help thicken it up. Add it slowly and only enough to get the frosting to the consistency you need.
That’s it! Everything you need to make a delicious, decorator-friendly cream cheese frosting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I make it in advance?
- Yes. The frosting can be placed in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 1 week for frozen for up to 3 months (sometimes longer). Be sure to bring to room temperature and give it a good rewhip before using.
How can I convert this recipe?
- This recipe makes enough to frost a two-layer 8″ cake or a three-layer 6″ cake or about 18-24 cupcakes depending on the amount used per cupcake.
- If you want extra frosting to decorate the cake 1.5x the recipe.
Can I add different flavourings?
- Add any kind of extract of flavouring that you like. Try some freeze-dried fruit powders for a delicious fruity version!
Can I use low fat or tub style cream cheese?
- No. Both of these options are too watery and will make for a runny frosting. Be sure to use full fat block style cream cheese only and make sure it’s chilled!
Tips for Success
- Only use full fat block style cream cheese. Other versions are too thin and runny.
- Make sure your cream cheese is chilled.
- Sift your powdered sugar to get rid of any lumps.
- Whip the butter and powdered sugar together first, add chilled cream cheese at the end.
- Add cornstarch or meringue powder 1 Tablespoon at a time to stiffen the frosting if needed.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Using a stand mixer or hand mixer beat butter until pale and creamy.
- Reduce speed to low. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix on low until well blended. Increase speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes. Add vanilla and continue to beat on medium for 1 minute.
- Slowly add chilled cream cheese one cube at a time (about 1 tablespoon at a time). Beat well until blended and ensure no lumps of cream cheese remain.
- If needed, add cornstarch or meringue powder 1 tablespoon at a time to stiffen the frosting (I didn't but this is an option). Add salt if desired to cut the sweetness.
- Run mixer on low for a couple of minutes to remove any air bubbles.