Cream Cheese Frosting

Creamy, tangy, and not too sweet, this is my personal best cream cheese frosting recipe for layer cakes, sheet cakes, or cupcakes. Plus a few flavor variations: matcha, whiskey, and vanilla bean.

Easy Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

Cream cheese frosting: great frosting or greatest frosting?

Today I’m sharing everything you ever wanted to know about cream cheese frosting: how to make it, how to use it, and how to store it, plus some flavor variations. If you have more questions, please ask in the comments below!

Whiskey Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients for cream cheese frosting:

Classic cream cheese frosting is made with few ingredients: cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar plus the flavorings of your choice – vanilla, salt, lemon juice or zest, or perhaps a spoonful of matcha, maple syrup, or whiskey. I once made a recipe for chocolate cream cheese frosting which I need to revisit!

For silky smooth cream cheese frosting, it’s important to choose a cream cheese that contains some gums or stabilizers rather than an artisanal cream cheese with a crumbly consistency. My preferred brand is Organic Valley. For butter, anything will work, though I prefer a richer, European-style butter such as Straus, Vermont Creamery, or Organic Valley European-Style Cultured Butter. I prefer the richer taste of organic powdered sugar (aka confectioner’s sugar) such as Wholesome Sweeteners brand. Do be sure to sift organic powdered sugar as it tends to be clumpier than its conventional counterpart.

Over the years I’ve tried many different ratios of these ingredients. The ratio I settled on is one part butter, two parts cream cheese, and two parts sugar by volume (i.e. 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar) plus a touch of salt and vanilla, and sometimes a squeeze of lemon. Most cream cheese frostings call for 2, 3, or even 4 cups of sugar for these amounts, but I prefer a not too sweet cream cheese frosting. I like to really taste the rich butter and tangy cream cheese. That said, you can absolutely add more sugar if you like a sweeter frosting. The powdered sugar, which is very finely ground sugar mixed with a little cornstarch, helps the frosting emulsify and fluff up in addition to providing sweetness.

Best Cream Cheese Frosting with Butterscotch Swirl

What’s the key to silky smooth cream cheese frosting?

First of all, make sure your butter and cream cheese have warmed to room temperature. Too cold and you’ll get lumpy chunks in your frosting, or the frosting might appear broken or curdled due to the ingredients not being in emulsion (think oil and vinegar). Too warm and your frosting will be too soft and weepy. To quickly soften cream cheese and butter, cut them into 1-inch chunks and place them on a large plate or quarter sheet pan (lined with parchment paper for easy clean-up if you like) and let them sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

I prefer to make my cream cheese frosting in a stand mixer, but an electric beater will probably work as well. Or make it the old-fashioned way using a bowl, wooden spoon, and your mighty arm strength. First beat the butter and cream cheese on medium-low speed until smooth and incorporated, then add the butter and flavorings, beating until smooth. Finally, increase the mixer speed to medium-high for a minute or two to aerate the frosting.

If your frosting looks slightly broken or curdled when you’re finished, this could be due to too-cold ingredients that haven’t come into emulsion. If your bowl feels cold to the touch, let the ingredients warm up a bit more and try beating it again to see if it comes together. If your frosting is still broken, add more sifted powdered sugar by the tablespoon; this sometimes brings it back together. (You can add a squeeze of lemon if it starts to taste too sweet.) If neither of these tactics bring your frosting back together again, slather it all over that cake and rest assured that everyone will still go crazy for it.

Cream cheese frosting vs. cream cheese icing: which is it?

Cream cheese frosting is often called, synonymously, cream cheese icing. The terms icing and frosting are used interchangeably in the US, with frosting being the more common name for the fluffy cake topping shown here. Buttercream is another name for the same thing. But in European countries, icing is usually thinner and glossier, with a higher ratio of sugar. Whether you call this cream cheese icing or cream cheese frosting, you’ll definitely call it delicious.

Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting

What to do with your perfect cream cheese frosting?

Besides licking it off the spoon, here are some of my favorite uses for this easy cream cheese frosting recipe and its variations:

Vanilla Whiskey Cream Cheese Frosting + Gluten-Free Persimmon Cake

Can cream cheese frosting go bad? AKA how to store your cream cheese frosting:

Food safety regulations specify that dairy products can only sit out at room temperature (i.e. the danger zone where bacteria happily flourish) for 2 hours. Realistically, it’s unlikely that harmful bacteria will grow in cream cheese frosting if left out for several hours since it’s full of bacteria-inhibiting sugar and fat. But if you want to be extra safe, make sure the total time that your dairy is out (including warming it to room temperature, making the frosting, and decorating and serving your cake) is under 2 hours. Cream cheese frosting will taste and feel best in your face when eaten at room temperature, so if storing your befrosted goods in the fridge, be sure to let them sit out for 30 minutes before nomming to soften the frosting.

Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting

What are your favorite uses for cream cheese frosting?

Tell me in the comments below!

Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting + Chocolate Cake

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Cream Cheese Frosting
Yields: 2 cups
Classic cream cheese frosting made with just a handful of ingredients and whipped until smooth and fluffy. Since this frosting contains less powdered sugar than most, it can look slightly curdled when finished. See the post above for troubleshooting any frosting woes. This recipe makes about 2 cups of frosting, enough for a 9x12-inch sheet cake, a 6-inch layer cake, or 1 dozen cupcakes. Double the recipe to frost an 8- or 9-inch layer cake. Don't miss the variations below!
  • 8 ounces (225 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g) lightly salted or unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (100 g) powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt if using unsalted butter
  • squeeze of lemon juice, optional
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with an electric beater or wooden spoon) combine the cream cheese and butter. Beat on medium-low speed until smooth and combined, about 1 minute, scraping the sides of the bowl and paddle as needed.
  2. Sift the powdered sugar into the cream cheese mixture and add the vanilla and salt. Beat the frosting on low speed to combine, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
  3. Taste the frosting, adding a squeeze of lemon if you want to sharpen the flavors. Use right away, or store refrigerated airtight for up to 1 week. If chilled, let soften to room room temperature before using.
Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting: omit the vanilla and add 1 tablespoon matcha with the powdered sugar
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting: use the seeds from ½ vanilla bean, or ½ teaspoon of vanilla paste, instead of the vanilla extract
Whiskey Cream Cheese Frosting: add 1-2 tablespoons bourbon or other whiskey to the frosting along with the vanilla
Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting: omit the vanilla and add a good grating of lemon, orange, tangerine, or lime zest

Cream Cheese Frosting for Cakes and Cupcakes

4 thoughts on “Cream Cheese Frosting”

  1. I am in awe of you and this. Stellar!

    PS: Heading to the supermarket now to get some cream cheese!! Cause I am making me some “creme” (yeah, I am super fancy like that) cheese frosting. 😂

  2. Thank you for all your experimenting! I really liked the level of sweetness in this cream cheese frosting. Do you have any idea on how to make a peanut butter variation? Peanut butter powder maybe?

    1. So glad you like it! I bet you could just add 2 or 3 tablespoons peanut butter to the frosting and add more sugar if needed to taste? Please let me know if you experiment!

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