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The BEST Cream Cheese Frosting

By Tessa Arias
  |  
February 8th, 2022
5 from 12 votes
5 from 12 votes

This is the BEST Cream Cheese Frosting recipe that's not overly sweet but full of vanilla flavor and can be made ahead of time! Easy to make and perfect for frosting any cakes or cupcakes. I share tons of tips and reveal the SECRET INGREDIENT below.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups frosting

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Tessa's Recipe Rundown...

Taste: Perfect mixture of sweet and tangy, with tons of vanilla flavor. Not as sickeningly sweet as some bakeries and grocery stores!
Texture: Ultra smooth, creamy, and luscious.
Ease: Super duper easy, and can be made ahead of time!
Pros: Instantly amplifies pretty much any cake, cupcake, or other dessert.
Cons: None!!
Would I make this again? This is a component of many of my favorite recipes on the site 🙂

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.

the best homemade red velvet cake recipe with cream cheese icing on a cake stand

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.

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 here. 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.

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.

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:

Ways to Use Cream Cheese Frosting:

5 from 12 votes

How to make
The BEST Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 1 1/2 cups frosting
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
This is the BEST Cream Cheese Frosting recipe that's not overly sweet but full of vanilla flavor and can be made ahead of time! Easy to make and perfect for frosting any cakes or cupcakes. I share tons of tips and reveal the SECRET INGREDIENT below.

Ingredients

  • 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!)

Directions

  1. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

This recipe makes enough frosting for 12 cupcakes. It can be easily doubled to frost a 2 or 3 layer 8-inch cake.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cream cheese frosting

This post was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2022 with recipe improvements and new photos. Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.

Tessa Arias
Author: Tessa Arias

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Find Tessa on  

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Recipe Rating




  1. #
    Houda — April 25, 2022 at 5:38 pm

    Hi, in Europe we don’t have the same cream cheese and it contains a lot of water.
    How can I do so my frosting is not runny ? I have tried so many different recipes and it’s always the same.
    I also have like lumps of butter in my mixture so strange

    Thanks for helping !

    • #
      Emily — April 26, 2022 at 9:00 am

      Hi Houda! We haven’t baked with European brands of cream cheese, so I can’t say for sure! Tessa has used Trader Joe’s store brand successfully, and I’ve also heard from other readers that Aldi’s store brand works well too. If you’re not already, you could join our Facebook Baking Community full of wonderful bakers both based in the U.S. and internationally to see if anyone has other suggestions. Hopefully you can find a solution! Regarding your lumpy butter, it sounds like your butter may be too cold! You want your butter to be at room temperature, cool room temperature at it’s warmest (67°F). I hope that helps. Best of luck to you!

  2. #
    Angela — April 7, 2022 at 1:23 am

    Hi! I was wondering if I were to ice my red velvet cake then store it air tight should it go in the fridge or freezer? I’m asking because I need to store it for at least a week before a party. And should I crumb coat it or would it be fine with just one layer.

    • #
      Emily — April 7, 2022 at 4:18 pm

      Hi Angela! We recommend storing unfrosted, un-cut Red Velvet Cake layers at room temperature for up to 4 days in several layers of plastic wrap, otherwise it does need to go in the freezer. If preparing the entire cake in advance with cream cheese frosting, we wouldn’t recommend keeping it in the fridge for longer than 3 days. You could either freeze each component separately in advance, following the instructions on how to do so in the pink box above each recipe, then thawing the night before the party in the fridge and re-whipping the frosting/prepping the cake the morning of, or freeze the entire cake in an airtight container (depending on how many layers of cake you have and if you have the room), letting thaw in the fridge overnight. I hope that helps! Please let me know if I can help further.

  3. #
    Marla Hunter — April 2, 2022 at 1:41 pm

    It was easy taste. so good. Light and fluffy. Spreads well . It made my cupcakes taste wonderful

  4. #
    Lauren — March 24, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    If I use this to ice cupcakes and I leave them sitting out, will the icing ‘melt’ and go runny after a few hours? Or will it stay thick and formed on the cupcakes? Thank you! 🙂

    • #
      Emily — March 25, 2022 at 1:56 pm

      Hi Lauren! This is a bit softer of a frosting, but feel free to add additional powdered sugar (2T at a time) to help thicken it up to your preference. This frosting will be fine at a cool room temperature for up to 8 hours before it needs to be refrigerated. I hope that helps!

  5. #
    Stephanie Noyes-Weeks — February 20, 2022 at 11:02 am

    OMYLANTA this frosting was delicious!!! I made it for a carrot cake for my Dad’s birthday, HUGE HIT!! I remembered a tip you mentioned about using organic powdered sugar in Royal icing to make it smoother, it worked beautifully here too. Thank you so much, this will be my go to for cream cheese frosting from now on. Oh! I switched over to vanilla paste about a year and a half ago, it makes a HUGE difference in the flavor! Definitely worth the spend. The flavor is phenomenal!

    • #
      Emily — February 23, 2022 at 10:44 am

      So happy you loved this recipe so much!

  6. #
    Debby — February 13, 2022 at 11:45 am

    Great frosting! I used Trader Joe’s powdered sugar and found vanilla paste at Fry’s and the frosting came out perfect. Not overly sweet and very easy to spread. Used it with Tessa’s sheet cake recipe and everything was delicious!

    • #
      Emily — February 14, 2022 at 10:59 am

      Sounds amazing! So happy you loved this frosting 🙂

  7. #
    Deb — December 3, 2021 at 7:27 pm

    Where are you getting your information about leaving cream cheese frosting out up to 8 hrs? All other sites recommend only 2 hrs.

    • #
      Emily — December 8, 2021 at 12:10 pm

      Hi Deb! The high sugar content helps prohibit bacterial growth in this frosting. 8 hours is what we’re comfortable with, but if you’re not, you’re more than welcome to not leave it out that long. You’ll just want to let the frosting come to room temperature before serving for the best taste and texture.

  8. #
    Naowara Siddiqua — August 27, 2021 at 2:57 am

    Can I use oil instead of butter? And, if I store it for a month, will the texture become different?

    • #
      Emily — August 27, 2021 at 8:32 am

      No, butter is a definite requirement for this cream cheese frosting. If stored properly for a month (air-tight container), the texture will not be different once re-whipped.

  9. #
    Vasilios Merakis — April 5, 2021 at 8:51 pm

    hi, your recipe says 2 cups of powered sugar and in the {} it says 250grams. is that not 1 cup

    • #
      Tessa — April 6, 2021 at 8:26 am

      Hi Vasilios, 1 cup of powdered sugar is equal to 125g, so it is accurate. I think you’re thinking of granulated sugar, which is what you say 🙂

  10. #
    usa map — February 8, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    I admit, I haven’t been to this site for a long time … however, This is an important topic that has helped to make people more aware of these issues.

  11. #
    Christy — December 20, 2020 at 8:13 am

    What if I only have salted butter

  12. #
    elena — November 1, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    What I appreciate is that the amount of powdered sugar is half, or less than half, of what is normally called for in recipes.
    I don’t like things that are too sweet, so looking forward to trying this.

  13. #
    Terry Franks — August 6, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    This is really good frosting! I like that it is more like a European frosting and not overpoweringly sweet. The recipe makes a bit too much for a single layer or 8×8 pan cake (what I usually make as there are only 2 of us), so next time I will reduce it a bit – maybe by a third or so. Thanks for a great recipe!

  14. #
    Maddy — June 13, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Can I add food coloring and pipe this to make flowers? I’ve never attempted making frosting before, and certainly haven’t tried my hand at icing. Any tips you can share in this area would be much appreciated. Like, is it better to chill the frosting before icing it on to the cake? Does the cake have to be chilled too?

  15. #
    Cheryl — June 7, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    Hi Tessa,
    I usually have trouble with cream cheese frosting being runny but today my icing curdled!! I’ve never even heard of this happening before! I looked on line and most comments said the butter was probably too warm (which I don’t think it was) but I put butter in the fridge for a while and the cream cheese was room temp and the second batch curdled too! Would you have any ideas as to what may have happened? I’m really puzzled and frustrated! Thanks!

  16. #
    Francesca — April 21, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    Hi Tessa. I’m planning on using this recipe to frost cupcakes. Will it hold its shape if I pipe it?
    Thanks so much!

  17. #
    Concetta Carrera — February 1, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    I love the butter in it.

  18. #
    Persis — January 22, 2020 at 7:14 am

    I used it as a filling and frosting in (Tessa’s best) chocolate cupcakes and it was super delicious! The flavors work.

  19. #
    Persis — January 22, 2020 at 7:14 am

    I used it as a filling and frosting in (Tessa’s best) chocolate cupcakes and it was super delicious! The flavors work.

  20. #
    Kim Jackson — January 20, 2020 at 9:31 am

    How does the cream cheese frosting handle the heat? My daughter is working on making a wedding cake for an August wedding. Temperatures could be in the 90’s.

    • #
      Tessa — January 21, 2020 at 3:12 pm

      You’ll probably want to keep the cake refrigerated for as long as possible before bringing it out for the ceremony. Any cake made with ‘real’ frosting is gonna start deteriorating quickly at 90°F!

  21. #
    baixar snaptube — January 5, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    This is a great idea! I like the charity thing too. Good job!!

  22. #
    Persis Coutinho — December 7, 2019 at 7:28 am

    Can this be used to fill a cupcake as well?

  23. #
    fnaf — October 4, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    Your share is great, I found a lot of things in your post.

  24. #
    Tania Marroquin — October 4, 2019 at 7:01 am

    I didn’t add all the sugar and it’s still holding it’s consistency

  25. #
    Mary Russell — September 12, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Can u keep this icing outside on cupcakes for awhile with heat like florida?

  26. #
    jats — August 14, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    can i replace powder sugar with heavy cream?

  27. #
    text twist — August 12, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    A detailed and easy to make ice cream recipe, I will do it when I have free time.

  28. #
    happy wheels — July 9, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    I appreciate this work amazing post for us. I like it.

  29. #
    Cassidy — May 29, 2019 at 6:37 am

    Will this hold up in 85 degree weather?

  30. #
    Sarah — March 20, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    Could I add raspberry puree or seedless jam to the frosting?

  31. #
    Claudia — January 20, 2019 at 7:47 am

    Thanks for the recipe.

    How can I make a peanut butter cream cheese frosting version of it?

    Best

    Claudia

  32. #
    Liteblue — January 4, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Thank you so much for commenting, it is lovely and really makes my day!

  33. #
    Holly — December 20, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    I just put this on carrot cake and my husband loved it! Stocked up on vanilla paste too – it smells heavenly!

  34. #
    Candace — November 5, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    This has become my go to cream cheese frosting for both cupcakes and cinnamon rolls! Love love.

  35. #
    Jackie — December 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Tessa, thank you so very much for your recipe & video for the Cream Cheese Frosting. Our church will be having a “2018 Watch Service” on December 31st, 2017 to bring in the brand new year. It’s a first for our church. We will be having several breaks for those to enjoy a “Sweets Table.” I plan to use your recipe on a couple of planned recipes. God Bless and thanks for causing my anxiousness about this particular icing go away! May you have a very Happy New Year 2018❤️

  36. #
    Run 3 — December 16, 2017 at 12:13 am

    This blog is so nice to me. I will continue to come here again and again. Visit my link as well. Good luck

  37. #
    the impossible game — September 12, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you so much for commenting, it is lovely and really makes my day!

  38. #
    Kathy — July 22, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Hi……

    Will this butter cream hold up in warm weather

  39. #
    Cassandra — May 14, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Can I add cocoa powder to this?
    Would that work?
    I love this frosting, already used it twice now and would love to have a chocolatey stand-by.

    • #
      Tessa — May 16, 2017 at 7:10 pm

      Yes! Add 1/2 cup cocoa powder + 2 tablespoons milk or cream to turn this into chocolate cream cheese frosting. Make sure to sift the cocoa before adding to the bowl 🙂

  40. #
    Brenda — May 8, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    I made the cream Cheese icing for my father-in-laws 90th birthday cake and used my Mom’s carrot cake recipe. It was amazing and everyone loved it. I iced the slab cake, firmed up the icing in a piping bag and decorated. Kept it refrigerated & it worked well. The icing was not runny or crispy as other recipes I’ve tried. Thank you Tessa, your website and recipes are always yummy & spot on !

    • #
      Tessa — May 9, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      I’m so glad to hear that! Happy birthday to your father in law!

  41. #
    Run 2 — April 4, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    Uh oh! This looks dangerous

  42. #
    Izzy — March 25, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    wow – this looks delicious!
    Izzy | Pinch of delight

  43. #
    JoAnn — March 25, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Great tips as always, Thanks- LOVE your recipes and of course you’re “helpful tips”

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