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This easy Cream Cheese Frosting recipe is the stuff dreams are made of. Luscious, creamy, and such a delightful indulgence all on its own.
Seriously my favorite frosting with the perfect spreadable consistency.
But then when you add this frosting to a cake, cupcake, or just about any other baked treat? Now it’s on a whole new level of deliciousness.
I can see why my post on How to Make the Best Buttercream has been so popular. Everyone loves frosting, but it’s surprisingly easy to get wrong. That’s why I’m sharing with you everything I can think of to help you achieve the BEST cream cheese frosting.
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting
If you’re curious as to why I believe this is the BEST cream cheese frosting recipe, or if you want extra help ensuring yours comes out perfectly, then read through my tips and explanations below. If you have any questions, they’re probably answered!
This is indeed a simple recipe, but I find sometimes it’s easiest to overlook things that are simple and to then be disappointed with lackluster results.
What type of cream cheese is best for frosting?
Use a regular full-fat cream cheese brick at a cool room temperature. Do NOT use whipped or spreadable cream cheese made for bagels. I’ve found that some off-brand cream cheese bricks have an unappealing, almost watery texture. Go with a quality brand when possible, such as Philadelphia cream cheese.
For the butter:
Unsalted butter at a cool room temperature helps to make the frosting light, fluffy, and sturdy enough to pipe. Unsalted really does work best so you don’t end up with a buttercream that tastes like salt. Check out my article on Unsalted vs. Salted Butter for more on this.
Secret ingredient for the BEST cream cheese frosting?!
It may not be so secret once you take a closer look at these photos. The secret ingredient that elevates this frosting to a gourmet level…. it’s vanilla PASTE! Yes, it’s a little pricier and harder to find than regular vanilla extract, but it’s totally worth it.
When adding vanilla extract to anything that won’t be baked, like frosting, you can often taste and smell the alcohol of the extract. That’s why vanilla paste works so much better here. It adds a deeper vanilla flavor and appearance to your frosting. Since we truly do eat with our eyes, this is more important than you might think! It’s also much easier than seeding a vanilla pod.
You can purchase vanilla paste at gourmet food and kitchen stores like Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table, or make it easy on yourself and just add a bottle to your next Amazon order.
Lastly, if you find cream cheese frosting to be too sweet or rich for your taste, add a splash of lemon juice. It won’t add much pronounced lemon flavor, but the acidity will cut through and balance the richness.
For the sugar:
Powdered sugar is a must for frosting. No other sugar will produce a smooth texture. It’s also completely necessary to sift the powdered sugar after measuring it, and before adding it into the mixing bowl. This will ensure no pesky lumps and clumps ruin the smoothness of your frosting. If you don’t have any on hand, check out my quick hack for making your own powdered sugar in 5 minutes.
However, for the absolute smoothest frosting I actually recommend investing in organic powdered sugar that contains tapioca starch instead of cornstarch because it dissolves much more readily. No grittiness!
Which mixer to use for frosting?
An electric mixer, either hand-held or standing, makes quick and easy work of creating a light and fluffy frosting. Actually, because this recipe doesn’t make a huge amount of frosting, a hand mixer in a deep medium bowl does the trick perfectly.
What makes cream cheese frosting runny?
As I mentioned above, make sure you’re using bricks of cream cheese instead of the spreadable cream cheese that comes in a tub to avoid ending up with runny cream cheese frosting.
Also, make sure your cream cheese and butter are at room temperature and are not overly warm.
If you prefer a thicker frosting, you can experiment with adding an additional 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar at a time until you reach your desired consistency. Just note that adding more sugar will result in a sweeter frosting.
How much cream cheese frosting to I need?
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of frosting which is enough for 12 cupcakes. It can be easily doubled to frost a layered cake.
Does cream cheese frosting need to be refrigerated?
Cream cheese frosting, alone or on cake or cupcakes, can sit at a cool room temperature for up to 8 hours before it should be refrigerated.
How to store cream cheese frosting:
The frosting can be made ahead of time and transferred to an airtight container and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature and re-whip with an electric mixer before using.
Can you freeze cream cheese frosting?
Store in the freezer in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature and re-whip with an electric mixer before using.
More Buttercream Recipes & Tips:
- Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- How to Make the Best Buttercream
- Peanut Butter Frosting
- 6 Secrets for Perfect Buttercream
Ways to Use Cream Cheese Frosting:
- Red Velvet Cake
- Brown Butter Carrot Cake
- Banana Walnut Cake
- Perfect Carrot Cupcakes
- Sugar Cookies
- Banana Bread
- 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature (brick-style, not spreadable)
- 1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla paste (or extract)
- 2 cups (250 grams) powdered sugar, sifted (don't skip sifting!)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium-high speed until very light, creamy, and smooth. On low speed, gradually add in the sugar and beat until fluffy. If you need a stiffer consistency for decorative piping, add more powdered sugar.
Serving, Storing, and Make Ahead:
- Cream cheese frosting, alone or on cake or cupcakes, can sit at a cool room temperature for up to 8 hours before it should be refrigerated.
- The frosting can be made and transferred to an airtight container and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature and re-whip with an electric mixer before using.
This post was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2022 with recipe improvements and new photos. Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.