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Cream cheese frosting is my absolute favorite frosting for cakes, cupcakes, loaf cakes/quick breads, and more. It’s probably the most common frosting used in my kitchen; I use it on everything from brownie cookies to red velvet cake and more.
I particularly love this recipe because not only is it super easy to make, but it's a small batch cream cheese frosting that can be piped; it yields about 1½ cups (360 grams). And you only need 5 ingredients in total!
Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
- Unsalted Butter: Start with a cool, room temperature butter here. If the butter is too warm, the frosting will taste and feel greasy and won't hold up if you try to pipe it. The ideal temperature is 67°F (19°C); you should be able to leave an indent of your finger rather than your finger sinking all the way through.
- Cream Cheese: Make sure you use a full-fat brick of cream cheese, not a cream cheese spread.
- Powdered Sugar: Powdered sugar is what sweetens and binds everything together.
- Vanilla Bean Paste: Vanilla bean paste is the secret ingredient that elevates this frosting to a gourmet level; it adds an amazing flavor thanks to all those glorious vanilla bean flecks. It's a little pricier and harder to find than regular vanilla, but it's totally worth it. You can, however, use an equal amount of vanilla extract if that's all you have on hand.
- Salt: A pinch of salt helps to offset all the sweetness. Don't skip it!
Tip: Make sure your cream cheese is properly softened at room temperature. If it's too cold, you'll have a lumpy frosting with little bits of unincorporated cream cheese throughout.
How to Soften Cream Cheese Quickly
The key to the smoothest, creamiest cream cheese frosting is starting with softened (room temperature) cream cheese. Letting the cream cheese rest at room temperature for about an hour is ideal, but if you forget to pull it out of the fridge in time, here are my two favorite ways to speed things up.
- Place the brick of cream cheese (still inside it's foil packaging) inside a plastic bag and push all of the air out of the bag before sealing it. Place in a bowl and cover with warm water. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes.
- Cut cream cheese into small cubes and spread out on a plate. With more surface area exposed to the room's temperature and less mass to thaw, small pieces soften faster than the solid brick. Let sit at room temperature for about 25-30 minutes.
How to Make the Best Cream Cheese Frosting
Tip: Beating in a tiny amount of purple food coloring (I usually use the end of a toothpick to add it) can help offset the yellowish tint and make your cream cheese frosting more white. Be careful not to add too much!
How to Rid Cream Cheese Frosting of Air Bubbles
Over-whipping any sort of frosting, especially cream cheese, can create air bubbles. It doesn't change the taste at all, but appearance-wise the frosting is no longer smooth and creamy. Here’s how to get rid of air bubbles in your frosting:
Simply ditch the mixer. Grab a wooden spoon or silicone spatula and stir the frosting by hand. It can also help to sort of mash the frosting up against the side of the bowl to “pop” and deflate the bubbles. After 2 minutes or so of doing this, your cream cheese frosting will be velvety smooth again!
Cream Cheese Frosting Flavor Variations
Cream cheese frosting flavor variations are a fun way to change things up, so feel free to have fun with this recipe. A dash of lemon juice & lemon zest (like the frosting on this lemon cake) is one of my personal favorites.
Other flavor ideas (simply add these ingredients to the recipe below):
- Cinnamon: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Orange: 1 teaspoon orange extract or 1/2 tablespoon each of orange zest and orange juice
- Pumpkin Spice: 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- Coconut: 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- Peppermint: 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract (not "mint" extract)
Troubleshooting & FAQ
What type of cream cheese is best for frosting?
Use a regular full-fat cream cheese brick at room temperature. Do NOT use whipped or spreadable cream cheese, which is made for bagels. I’ve also found that some off-brand cream cheese bricks have a weird, almost watery texture, so go with a quality brand when possible, such as Philadelphia cream cheese (not sponsored!).
What makes cream cheese frosting runny?
As I mentioned above, make sure you’re using regular bricks of cream cheese instead of the spreadable cream cheese that comes in a tub to avoid ending up with runny cream cheese frosting. Also, ensure your cream cheese and butter are at a cool room temperature and not overly warm.
How can I make my cream cheese frosting thicker?
If you want an even thicker frosting, you have two options! You can start by adding an additional 1-2 tablespoons (7-15 grams) of powdered sugar at a time until you reach your desired consistency. Just note that adding more sugar will result in a sweeter frosting. If you want a thicker frosting without making it sweeter, you can add cornstarch. I don't recommend adding more than a few tablespoons, though, so start with 1/2 tablespoon and only add more as needed.
How should I store leftover cream cheese frosting?
Cover and store leftover frosting in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer. After freezing, thaw in the refrigerator, then beat the frosting for a minute or two so it’s creamy again.
Ways to Use Cream Cheese Frosting
- piped on pumpkin cupcakes or frosted on top of pumpkin bread
- swirled on red velvet cake or banana cake
- filled inside of red velvet macarons
- piped on top of sugar cookie bars
- on top of homemade cinnamon rolls
- wherever you would use buttercream!
Note: I post my recipes in grams as it’s the most accurate way to bake, and it’s how I develop them. Cups are not only inaccurate, but they vary in volume worldwide! In any event, if you look at the recipe card underneath the ingredients list, you can click “US Customary” and it’ll convert to volume measures!
Remember to tag me @mikebakesnyc on Instagram and leave a rating + review below if you use this small batch 5-Ingredient Cream Cheese Frosting recipe for any of your baked goods!
5-Ingredient Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
- 113 g full-fat block cream cheese softened
- 57 g unsalted butter softened
- 210 g powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- pinch of fine sea salt
- In a large bowl, using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
- Add the powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste, and a pinch of salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until completely combined and creamy. If you want the frosting a little thicker, add up to ¼ cup (30 grams) of additional powdered sugar.