Using only 5 ingredients, one bowl, and 10 minutes, this cream cheese frosting is the perfect icing for red velvet cake, carrot cake and other cupcakes and desserts!
Cream cheese frosting is such a classic frosting. Much smoother than American buttercream and with a slight tanginess, it’s a delicious frosting for red velvet cake, carrot cake, cinnamon rolls and other delicious dessert.
Even though it’s a very common and simple frosting, it can be quite tricky! I’ve ended up with a soupy mess of cream cheese frosting on more than one occasion.
But, with the below tips and tricks you’ll get creamy, delicious, and perfectly pipeable frosting, every time!
- Full-Fat Brick Cream Cheese: Using full fat block cream cheese like this helps ensure the frosting stays thick and pipeable. Check on the section on runny frosting for why!
- Unsalted Butter: If using salted butter, omit added salt or decrease to just a pinch.
- Powdered Sugar: You can add more or less powered sugar to adjust the sweetness. Be sure to sift to avoid lump in the frosting.
- Salt: Omit if using salted butter
- Vanilla Extract: You can try other flavored extracts like lemon or almond for a fun variation
How to Make
Step 1: Mix Butter and Cream Cheese
Using a hand held mixer with a large bowl or whisk attachment on a standing mixer (you’ll get better results with a whisk attachment than the beater attachment), mix your butter and cream cheese. I like to mix my butter for a good 2-3 minutes first, to ensure it’s super light and creamy, then add the softened cream cheese. But, this is totally optional. You can easily just throw both in at the same time. Make sure both the butter and cream are room temperature, or they won’t combine properly.
Step 2: Slowly Add Sugar
Once the cream cheese butter mix is combined and looking nice and creamy, slowly add your powdered sugar ½ – 1 cup a a time and mix in medium to medium low speed until all the sugar is combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bow to ensure all the powdered sugar has been incorporated.
Step 3: Add Salt and Vanilla
Add the salt and vanilla and give it another good mix until everything is combined. Then, it’s ready to use on your favorite desserts.
Runny or Soupy Frosting
I’m giving this part a full section because it can be a common with cream cheese frosting.
For a little science behind why this frosting can turn runny, it’s because the fat content in cream cheese is much less than in butter and the water content is much higher. About 7.6 grams of water per tablespoon in cream cheese versus 2.3 grams for butter.
That’s 230% more water than butter and when that extra liquid mixes with the sugar it can turn liquidy. There are a few ways to combat this as well a few common culprits that lead to a runny unpipeable frosting:
- Be sure to use full-fat block cream cheese like this. Reduced fat cream cheese or cream in plastic container both have higher water content than full-fat block kind, which can lead to runny frosting.
- Do not over mix the frosting and add the powdered sugar slowly.
- Use a whisk attachment, not a beater attachment, if using a standing mixer. I’m not sure the science behind this, but I have much better results with the whisk attachment.
- If adding extra liquid like lemon juice, sour cream, food coloring, or additional flavors, gently fold or mix in at the end.
Troubleshooting and Q&A
Why is my Frosting Lumpy?
There are two main reasons your frosting has lumps after mixing:
- Unsifted powdered sugar: If the powdered sugar has lumps the frosting could end up lumpy as well. So, be sure to sift your powdered sugar before adding it to the frosting, especially if it is old or has visible lumps that don’t break apart when you press down on them.
- Butter and/or cream cheese not a room temperature: If the butter and/or cream cheese is not at room temperature they will not combine easily and you could end up with unmixed pieces of butter or cream cheese. Make sure to take them both out of the fridge a few hours prior to making your frosting.
Why is my frosting runny?
Check out the section on runny frosting. The main culprits are:
- You used reduced fat cream cheese or cream cheese in a tub (see runny frosting section on water content)
- Over mixing the frosting
- Using a beater attachment on a standing mixer, instead of a whisk attachment.
- Adding too much extra liquid (extracts, lemon juice, food coloring, etc.)
Again, check out the runny frosting section for an overview of why this happens. Unfortunately once this happens there is not much you can do to fix it or turn it back into a pipeable frosting.
How do I thicken my frosting?
Welp, the reason most people are looking to thicken cream cheese frosting is because it has turned runny or soupy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so check out the section on runny frosting, because once this happens you’re not going to be able to get it back to a piping consistency. But that doesn’t mean it’s ruined! It still tastes delicious so whip up some cinnamon rolls or pumpkin bread and drizzle away.
If this hasn’t happened, and you want to thicken it for a better piping consistency here are some tips:
- Put it in the fridge to firm up. If i’m piping my frosting I always always put it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before piping to allow it to firm up bit. This normally does the trick without adding any extra sugar!
- Add more powdered sugar. If you’re starting with 3 cups, you can add another ½-1 cup of powdered sugar (4 cups total) but it will make the frosting more sweet so beware.
Can I make it less sweet?
Yes! Just add less sugar. You can get away with just one or two cups of sugar but know adding less sugar means it will be less thick and stable for piping or sitting out.
Can I color this frosting?
Yup! You can definitely add food coloring to this frosting. Just beware of the extra liquid content (see runny frosting section above). I recommend gel food coloring which is more concentrated.
Can I use under fondant?
Yes! This is a great frosting to use under fondant, but make sure you’re adding at lease 3 ½ cups of powdered sugar so it’s thick and stable enough.
Do I need to refrigerate this frosting?
Yes, if you’re making this frosting in advance keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use and then remix.
If you’ve already frosted your cake or cupcake, they can keep at room temperature for up to 8 hours, as long as it’s not too warm and you’ve used at least 3-4 cups of sugar.
Any longer or if you’re in a warmer climate, play it safe and keep in the fridge and let the frosted cakes come to room temperature before serving.
Storing Cream Cheese Frosting
This frosting will last 3-5 days in the fridge is an airtight container, or 2-3 months in the freezer. When ready to use let thaw in the fridge, then remix until creamy.
Looking for more frosting recipes? Check these out!
- Marshmallow Frosting
- Ermine Frosting
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
- Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Cream Cheese Frosting
- ½ cup unsalted butter room temperature, see notes for salted butter
- 8 ounces full-fat brick cream cheese room temperature
- 3-4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Using a whisk attachment on a standing mixer or using a large bowl with a hand held mixer, beat softened butter until pale yellow about 2-3 minutes. Add in cream cheese and mix until completely combined, another minute or two.
- Slowly add powdered sugar, about 1 cup at a time and mix on medium speed until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add vanilla and salt and continue mixing until combined. Serve on your favorite dessert.
- If using salted butter, omit added salt or reduce to just a pinch.
- Make sure both the butter and cream cheese are room temperate. If they’re not, they will not combine and you’ll have unmixed bits of butter and/or cream cheese.
- Use full-fat block cream cheese. Low fat cream cheese or cream cheese in a plastic container can turn the frosting runny due to the water content. Check out the section on runny frosting for more info on why this is.
- Sift the Powdered Sugar. This is especially true if your powdered sugar is old or has visible lumps. If the sugar has lumps, you could end up with lumpy frosting.
- If using a standing mixer, use a whisk attachment. The beater attachment can lead to runny frosting.
- Try not to overmix the frosting. Once you add the sugar it is very easy to break down the cream cheese so it starts to get watery. Try not to let it get to this point as once it breaks you can’t fix it.
- If adding extra liquid like lemon juice, additional extracts, or food coloring, be sure to add them at the end and mix very briefly until just combined.
- This makes 2 to 3 cups frosting and can easily be halved or doubled.
- This frosting will last up to 5 days in the fridge or 2-3 months in the freezer.