You need just four ingredients, and there are lots of ideas for additions and flavours in the substitutions section below. We outline making vegan cream cheese frosting and lower sugar options, too.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Vanilla: you can see that we used vanilla powder instead of extract, but it doesn't matter. Both options are in the recipe card below, and you can also use vanilla paste.
- Sugar: if you'd like a lower sugar icing, use honey or maple syrup instead of the powdered sugar. This works well if you don't need loads of structure in whatever you're making, like for cookies rather than cake, and tastes great. Do this to taste. We typically go for 3-4 tablespoons when using honey.
- Add-ins: try adding any number of spices or extra flavourings to the frosting - cinnamon, cardamom, orange or lemon zest, peppermint, cocoa (as seen in our chocolate layer cake) and so on. It's a blank canvas.
- Make it vegan: use your favourite dairy-free cream cheese, butter, and icing sugar. The vegan version does tend to be a little softer, but it depends on what kind of cream cheese you can get.
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting
Step 1: add the cream cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla to a large mixing bowl (or a stand mixer).
Step 2: whip on low speed to start, to prevent sugar explosions, then gradually increase the speed to high and mix for 3-4 minutes.
Step 3: once the frosting is finished, it should be light, fluffy, and have no graininess present when you rub a bit between a finger and thumb. If the sugar isn't fully dissolved, mix a little longer.
Step 4: store the frosting or use immediately.
- Keep the sugar: icing sugar adds structure to the frosting, which makes it great to use for icing cakes! It holds its shape very well and can be swirled and swooped any way you like. For fillings, it's perfectly okay to use a liquid sweetener.
- Don't worry if the ingredients are cold: this can be made with cold cream cheese and even cold butter if you're in a pinch. You'll just need to mix a little longer to make sure everything is incorporated, but the heat from mixing will work some magic too.
- Really mix it: testing the frosting by rubbing it between your fingers is a great readiness test. If it's not completely smooth, keep on mixing.
Since it is cheese, you'll have to refrigerate anything you ice with it unless it's only staying out for a very short period of time. The frosting can be made ahead of time so it's best to ice shortly before serving if you don't want to refrigerate the dessert.
How to Store
Storage: refrigerate the finished frosting in an airtight container if not using immediately, and it'll keep for about four days.
Freezing: keep the frosting in the freezer, in an airtight container with the air pushed out, for up to three months. Thaw in the fridge before using. You may want to give it a quick mix after it's thawed.
Is cream cheese better than buttercream?
Cream cheese frosting is much less sweet than buttercream, but doesn't hold its shape in the same way. It's less suited to intricate piping but many people prefer the taste of cream cheese.
How do you stiffen cream cheese frosting?
The best way to thicken or stiffen cream cheese frosting is to add more icing sugar. You can also made it a bit stiffer by chilling the frosting – if it seems soft but is also warm, just chill it instead of adding extra sugar.
Does cream cheese frosting need to be refrigerated?
Yes, cream cheese frosting should be refrigerated due to the added cream cheese. It can be kept out at room temperature for a couple hours, though, so you can frost your dessert and have it out for serving.
If you make this Cream Cheese Frosting recipe or any other frosting recipes on the Baked Collective, please take a moment to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It’s such a help to others who want to try the recipe. For more baking, follow along on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Measuring cups and spoons or a digital kitchen scale
- Mixing bowl
- Hand or stand mixer
- 8 oz. pure cream cheese one block
- ¼ cup butter room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or ¼ teaspoon vanilla powder
- Add the cream cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla to a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer.
- Use electric beaters to mix, starting on low speed and gradually working up to the highest speed, for 3-4 minutes.
- When it's mixed, the frosting should be smooth, creamy, and fluffy. There shouldn't be any grittiness when tasted or a small amount is rubbed between a finger and thumb.
- Store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.