This classic, silky cream cheese frosting recipe is tangy and sweet, with just a hint of vanilla. It comes together in no time and can be used to frost cakes, pipe onto cupcakes, or even serve at brunch with cinnamon buns and fresh fruit. Cream cheese frosting is prepared using just 4 ingredients: cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is.
I’ve been writing about the wonders of Italian meringue buttercream for years, and I’ve always pushed people to give it a try because I think it’s so much better than other frostings. However, recently I’ve been making an effort to incorporate other frostings into my dessert recipes.
While I love the light and fluffy texture of meringue buttercream, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s an advanced recipe. It also takes more time to prepare than other frosting recipes. Not everyone wants to deal with that. And not everyone feels ready to dive into the advanced recipes. I get it.
So for me, the solution has been to come up with easy frosting recipes that are still somewhat light in texture and not too sweet. This recipe is similar to my sour cream chocolate frosting. They’re both sweeter and more dense than meringue buttercream, but so much better than a traditional American buttercream.
Why do these recipes work? It’s very simple. The reason American buttercreams are so thick and heavy is because they’re almost entirely comprised of butter and confectioners’ sugar. That is a rich, sweet combination right there.
Cream cheese and sour cream are certainly rich, but they help balance the sweetness of the sugar by adding a sour element. That makes a big difference.
Can whipped cream cheese be used?
Yes, but there’s a trade-off. Cook’s Illustrated ran a test substituting whipped cream cheese for regular cream cheese in frosting, and found that the texture of the frosting was a bit lighter and smoother, which some of their tasters preferred. However, the frosting was a bit less tangy.
If you already have one or the other in your refrigerator, I wouldn’t run out to purchase the other. If you still find that this recipe sounds too rich compared with meringue buttercreams, whipped cream cheese might be worth considering.
Why does my Frosting Have Lumps?
If your frosting has lumps, there could be a couple things happening, and you can tell by what the lumps taste like.
- If they taste like butter or cream cheese, the issue is most likely based on the temperature of the ingredients. You want them to be room temperature and softened, otherwise they won’t be able to combine properly.
- If they’re sugary (the less likely scenario), this means your powdered sugar clumped up, This is unlikely to happen if you sift the sugar.
If your frosting winds up with cream cheese or butter lumps, you can fix it. Add around 1 tablespoon to a small microwave-safe bowl, then microwave it for 10-15 seconds, until very warm.
Turn the mixer on and add in the heated frosting to help the ingredients warm up and combine. It might take a few tries to get it there.
Why is my Frosting Runny?
This is most likely to happen if you use low-fat or fat-free cream cheese, which has a higher water content. Use full fat cream cheese for best results.
How to Store
While meringue and American buttercreams can sit at room temperature overnight, cream cheese needs to be refrigerated after a 2-3 hours. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
How to make chocolate cream cheese frosting
To turn this into a chocolate cream cheese frosting, sift 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (either dutch-processed or natural will work) with the confectioners’ sugar, and add them to the recipe at the same time as instructed in step 2.
Suggested Dessert Pairings
Cream cheese frosting has a wonderful tanginess that pairs well with a variety of desserts. Try it with my dark chocolate cupcakes, yellow sheet cake, or on top of my apple cider cinnamon buns in lieu of the traditional glaze!
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups (265g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted (or to taste)
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a large bowl and an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium-high to high speed until smooth.
- Turn the speed down to low and add the salt and sugar in 3-4 batches, then turn the speed back up to high and mix until the frosting is smooth.
- Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for two weeks (possibly longer).
For chocolate cream cheese frosting: sift 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (either dutch-processed or natural will work) together with the sugar, and add them to the recipe together.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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