Cream Cheese Frosting – Once Upon a Chef

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Old-fashioned cream cheese frosting is sweet with a subtle tang, ultra-creamy, and just plain luscious.

Cream Cheese Frosting

While classic vanilla buttercream might veer towards being overly sweet, cream cheese frosting hits the sweet spot with its delightful tang. The acidity of the cream cheese not only cuts through the sweetness but also gives the frosting a wonderfully rich and creamy texture. Made from just a handful of ingredients, cream cheese frosting comes together in minutes. Its soft, luscious consistency is perfect for swirling onto cakes and cupcakes with a butter knife or offset spatula. Note that it’s too soft for piping—for those desserts, I recommend Swiss meringue buttercream.

This recipe yields about 3 cups—plenty to generously frost 24 cupcakes, an 8 or 9-inch layer cake, or a 9×13 sheet cake. It’s a perfect match for bold-flavored cakes and cupcakes, like my carrot cake, red velvet cupcakes, or coconut cupcakes. And don’t stop there; it’s equally delicious with my vanilla sheet cake and pumpkin cake.

What You’ll Need To Make Cream Cheese Frosting

cream cheese frosting ingredients
  • Cream cheese: The base of the frosting, offering a creamy texture and tangy flavor. Be sure to use full-fat, brick-style cream cheese (not the stuff in the tub). You can adjust the ratio of cream cheese to butter to tweak the tanginess.
  • Unsalted butter: Works in tandem with the cream cheese to create a rich, spreadable frosting. For less tang and a smoother consistency, you might increase the butter relative to the cream cheese.
  • Vanilla extract: Adds depth of flavor that complements the tanginess of the cream cheese.
  • Pinch of salt: Balances the sweetness of the frosting.
  • Confectioners’ sugar: Provides sweetness and helps thicken the frosting to the desired consistency. Adjust the amount of sugar to achieve your preferred level of sweetness and thickness. But remember, less sugar results in a thinner frosting.
  • Jump to the printable recipe for precise measurements

Step-by-Step Instructions

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl if using a hand mixer), combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and salt.

butter, cream cheese and vanilla in mixer

Mix on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and light, about 2 minutes.

beaten butter and cream cheese mixture

Gradually add 4 cups of the confectioners’ sugar, mixing on low to combine.

adding remaining sugar

Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. If the frosting is too thin, or you prefer a sweeter frosting, mix in the remaining cup of sugar.

cream cheese frosting in mixer

Use a butter knife or offset spatular to spread the frosting over cake or cupcakes.

Frequently Asked Questions

I forgot to leave my butter and cream cheese out to soften. How can I soften them in a hurry?

The cream cheese and butter should both be at a soft room temperature before making the frosting—you should be able to easily press your finger into both and make an indentation. If your cream cheese and butter are too cold, you can warm them up by putting them in the microwave separately in 5-second intervals, but be careful not to melt them.

My frosting is too thin. How can I thicken it?

Runny cream cheese frosting can sometimes occur due to variances in how confectioners’ sugar is measured. To thicken the frosting, gradually add more confectioners’ sugar until it reaches the desired consistency. Chilling the frosting in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour can also help it firm up without needing extra sugar. If it’s still too thin, adding a small amount of additional softened cream cheese can thicken it without significantly changing the flavor.

Do cakes iced with cream cheese frosting need to be refrigerated?

Yes, these cakes need be refrigerated because cream cheese is perishable. Be sure to let cake come to room temperature before serving, as a cold cake is not appealing.

Can I make cream cheese frosting ahead of time?

Yes, you can store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Before using, let it come to room temperature to soften, then beat briefly with an electric mixer to restore its creamy texture.

Can cream cheese frosting be frozen?

Yes, place the frosting in an airtight container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to use it, thaw the frosting in the refrigerator overnight. Before using, let it come to room temperature, then beat with an electric stir to restore its creamy consistency.

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Cream Cheese Frosting

Old-fashioned cream cheese frosting is sweet with a subtle tang, ultra-creamy, and just plain luscious.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz full-fat, brick-style cream cheese, preferably Philadelphia brand, softened but still cool
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 to 5 cups confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl if using a hand mixer), combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and salt. Mix on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and light, about 2 minutes. Gradually add 4 cups of the confectioners’ sugar, mixing on low to combine. Once all of the sugar is mixed in, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. If the frosting is too thin, or you prefer a sweeter frosting, add the remaining cup of sugar and beat again.
  2. Make-Ahead Instructions: Store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months. If frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Before using, let the frosting sit at room temperature for a bit to soften, then beat briefly with an electric mixer to restore its creamy texture.

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (24 servings)
  • Calories: 144
  • Fat: 7 g
  • Saturated fat: 4 g
  • Carbohydrates: 20 g
  • Sugar: 20 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Sodium: 41 mg
  • Cholesterol: 21 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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