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
- 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 cup cream cheese (block style, full fat) 8oz, chilled, cubed
- cornstarch or meringue powder optional, as needed
- pinch salt optional, to cut some of the sweetness
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.
Sarah Feagan says
Would you ever do a Swiss meringue buttercream and substitute cream cheese for the butter? Is that possible??
I just love your Swiss meringue buttercream so much, it’s all I ever want to use!
Hi Sarah! Cream cheese SMBC is challenging to make. You can’t just swap the butter for CC, unfortunately. I know some people successfully add in a whipped up block of cc at the very end after making a full batch of SMBC so you could try that. Or you can add some of this CC frosting here at the end to the SMBC. Let me know if you try either of those!
Hopi Lockett says
Hi Olivia! Did you use the paddle or whisk attachment? Can’t wait to try!
Hi Hopi! I use a paddle. I hope you love it 🙂
Thank you sooooooo much!!! I adore this recipe. I opted for the merengue powder bcs I wanted to be able to pipe onto cupcakes.
Was incredible. Perfect consistency. Not overly sweet. Cream cheese flavour was discernable, but the tang was hardly noticeable at all.
Hi Nevena! Thanks so much for the feedback, I’m so glad you loved it!
I’ve been looking for a solution to this problem and thinking about trying meringue powder. The other day, I finally found a cake blogger online that has the same tip as you do about the meringue powder and the cornstarch. Her recipe used both. I tried it. Worked PERFECTLY!! I will try chilling the cream cheese like you say without using the meringue powder or cornstarch. When the recipe is finally made, by just chilling the cream cheese and not using the cornstarch or meringue powder, will it begin to soften is my only question? This recipe from the other blogger didn’t change the taste (much to my amazement) but was very pipeable. Still will have to be refrigerated of course because it is cream cheese. But didn’t lose it’s stability. I’m beyond excited. I have always hated working with cream cheese.
Hi Robin! So glad it worked for you! It really shouldn’t affect the flavor unless you add too much, but you don’t need a lot. Without the cornstarch/meringue powder the buttercream will soften a bit as the cream cheese comes to room temperature, but not as much as other CC frostings because we’re adding the cream cheese in at the end. If you want it thick and stable for longer definitely add the cornstarch or meringue powder!
I had put the cream cheese in with the butter and creamed together because that’s what the original recipe I had found said to do. I’m definitely going to try yours next, exactly how you say do it. Thank you so much.
How much powdered freeze dried berry would you add to this recipe?
Hi Holly! I would add it 1 Tbsp at a time until you get the flavor/color you want. Probably 3-4 Tbsp or so 🙂
Thanks for responding! Will the freeze dried berry add anything to the stability of the frosting?
Yes, it should thicken the frosting so I would add that before adding the cornstarch/meringue powder 🙂