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Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and bars disappear in minutes when slathered with a thick layer of homemade Cream Cheese Frosting. This fluffy favorite only needs 4 ingredients and a few minutes to make, so what are you waiting for?
When it comes to cakes, people usually sort themselves into two distinct camps: buttercream people and cream cheese frosting people. Obviously, this recipe is for the cream cheese lovers. If you’re haunted by the old-fashioned Philly cream cheese frosting from your childhood, then this recipe is especially for you.
It’s super simple. No fussy techniques, no melting, no cooking. All that’s required is the patience to let the cream cheese and butter soften up on the counter before you begin. And speaking from experience, sometimes that seems like an eternity.
To me, the perfect frosting has a delicate vanilla flavor that rounds out the tang of the cream cheese. But there are lots of good ideas for switching up things down below, including a chocolate version, if you’re feeling decadent. Which you must be, if you’re reading this recipe!
Making Cream Cheese Frosting for a wedding cake? Just click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Cream cheese frosting ingredients:
- Cream cheese. A block is preferred to the tub.
- Butter. Salted or unsalted – doesn’t matter.
- Powdered sugar. Aka confectioner’s sugar. You’ll need more than you think!
- Vanilla extract.
How to make powdered sugar from granulated sugar at home:
If you have a high-powered blender like a Blendtec or Vitamix, you can whizz up your own powdered sugar for baking; all you need is plain white granulated sugar. Just measure out what you need after you process it.
Working in batches if needed, process 1 to 2 cups of granulated sugar on high speed until fine and powdery. Then transfer to a container and measure out the amount you need.
How to make Cream Cheese Frosting:
- To make super smooth, fluffy cream cheese frosting, you will need a standing mixer or a handheld mixer as well as a paddle attachment.
- To start, beat the softened butter and cream cheese together until smooth.
- Next, add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract (or other flavoring you choose) and beat until smooth. If you like, you can add half the sugar, then the vanilla, then the remaining sugar in small batches until you get the consistency you need. Once the frosting is smooth and spreadable, you’re ready to go.
Tips for making the most luscious cream cheese frosting in the world:
- Room temperature ingredients. Take out the butter and cream cheese and let it soften to room temperature, about 70-72 degrees. If your frosting is lumpy, chances are it’s from the butter being too cold. If your kitchen is very hot and the ingredients are too warm, let them firm up in the refrigerator before starting.
- Don’t skimp. Please don’t try this with low-fat cream cheese. It won’t come out the way you had hoped. Low fat Philly and other brands use stabilizers that turn runny, ruining your project.
- Bricks are better. When at all possible, opt for the cream cheese in the brick-style packaging, instead of the tubs. It’s denser, and will give you better results.
- Sift, or don’t sift. While it’s not absolutely mandatory to sift the confectioner’s sugar before using, if the sugar you have looks lumpy, it couldn’t hurt.
- Don’t overmix. Mix the ingredients until they’re just well-combined.
- Cakes vs. cupcakes/cookies. You may want to add a little extra (½ to 1 cup) powdered sugar if you’re making frosting for a layer cake. A thicker frosting works better for cakes with vertical surfaces and several layers.
- Tinted cream cheese frosting. Absolutely possible! Be sure to use gel food coloring, so the frosting doesn’t get too thin.
- Freeze or refrigerate the leftovers. Store unused cream cheese frosting in the fridge for 4-5 days or freeze in an airtight container for 2-3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using on your next baking project.
Adding flavor to Cream Cheese Frosting:
As long as you don’t add too much liquid to the frosting, you can flavor it up any way you see fit with cocoa, extracts, or citrus juice.
- Chocolate cream cheese frosting. For every 8 ounces of cream cheese, replace ½ cup powdered sugar with ½ cup sifted (unsweetened) dark cocoa powder to maintain the consistency of the frosting.
- Lemon cream cheese frosting. For every 8 ounces of cream cheese, use 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice and 2 teaspoons lemon zest.
- Peppermint frosting. Add a few drops of peppermint extract or flavoring to the frosting, taste, and repeat as needed until it’s chilly enough for you.
- Almond frosting. Almond extract in cream cheese frosting might be fabulous over Chocolate Cupcakes, topped with toasted almonds!
Do you have to refrigerate cream cheese frosting?
Technically, you should refrigerate anything with cream cheese frosting, because of the dairy component in the recipe. Although I wouldn’t say no to a sliver of cake that’s been out for a day or so, either.
Therefore, there may be a little wiggle room for you, depending on how much room you have in the icebox, as well as the temperature of your kitchen.
Cream Cheese Frosting is perfect on:
You can make a batch of the frosting to put on any baked good, bread, or bar, but here are my favorites.
- Carrot Cake
- Hummingbird Cake
- Banana Bars
- Pumpkin Bars
- Red Velvet Cookies
- Peppermint Cookies
- Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
Cream Cheese Frosting
- In a standing mixer fit with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl by hand, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth.
- Gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat well. Spread evenly over cooled desserts such as cookies, cakes, bars, and cinnamon rolls.
Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.