Cream cheese frosting is a great alternative to other frostings. It’s EASY to make, smooth, creamy, and delicious, and it goes well on all kinds of cakes and cupcakes.
In fact, I almost always prefer it to traditional buttercream because of the complexity and tang that it gets from the cream cheese.
What Do You Need to Make Cream Cheese Frosting?
The key ingredients in cream cheese frosting are cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar.
The trick to perfect cream cheese frosting is having all of your ingredients at room temperature. If the butter and cream cheese are too cold, the frosting will end up lumpy instead of smooth and creamy. (This applies to any desserts with cream cheese such as cheesecake or cream cheese cookies.)
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting
To make the best cream cheese frosting, you’ll need an electric mixer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stand mixer or a hand mixer.
Mix the room temperature cream cheese and room temperature butter until light and fluffy. This takes about three minutes at high speed.
Tip: For making cream cheese frosting, buy the blocks of cream cheese, not the whipped tubs. Also, always buy full-fat cream cheese – the frosting will be much better!
Add in powdered sugar a little bit at a time. If you add powdered sugar all at once, it will end up flying out of the bowl and making a giant mess!
If the powdered sugar is clumpy at all (some brands are more clumpy than others), sift it before adding it.
Also, you can add more powdered sugar as needed to make a stiffer frosting. Cream cheese frosting for carrot cake is usually not as stiff as other cream cheese frostings as it’s usually just spread onto the cake and doesn’t need to hold a shape. I make mine stiff enough to form loose rosettes, but if you want a crisp design for the top of a cupcake, you will definitely want to add more powdered sugar than my recipe calls for.
Cream cheese frosting is typically flavored with vanilla extract. It really doesn’t matter when you add the vanilla, but I usually add it last and give one final mix.
Can You Leave Cream Cheese Frosting Out at Room Temperature?
- I leave my cakes and cupcakes with cream cheese frosting out of the fridge. I have never had problems with the frosting souring, and I have certainly never had any negative health effects.
- Cream cheese frosting can be frozen! Foods with a high fat content tend to survive freezing well. You can put a plastic bag of chocolate cream cheese frosting in the freezer for weeks or maybe even months. You will need to let it thaw and re-whip it a bit when it comes out, though, before you start piping.
Cream Cheese Frosting Variations
While classic cream cheese frosting is best known for being a topping on carrot cake, carrot cake cupcakes, and red velvet cupcakes, the basic frosting recipe can be flavored and used in so many different ways:
- Chocolate cream cheese frosting is one of my all-time favorite frostings. I love using it on chocolate cupcakes for a double dose of chocolate.
- I use strawberry cream cheese frosting on my strawberry cupcakes.
- Lemon cream cheese frosting is wonderfully tart and refreshing on vanilla cupcakes or lemon cupcakes.
- I make cookies and cream frosting using cream cheese for my must-try Oreo cupcakes.
- Cinnamon cream cheese frosting is wonderful on banana cupcakes.
If you like your frosting really tart, try sour cream frosting instead of cream cheese frosting. It’s made like this frosting, only with sour cream instead of cream cheese. Because sour cream is more liquid, the proportions in that recipe are slightly different.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 16 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Use an electric mixer to mix cream cheese and butter until creamy and light, about three minutes on high speed.
- Mix in powdered sugar one cup at a time. You can add more or less to get your desired consistency.
- Mix in vanilla until fully integrated.
- Spread or pipe onto cooled cake or cupcakes.
- This recipe frosts a two layer 8" cake or 24 cupcakes.
- Always make sure that all ingredients are at room temperature before starting.
- Mix for several minutes to incorporate lots of air into the frosting and make it fluffy.
- You can add more or less powdered sugar to the recipe to give it a lighter or stiffer texture.
- The USDA considers frostings made with cream cheese to be unsafe if left unrefrigerated for more than a couple of hours, and there are a lot of food websites that echo this fear. If you have a weakened immune system, or just like to err on the side of caution, then by all means refrigerate your frosting until you are ready to serve. If you want to know what I do, though, I leave my cakes and cupcakes with cream cheese frosting out of the fridge. I have never had problems with the frosting souring, and I have certainly never had any negative health effects.
- Cream cheese frosting can be frozen! Foods with a high fat content tend to survive freezing well. You can put a plastic bag of cream cheese frosting in the freezer for weeks or maybe even months. You will need to let it thaw and re-whip it a bit when it comes out, though, before you start piping.