Learn how to make the best cream cheese frosting! This delicately sweet frosting is the perfect finish to cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and other desserts. With four simple ingredients, this homemade icing recipe comes together in just minutes. Perfect for beginner bakers!
Continue reading for no-fail tips, flavor ideas, step-by-step instructions, and other important information.
You know the icing that looks better than it tastes? Well, this is not it!
Classic Cream Cheese Frosting
Cream cheese frosting is hands down my favorite frosting. Plus, it’s so easy to make! For all of those who are not a baker by nature, this frosting recipe will have you changing your tune.
This simple recipe is made with minimal ingredients and can be adapted to different flavors and colors with a few adjustments.
Ingredients: What is cream cheese frosting made of?
Cream cheese frosting is made of four basic ingredients:
- Cream cheese: Make sure you are using full-fat, block cream cheese at room temperature. This recipe will not work with spreadable or whipped cream cheese.
- Butter: This recipe calls for salted butter, but unsalted butter will also work. I use salted butter as it brings out the other flavors in the recipe.
- Powdered sugar: Also called confectioners’ sugar, this stiffens and thickens the frosting as well as increases the sweetness. If you choose to add more than the recipe calls for, it could overpower the dessert.
- Vanilla extract: Use a vanilla extract of good quality, because you will taste it!
How to Make Homemade Cream Cheese Frosting
Step 1: Bring butter and cream cheese to room temperature
The first and most important step is to bring the butter and cream cheese to room temperature.
This usually takes at least 1 hour, depending on the temperature of your home and kitchen. Just place the stick of butter and block of cream cheese on your countertop and wait until they are soft to the touch.
Step 2: Mix ingredients
If you are using a stand mixer, place the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer. Or, you can also use a large mixing bowl for a hand-held mixer.
I strongly recommend a stand mixer for this process. It will be so much easier to manage adding ingredients. After you add the butter and cream cheese to an electric mixer, cream until smooth.
Then, slowly add in the powdered sugar a little at a time – about ¼ cup at a time. If you add in the powdered sugar at once, you will be working inside a dust cloud! So, work with a little at a time.
Continue beating the ingredients together until they are well blended. Then, continue adding in the sugar. After all of the sugar has been added, blend in the vanilla extract and continue mixing until well incorporated.
Step 3: Pipe or spread
At this point, the frosting can be stored in an airtight container until you are ready to frost the dessert, or add the cream cheese frosting to a piping bag or a gallon freezer bag.
Because this frosting is a thick frosting, it’s not recommended to use for intricate piping. In fact, spreading the icing on with a rubber spatula is preferable.
If you choose to pipe the frosting on cupcakes, I would recommend a gallon freezer bag with the tip cut off, so you can adjust the piping width to accommodate the thickness of the frosting.
This recipe makes enough frosting for a small layer cake, a sheet cake, or about 12 to 18 cupcakes.
Variations and Flavor Ideas:
Since this is a basic recipe for regular cream cheese frosting, the sky is the limit with the different flavors, extracts, and decorating techniques you can use for this recipe.
Here are a few ideas to add additional flavors to this recipe:
- For chocolate cream cheese frosting: Replace ½ cup of confectioner’s sugar with ½ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
- Add a dusting of fresh lemon zest after the dessert has been frosted.
- For lemon cream cheese frosting: Add 1 teaspoon of lemon extract
- For pumpkin spice: Add ½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
- Dash of cinnamon and/or brown sugar
- Or, add 1 teaspoon of extract flavor of your choice
You can also add a few drops of food coloring to transform your frosting for holidays or special occasions, like with this heart-shaped cake for Valentine’s Day.
Tips for Easy Cream Cheese Frosting
What makes cream cheese frosting runny?
Most bakers end up with runny frosting because they use low-fat or spreadable cream cheese. This recipe calls for a block of full-fat cream cheese. Keep the spreadable (or whipped) cream cheese for casseroles and soups.
Super creamy and thick frosting
In order to get a creamy and thick consistency, it’s important to bring the butter and cream cheese to room temperature.
Working with softened ingredients ensures that there will be no lumps in the frosting. Cold ingredients will be difficult to mix and will end up with clumps of cream cheese and butter throughout the frosting.
How can I stiffen my cream cheese frosting?
To thicken or stiffen the frosting, add additional confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. Keep in mind that this will increase the sweetness as well as the thickness of the frosting.
Piping and spreading frosting
This recipe makes a super creamy and thick frosting, which isn’t ideal for piping intricate designs.
Since this isn’t a super stable recipe, I recommend spreading the frosting on the cake, cupcakes, or whatever you are icing.
If you choose to pipe the frosting, use a basic piping tip with a wide end. Alternatively, a gallon-size freezer bag is a good substitute. Simply cut the tip off, so you can adjust the piping width to accommodate the thickness of the frosting.
Can you make cream cheese frosting ahead of time?
Yes, this recipe can be made up to 3-4 days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.
Does cream cheese frosting need to be refrigerated?
Yes, because it is uncooked dairy, this frosting recipe needs to be refrigerated. It is recommended that this frosting sit out at room temperature for no longer than two hours to avoid melting and foodborne illness.
If you are frosting the dessert ahead of time, remove the frosted dessert from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to avoid a cold, dense cake.
Use this classic recipe to frost a wedding cake, red velvet cake, sugar cookies, vanilla cake, carrot cake cupcakes, pumpkin cake, double layer cake, lemon cake, and more.
Best Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
- 8 tablespoons butter (unsalted and softened)
- 8 ounces cream cheese (softened)
- 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted)
- 1 ½ teaspoons imitation vanilla extract
- In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until smooth and fluffy.
- With the electric mixer on low speed, add 3 cups of the confectioners' sugar a little at a time; continue beating until well blended. Beat on high speed until very smooth and creamy. Add more confectioners' sugar, as needed for thickness.
- Add the vanilla extract and blend thoroughly until light and fluffy. The recipe makes enough cream cheese frosting for a small layer cake, a sheet cake, or about 12 to 18 cupcakes.
- Spreading the icing on with a rubber spatula is preferable to a piping bag. If you choose to pipe the frosting on cupcakes, I recommend a gallon freezer bag with the tip cut off, so you can adjust the piping width to accommodate the thickness of the frosting.
- Use full-fat, block cream cheese at room temperature. This recipe will not work with spreadable or whipped cream cheese.