Cream Cheese Frosting

Quick and easy cream cheese frosting brought to you by guest author Garrett McCord, the cupcake king. ~Elise

Cream cheese frosting is a baking basic. It’s perfect for practically any cake and any leftovers are great dolloped onto some freshly cut fruit. This is the basic recipe, you can reduce the amount of butter if you want a bit more tang, and increase or decrease the sugar according to your taste. Dress up with ginger, vanilla bean, or coconut flakes. I’ve listed some of my favorite variations at the end of the recipe.

Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick, 4 ounces), room temperature
  • 8 oz of Philadelphia cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
  • 2 to 3 cups of powdered sugar (also known as confectioner's sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Method

1 Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until completely smooth, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to ensure that the mixture is mixed evenly.

2 Beat in the vanilla extract. With the mixer running, slowly add in the powdered sugar. Powdered sugar has cornstarch in it that will thicken the frosting as well as making it sweet. Keeping adding more powdered sugar to the frosting until you get your desired level of sweetness and thickness.

3 Use a blunt knife or spatula to spread the frosting, or spoon the frosting into a piping bag to decorate your cupcake or cake.

Here are some fun variations:

  • Add a teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice for an exotic take for a chocolate cake
  • Add a little ground ginger to the frosting for a carrot cake
  • Finely grind some chai spice or earl grey tea and add that to the frosting
  • Intensify a vanilla frosting by adding some scrapings from a fresh vanilla bean to the frosting
  • Mix freshly grated or dried, flaked coconut to the frosting to make a coconut frosting

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Links:

Ginger cream cheese frosting from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks
Thai Ice tea cream cheese frosting from Cupcake Bake Shop
Bourbon caramel cream cheese frosting from Cupcake Bake Shop
Coconut cream cheese frosting from Molly of Orangette
Pumpkin cream cheese frosting from Culinary Concotions by Peabody

64 Comments

  1. jonathan

    OK, this is just flat-out weird.

    Five minutes ago I pulled out these exact ingredients to make frosting for some carrot cake bars for tonight’s Super Bowl party.

    I think I need to call the bookie and up my bet on tonight’s game ;-)

    Kidding. Remember kids – NEVER gamble. Even on office football pools.

  2. Delilah Hinman

    I particularly like white chocolate cream cheese frosting. It tastes quite good on white chocolate cakes with fruit in the middle. Delish!

  3. Barbara Hillmer

    I like adding grated orange or lemon peel to cream cheese frosting, with a little of the juice. Good on banana muffins, lemon cake, etc.

  4. jennbec

    I love making cream cheese frosting with freshly grated ginger…elevates it to a whole new level of goodness!

  5. Riana

    I made something just like this yesterday! We dont have cream cheese anywhere near me. (It’s hard to find in France.) So I used yogurt cheese that I made by straining yogurt and some salt in cheesecloth. Then I added the butter and powdered sugar as normal. In a pinch I have been known to use a soft fresh goat cheese in place of cream cheese too. Both work wonderfully.

  6. Lulu

    I love carrot cake with cream cheese icing but always find the icing too sweet, this is because when I lived in South Africa the cream cheese icing was always slightly sharp and ‘cheesy’ and a lovely contrast to the sweetness of the cake, but I have never been able to replicate it. Any ideas?

    Well, having no idea what South African cream cheese is like, I would suggest reducing the amount of sugar and butter to your own taste which sould up the cheese and tang flavors. Cheese heavily depends on the animal producing the milk and what they are feeding on (which is then further based on the geography and terroir). Based on that, I am not sure if an American cream cheese will ever be as spot on the to the South African cheese taste you want. ~Garrett

    • Lindsy

      you might try using mascarpone cheese instead of cream cheese. You might try a half batch so you don’t waste the ingredients if you don’t like it.

  7. Jody

    I just made the Red Velvet cupcakes last night and put my twist on them (and the frosting). I added a tsp. of almond extract along with the vanilla in the cakes and frosting both. I also doubled the cocoa in the cupcakes (more chocolate is always better, isn’t it?).

    Great recipe!
    Jody

  8. Ashley

    Another great way to flavor a classic cream cheese recipe up is to add lemon juice and lemon rind or orange.

  9. fran cowan

    Elise, love this site.

    I have made the cream cheese frosting many times but have always wondered if I have to refrigerate the cake with the cream cheese frosting on it!!
    Can it stay at room temperature for several days?

    Thank you, Fran.

    Cream cheese has dairy. It needs to be refigerated, but the sugar will allow it to stand out for a few hours, but not extended periods of time. ~Garrett

  10. Mary Russell

    Does it matter if you use reduced fat or fat free cream cheese?

    Not at all. Neufchâtel is also a fine cheese to use. It’s like cream cheese, but lower in fat and without the tangy flavor. ~Garrett

  11. Sonia

    Elise and Garrett, I like to add a bit of liliko’i (passion fruit) syrup to my cream cheese frosting when I make a very rich chocolate cake recipe using Hershey’s chocolate. I also drizzle some of the syrup over the cake itself first, so it can penetrate down into the cake.

  12. Jan

    Add: 1/3 cup sour cream
    1/3 cup sweetened whipped cream
    unsweetened cocoa powder to taste
    dissolved in boiled cream cooled

    Add to cream cheese icing and whip on high for a beautiful pearl like chocolate icing.

  13. Judy

    It definitely does matter if you use nonfat cream cheese. When you use it the consistency is too and I mean way too thin. I tried refrigerating it overnight and it turned into the consistency of a yeast dough. So–fat free cream cheese makes more of a fat free stringy glaze. UGH.

  14. Teddi

    Tonight, after baking a cake for tomorrow’s Senior Center Easter Dinner, I discovered I was low on ingredients for frosting the cake. I quickly turned to the internet. Luck was with me as your Cream Cheese recipe required only 4 ingredients–and I had all of them! The recipe was very easy to fix, the frosting spread very nicely without thinning it any (green frosting on a dark red velvet cake!). It also worked perfectly for doing shells around the edges of the cake. (I decorated the cake top with bunnies and green coconut “grass”, along with flat bunnies on the cake sides.) Thank you so much for a great recipe! I plan on using this recipe regularly in the future! Have a great Easter Holiday!

  15. Karla

    This has to be the easiest, best-tasting, fluffiest cream cheese frosting recipe I’ve ever seen. I realize I’ve never been out of the U.S., but this is perfect for use on wedding cakes or just to congratulate someone on a promotion or new home. It’s stiff enough to hold a peak, but not hard like some buttercreams get after a bit. Thank you so much.

  16. Faith

    This cream cheese recipe looks and sounds delicious. Garrett, I wonder if i can add food color to the cream cheese frosting without changing its taste and consistency. Any advice? Thank you.

    Using dry food coloring is easiest, but a few drops of the liquid stuff should be fine. ~Garrett

  17. Christy

    How much frosting will this make? Will it be enough to frost and fill a 8in 3 layer cake? (or just frost?)

    Thanks!

  18. cj barr

    This is an awsome recipe, I just added a little more vanilla and it is awsome!

  19. i love pedroia

    This recipie is the best. I made a cake for my parent’s anniversary and they loved it!

  20. Kerri

    Cream cheese frosting is the best. Trying it using half cream cheese & half mascarpone. SUPERB!!! The mascarpone maybe a little expensive but it makes all the difference.

  21. Brooklyn

    Thank you for this fast and easy recipe! Super good frosting, easy to make! Fluffy and thick, easy to spread, and holds its shape, but isn’t excessively hard like some other frostings that I have made! THANK YOU!

  22. Sofia

    I wonder how long can I refrigerate this frosting if I’ll prepare more than I need? Is it possible to freeze it, too?

    You can fridge it for about a week or two, and yes you can pop it in the freezer too. Just be sure it is in an air tight container in both cases. ~Garrett

  23. Dee

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I didn’t need that much frosting, so I downsized the portions in half (such as using a 1/4 cup of butter, 4 oz. cream cheese, etc., with the exception of the vanilla extract) and it still worked! I was tired of seeing frosting with hydrogenated oils and trans fat (yuck!) in almost all the grocery stores, and thanks to your recipe, I’m glad I now have frosting that’s both “healthy” and delicious!

  24. BM

    I turned onto making home-made frosting because store-bought frostings are loaded in TransFat which is the number cause of heart disease. Yuck!

    So I found this recipe, followed directions as directed and WOW this came out great!

    Thanks for posting this easy to make frosting. Truly tasted wonderful without all those crazy manufactured ingredients!

    Cheers!

  25. becca

    Try with orange zest for a treat! :)

  26. Christine

    This is an awesome recipe. Thanks bunches!

  27. Elle

    Love this recipe! Like the ideas for variations too. I once added in some Captain Morgan’s spiced rum (it’s kind of vanilla flavored) to a cream cheese frosting recipe once that went on a carrot cake, and it was awesome. I’m going to try that with your recipe next, wish me luck.

  28. Kenzie

    I am making red velvet cupcakes for my husbands birthday and this looks like the perfect icing for them! I can’t wait to see his reaction, he is going to flip… Hopefully I don’t eat all the frosting before it gets on the cupcakes..hehe. Kudos.

  29. Amberlee

    Hello, I am making a cake for my sons 1st birthday, and I am super excited, 2 weeks away. This will be the first time I make frosting from scratch. His birthday is Pooh themed and I am going to make a 4 layer two tier cake. The bottom will be an 8×8″ square (two layers of spice cake) and the top will be a 5×5″ square (two layers of red velvet) (I am coloring the frosting too, the bottom will be Pooh yellow and the top Pooh’s shirt red with Pooh written in yellow on one side) Anyway, obviously I plan on frosting between the layers but how much frosting does this receipe make? (and I plan on making seperate batches, two different colors, but the layered frosting will not be colored and sweeter then the outside frosting, so that it isn’t too sweet) How much should I make for the 3 different (outside bottom, outside top, & the 2 inside layers) batches? Hope that all makes sense! =) Thank you!!

    Double the batch at least. Triple to be safe. Freeze for later what you don’t use. ~Garrett

  30. CJ

    Could I add cocoa powder to make it chocolate flavoured? If so, how much do you think I need? Thanks.

    Yes, you could. As for how much, just start with a tablespoon and keep tasting and adding until you are happy with the results. ~Garrett

  31. ellejay

    We used mascarpone and lots of icing sugar. Is it meant to taste cheesy? Because ours tastes really cheesey. Is this right? How do you reduce the cheesyness? Thanks.

    The main ingredient is cheese. I’m not sure what else to say. You can always add more sugar to sweeten it. ~Garrett

  32. Stacie

    I love this recipe and have noticed that it can be frozen if unused. What is the best way to thaw it back to it’s original consistency?

    Just bring it to room temperature and then beat it until fluffy again. ~Garrett

  33. Maudy

    Hi, can this be used to ice a cake that will be delivered in four days?

    Cake usually lasts about 2-3 tops. This frosting isn’t a stabilized buttercream and will go funky if left out for a long time. Frost the cake the day of. ~Garrett

  34. Jerry

    Can I use the frosting as a glaze as well and would it affect the flavor it I was to do so?

    I am not sure I understand the question, Jerry. I would just use a glaze recipe as that would be easiest. ~Garrett

  35. maggie

    I just made the most perfect dark chocolate cupcakes with this frosting on top. They were great! A cake is in the oven right now! This is the best frosting! Thanks!

    • Patricia

      I don’t usually buy butter I buy margarine can you use that instead of Butter ??

  36. sara

    I have recently tried this recipe and it is awesome and delicious!!!!

  37. Kathleen

    Absolutely love this recipe on my infamous Red Velvet Cupcakes. But now I need your assistance. My father in law is turning 60 and he LOVES the frosting and feels that there’s never enough on the cupcakes and suggested that I make the Red Velvet Cream Cheese Frosting “Parfait” for his b-day celebration. I’m ok with the cake part, but how would I make the cream cheese frosting mousse-like without changing the taste? I was thinking of adding whipping cream to the recipe maybe? Any suggestions would be great! Thanks.

    That might work well. Give it a shot and let us know how it goes. =) ~Garrett

  38. Adrienne

    I am making red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, however, I am decorating the cupcakes for a baby shower can I color the icing without altering the cream cheese taste and if so what kind of coloring should I use. I currently use Wilton’s icing color to color fondant is this ok to use?

    Any coloring is just fine. ~Garrett

  39. Emily

    Could I add strawberries/raspberries to this recipe or would it ruin the consistency?

    Puree them, then pass the juice through a fine mesh sieve to get out the pulp and seeds. Just add a little at a time until you get the proper flavor and consistency. Keep in mind the more you add the less stiff it will be. If you want, you can always put the juice in a sauce pan and softly reduce it to concentrate the flavor. Just be sure to let it cool before adding. ~Garrett

  40. Sarah

    This is my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe. I know it’s not like it’s rocket science, but this one has the proportions (for my tastes) spot on.

    I’ve been playing with adding cinnamon. I think it works well with carrot cake and imagine it would be good (with or without cocoa) with chocolate cake for that Mexican chocolate vibe.

  41. butterluv

    I made this icing for a red velvet cake & cupcakes. It has a slight tangy taste to it. Is there something I can add to get the tanginess out?

    More sugar can be added, but it will become much thicker. However, the point of cream cheese frosting as opposed to basic buttercream is to have that tang from the cream cheese. Getting rid of the tang would defeat the primary prupose of the recipe. ~Garrett

  42. melissa

    I just made the delicious red velvet cupcakes and put cream cheese frosting on already, but I won’t be eating them until tomorrow. Do I need to refrigerate it because of the icing? If so, would it dry out the cupcakes?

    I would just keep them all at room temperature. The frosting may crust, but putting the cupcakes in the cold will dry them out. It’s your call on which to do. (Generally, try not to frost until the last minute.) ~Garrett

  43. Margo

    I am making carrot cake cupcakes for a birthday party and plan to use this recipe to top them. My question is can I do this the night before and refridgerate the cupcakes or should i wait till morning? I was planning on decorating them as well so Im worrried about time. Thanks in advance!

    Chilling baked goods makes them hard and dry. I honestly suggest keep them overnight at room temperature. Then frost them the day of. ~Garrett

  44. Theresa

    The creamcheese icing I make is just too sweet, but if I don’t put a lot of confectioners’ sugar, then the icing doesn’t get as thick and creamy. Any ideas on how to solve this?

    That’s really the tradeoff with simple buttercream. It has to be sweet or thin. Some people add more cream cheese or chill it first, which may help. ~Garrett

  45. Sunny

    I add some cocoa powder to the icing for white cake that need more flavor or to chocolate cakes. Another nice touch is lemon rind and then puree some fresh raspberries! It makes a heavenly topping for lemon poppyseed cake. For carrot cakes I usually add nutmeg, cinnamon and grated ginger,after I spread it on i make designs with raisins or chocolate chips. :)
    Great recipe!

  46. Rita

    I am baking a red velvet cake with this cream cheese icing. Does the icing need to be room temperature or refrigerated before I put the icing on the cake? I plan to put shell piping around the top and bottom of the cake. Should I put some liquid in the icing so it will be thinner for the piping?

    No, do not alter the recipe and keep it at room temperature. If you make it thinner then it won’t pipe at all. It will just ooze everywhere. ~Garrett

  47. shannon

    This recipe is very good when put on a spiced cake. Cake comes out of the oven smelling something like pumpkin pie and the icing is a perfect pairing.

  48. Mariah

    We used smart balance and it made it creamier and fewer calories!

  49. anna

    This cream cheese frosting is AMAZING!

  50. Yesenia

    How many cupcakes can I frost with this frosting? Thanks :)

    Depends how much frosting you put on each one. You should have enough for a dozen easy. ~Garrett

  51. sue

    What is the weight of the butter used as we dont buy our butter in sticks? Also can this recipe be coloured and piped?

    A stick of butter is 4 ounces. And, yes, you can color and pipe this. ~Garrett

  52. Molly

    Delicious recipe — beats the canned stuff hands down! One question: whenever I make this frosting, it always turns out just a bit runny. Any suggestions for thickening it up without adding more sugar? I like the sweetness level as-is.

    Kitchen temperature, honestly, makes a world of difference. ~Garrett

  53. amber

    Does the frosting have to go in the refrigator?

    Depends how long you need it to keep. If you want it to stick around for a few days yes. If under 24 hours then no. ~Garrett

  54. LK

    Great recipe.
    I used cream cheese spread (plain), since I had a mostly full 8oz tub laying around, and it still tasted great.
    I like that it wasn’t as sweet as maufactured icing (I am the odd person who doesn’t like really sweet deserts) and that it’s very light. And it’s a bit tangier.

  55. jo

    How do I make it thicker? It was way to runny to pipe. Did I do something wrong? This is my first time making frosting.

    Did you add more liquid? ~Garrett

  56. Tamara

    I just bought two canes of Duncan Hines Creamy Homestyle Cream Cheese frosting. Yuck! I stuck my finger to taste before spreading on my carrot cake and it tasted like animal fat!

    Need to run to the store to pick-up cream cheese for this recipe. I’ll keep you updated.

    That’ll learn ya’. ~Garrett

  57. Alena

    If you replace 1/2 of the powdered sugar with brown sugar and use a little less butter you get a wonderful dip for fresh strawberries.

  58. bukonla

    Hi Garrett, I am writing from Nigeria in West Africa where most of the recipesn and ingredients listed are hard to come by. Having said that, I just started baking and love cream cheese frosting. My major challenge is that the final thing is runny and even if you put it in the fridge to stiffen up it starts running down the cakes once you start frosting the cake. if you add more icing sugar, then it becomes butter icing. I use a product called PUCK cream cheese as thats the only available one in my area. Please help as this frosting has gotten me into making cakes commerically as it’s a totally new taste to people in my area.

    This sounds like a problem with the cheese, in which case I’m not sure there’s much to be done except use more sugar to stiffen it and make it more of a royal-style icing. ~Garrett

  59. Elena Macias

    Can I let the cupcakes with the frosting on top stay outside on the counter overnight?

    Yes, but no more than overnight. ~Garrett

  60. Susan K.

    I love this recipe and have had great success with it. I have a very large order of cupcakes to decorate, I plan on icing the day of the event in the AM, delivery is at 4pm, event is at 7pm. Should I refrigerate after icing before delivery? How long can they safely stay at room temp? What should I tell the customer and guests about left overs? THANK YOU!

    I say the frosting should never remain at room temp for more than 24 hours. As for the logistics, I wouldn’t stress too much as it’s just cake and frosting. After 24 hours chill it and be done. Even out longer I don’t think you’re in danger. ~Garrett

  61. King Kano

    I wish there was a way to thicken it without so much sugar…I am not a huge fan of dairy products and sugar, combo…Especially so much sugar, which is zero benefit to the body, but is so good

    • Elise

      You can easily use less sugar and add a little corn starch if you want the frosting to be less sweet but still thick.

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