Cream Cheese Frosting

April 6, 2020

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Cream Cheese Frosting – my absolute favorite! A rich and luxurious, melt-in-your-mouth frosting made with just a handful of basic ingredients.

Cream cheese frosting shown atop four red velvet cupcakes on a marble platter.

Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

This decadent, silky smooth, cloud-like frosting is what dreams are made of! It’s perfect for just about any type of cake and it is so easy to make!

And it brings one more layer of heavenly flavor to an already delicious cake. A frosting like this is where the statement “icing on the cake” likely started. Perfect upgrade.

You can prepare it in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, just use whichever you prefer. Just keep to my number one tip of chilling!

Best Cakes to go with Cream Cheese Frosting

Here’s a list of my favorite cakes to pair with it:

Ingredients used to make cream cheese frosting shown here including powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract.

4 Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting

  1. Cream cheese: I recommend Philadelphia (not sponsored it’s just the only cream cheese I buy, delicious flavor and consistent consistency). Do not use Neufchâtel cheese (aka low fat cream cheese).
  2. Unsalted butter: Since there’s already salt in the cream cheese I highly recommend going with unsalted butter so frosting isn’t too salty.
  3. Powdered sugar: Also known as confectioners sugar. No substitutes here, this very fine sugar makes for a smooth, non-gritty frosting.
  4. Vanilla extract: I recommend sticking with real vanilla for best flavor.

Block of cream cheese and butter in a glass mixing bowl. Cream cheese and butter shown after blending with beaters resting in mixture.

How to Make the Best Cream Cheese Frosting

Three easy steps to making this simple frosting:

  1. In a mixing bowl, or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together cream cheese and butter until smooth and slightly fluffy.
  2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined. Then increase speed to high and whip for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
  3. Transfer frosting to freezer and freeze 3 minutes. Remove and mix with mixer just briefly. Repeat this process up to 2 more times until frosting is more firm.

Powdered sugar and vanilla added to mixing bowl with butter and cream cheese. Finished cream cheese frosting in mixing bowl.

How Long Can This Frosting Sit Out?

For food safety it shouldn’t sit out longer than 2 hours, but keep in mind it should be kept cool so it doesn’t get runny (if that comes before two hours. Even at room temperature (70 degrees) frosting can start to run so I recommend chilling shortly after frosting.

Does Cream Cheese Frosting Need to be Refrigerated?

  • Yes. Cream cheese frosting does need to be refrigerated (and can be chilled 4 – 5 days in an airtight container).
  • Keep in mind upon chilling through it does harden up some so bring nearly to room temp before using or serving.
  • Once you’ve added it to your cake the cake should be stored in an airtight container and chilled.

Can You Freeze Cream Cheese Frosting?

  • Yes cream cheese frosting can be frozen in an airtight container up to 3 months.
  • Thaw for one day in the refrigerator then let rest on the counter to bring nearly to room temperature.
  • Preferably rewhip for a minute with a mixer before using.

Cream Cheese Frosting shown after thickened in short bursts in freezer.

Can You Tint It with Color?

Yes absolutely. You can use gel food coloring, liquid food coloring (they make natural versions now), or powdered coloring such as beet powder (sift first). Remember when tinting a little goes a long way.

How do You Make Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting?

To make chocolate cream cheese frosting just add 6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted) to the mixture when adding powdered sugar. You can see it on this cake here.

How do You Thicken Cream Cheese Frosting (My Best Tip)?

My number one tip for cream cheese frosting is to make ingredients cool again. When cream cheese (and butter) gets softer it get’s runnier. I started doing this years ago and it’s been a game changer:

  • Upon completion of mixing frosting freeze the frosting in mixing bowl in short bursts, just a few minutes at a time.
  • Then mix again using the electric stand mixer or hand mixer.
  • Freeze briefly again. Mix again.
  • This really just firms it back up quickly. Just don’t overdue it with freezing or it will get clumpy and become too hard for spreading over a soft cake.
  • Work quickly to frost cake or cupcakes before it starts to return to warm room temperature again.
  • Another thing that helps thicken is to add a little more powdered sugar.

Cake on a wooden cake stand covered in cream cheese frosting and garnished with a wring of chopped pecans on top.

Tips for Success

  • Use good quality cream cheese. The store brands can tend to have a runnier consistency. Don’t use whipped cream cheese in a tub.
  • Don’t melt butter! If you have to soften in the microwave soften in short bursts on a low power, rotating butter every few seconds. But should just soft.
  • Never add liquid. Save that for buttercream frosting, cream cheese frosting will be too runny if you try to add cream or milk.
  • Whip and whip frosting to make it fluffy, but also be careful not to overdue it so it has some stability.
  • Keep chilled and when out of the fridge keep at a cool temperature, don’t serve a cream cheese frosted cake outdoors on a hot summer day unless you’ve got a way to keep it cold or serve right away.

Variations

Try adding one of these ingredients for a fun flavor boost:

  • ground cinnamon
  • crushed freeze dried strawberries or blueberries.
  • lemon zest
  • coconut extract
  • vanilla bean

More Frosting Recipes You’ll Love

 

Cream Cheese Frosting

5 from 2 votes

My absolute favorite! A rich and luxurious, melt-in-your-mouth frosting made with just a handful of basic ingredients. It has a delicious tang and the perfect sweet flavor. Recipe makes plenty for 12 cupcakes, see notes for amounts needed for cakes.

Servings: 12
Prep Time 10 minutes
Chill Time 9 minutes
Total Time 19 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, partially softened but still firm (rested at room temperature about 30 minutes)
  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened nearly to room temperature
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups (300g to 420g) powdered sugar* (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. The amounts listed above makes enough for 12 cupcakes. See notes for cake amounts.

  2. In a mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment) cream together cream cheese and butter until smooth and slightly fluffy.

  3. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined. Then increase speed to high and whip for a few minutes until light and fluffy.

  4. Transfer frosting to freezer and freeze 3 minutes. Remove and mix with mixer just briefly. Repeat this process up to 2 more times until frosting is more firm (not clumpy and too cold but firm enough to frost and not be running).

  5. Frost cupcakes or cake and keep refrigerated.

Recipe Notes

  • *If you notice powdered sugar is clumpy at all sift it before using (measure then sift).
  • Nutrition estimate based on using 3 cups powdered sugar and 1/12 of the recipe. 
  • Store frosting in the refrigerator (it will keep well for 4 - 5 days). Bring nearly to room temp before using or serving. 

Amounts for a 2 Layer Cake or 13 by 9-inch cake:

  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 12 oz. cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter 
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Amounts for a 3 Layer Cake:

  • 6 to 6 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 16 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
Nutrition Facts
Cream Cheese Frosting
Amount Per Serving
Calories 250 Calories from Fat 126
% Daily Value*
Fat 14g22%
Saturated Fat 9g56%
Cholesterol 41mg14%
Sodium 62mg3%
Potassium 26mg1%
Carbohydrates 31g10%
Sugar 30g33%
Protein 1g2%
Vitamin A 490IU10%
Calcium 21mg2%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cream Cheese Frosting
Author: Jaclyn