Cream cheese frosting is my favourite frosting of all time! It’s smooth and creamy with just a little bit of tang.
A high-quality and full-fat cream cheese is the most important thing to remember when making a cream cheese frosting. You want to maximise flavour and a creamy texture!
If possible, an electric stand mixer will do most of the work for you. Otherwise, a handheld electric mixer will do just as well with a little bit more elbow grease!
Ingredients in Frosting
- Unsalted butter: I prefer unsalted butter for a sweeter, richer flavour. It also allows you to control how much salt you add, if you desire.
- Using salted butter: you can use salted butter instead of unsalted butter if you like. It won’t largely affect the overall taste.
- How soft should it be? You shouldn’t see any visible melted butter. If you poke the butter, you should leave an indent.
- Cream cheese: if you are going to splurge on just one high-quality ingredient, make it the cream cheese! A full-fat, rich cream cheese will give you the best results in a frosting. I highly recommend Philadelphia cream cheese or similar.
- How soft should it be? Cream cheese is naturally a lot softer than butter. You may only need to leave it at room temperature for 20 minutes or so before it becomes soft. Don’t microwave your cream cheese or you will risk splitting the frosting.
- Icing sugar / powdered sugar: powdered sugar will dissolve easily into the butter and cream cheese mixture, giving you a super creamy, rich and stable cream cheese frosting.
- Can I use other types of sugar? I don’t recommend using other types of sugar. This will make your frosting grainy and may separate the frosting.
- Making powdered sugar at home: to make powdered sugar, blend regular granulated sugar in a high speed blender or NutriBullet until it reaches a fine powder stage.
- Lemon juice: fresh or bottled is fine. Make sure all pips are removed.
- Vanilla essence OR vanilla extract: this gives your frosting a much better depth of flavour. I recommend a high quality (not alcohol-based) vanilla essence or extract. Use a clear vanilla essence if you don’t want visible vanilla seeds.
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting
It doesn’t get easier than this! Cream cheese frosting is as easy as beating all of your ingredients together.
1. Place your room-temperature butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer (or handheld electric mixer).
2. Beat together until very smooth, light and fluffy. The mixture should be completely homogenised. You may need to scrape the bowl down once or twice.
3. Add icing (powdered) sugar, lemon, and vanilla. Beat until very light, pale and fluffy. The more you beat it, the paler the mixture will get. HOWEVER, don’t overbeat the frosting or it may separate! Try to beat no more than 8 minutes at high speed.
4. Ta-da! Smooth and rich cream cheese frosting. If you refrigerate the frosting, it will set firm. You can beat for 2 minutes on medium speed to bring it back to room temperature.
How to Use Cream Cheese Frosting
Top Tips for the Perfect Frosting
Will cream cheese frosting harden?
- Yes, if you refrigerate it: The frosting it will set firmly in the fridge. It may also eventually set firm at room temperature if you live in a reasonably cool environment.
Is this cream cheese frosting for piping or spreading?
- Both! This frosting is very versatile and can be used for piping or spreading. You may want to adjust the thickness of the frosting by adding more or less lemon juice depending on what you are using the frosting for.
Why did my frosting split or curdle?
- Your butter and/or cream cheese is too hot or too cold: If your frosting is split or curdled, it is due to your butter and/or cream cheese being too hot or too cold. Your butter should be soft to touch but not melted.
- Your environment is too hot or too cold: if the environment is so hot that the butter and/or cream cheese will melt at ambient temperature, then the frosting will struggle to come together. The same goes for an environment which is too cold, and the butter won’t incorporate into the sugar.
Why is my frosting grainy?
- You haven’t beat the frosting for long enough: continue to beat the frosting until the sugar has properly incorporated into the butter. This may take longer depending on the strength of your electric mixer or hand mixer.
- If you are using a hand mixer, sift the icing sugar / powdered sugar before using. This will ensure a lump-free cream cheese frosting even when mixed at a lower speed and power.
How do I fix split/curdled/grainy frosting?
- If the frosting is too liquidy: try refrigerating the entire bowl of frosting for 30 minutes, then continue to beat the mixture until it comes together.
- If the frosting is grainy or split: add a little more milk, 1 tsp at a time, beating very well in-between. This may help dissolve the grainy sugar.
- NOTE: if you are using a hand mixer, it is recommended to sift the icing sugar / powdered sugar before using.
Cover the bowl of frosting with clingwrap and keep refrigerated for up to 5 days. Beat for 2 minutes at medium speed to return to normal texture.
Can I leave the cream cheese frosting out at room temperature?
- Yes, but it may not last as long: the frosting will only last 2 days at room temperature, compared to 5 days in the refrigerator.
- Make sure your environment is not too hot: if you are leaving your frosting out at room temperature in a very hot environment, it may sweat or melt. Ideally, make sure the ambient temperature is 25°C / 77°F or lower.
- 125 g (4.5 oz / ½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 250 g (8.8 oz / 1 cup) block of cream cheese, at room temperature
- 4 cups icing sugar / powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp vanilla essence OR 1 tsp vanilla extract
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer (or using a hand mixer), beat together the butter and cream cheese on high speed until thick, pale and creamy (about 3-4 mins).
- Add the icing sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat on low speed until the sugar is somewhat incorporated (about 1 min). Increase the speed to high and beat until very pale and thick (about 5 minutes).
- If the frosting is too thick, add 1 tsp more lemon juice at a time until you have reached the desired consistency. If frosting is too thin, add more icing sugar as needed. Frosting will set firm in the refrigerator.
- The frosting will last 5 days after being used to frost cakes/cupcakes.
- To make ahead of time: prepare the frosting then cover the bowl tightly with clingwrap. Keep refrigerated for up to 4 days. Allow to come to room temperature for 4 hours then beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes to keep the frosting fluffy. Use as normal.
Substitutions & Tips
- Salted butter: you can use salted butter if you like. I prefer unsalted for a sweeter taste.
- To make your own icing sugar / powdered sugar: blend regular granulated sugar in a powerful blender or nutribullet until it becomes a fine powder.
- Lemon juice: fresh or bottled is fine.
Nutrition Information:Serving Size: 1/24th of Recipe
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 164Total Fat: 8.4gSaturated Fat: 5.1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1.4gCholesterol: 23.7mgSodium: 46.4mgCarbohydrates: 22.3gFiber: 0gSugar: 21.8gProtein: 0.9g