This classic Cream Cheese Frosting is creamy, tangy and super addicting. It has just the right amount of sweetness to compliment but not overpower the flavor of cakes and cupcakes without being cloyingly sweet. I guarantee you’ll want to eat it by the spoonful!
Do your eyes bulge out when you see a cream cheese frosting recipe that calls for 4 – 6 cups of powdered sugar? If this is you, I got your back with this not too sweet cream cheese frosting.
My go to recipe only uses 1 ¼ cup of powdered sugar. It is super easy to make, and is enough for a dozen cupcakes even if you’re a generous froster. Give it a try and never go back to scraping off frosting from your cupcakes ever again!
Table of Contents
Why you’ll love this recipe
- As I mentioned before, this homemade cream cheese frosting recipe only uses 1 ¼ cup of powdered sugar, significantly less than many other typical recipes you might find out there.
- It requires only 4 ingredients and just 10 minutes of your time to whip together.
- It is super versatile and can be used on so many desserts like carrot cake, red velvet cupcakes, cookies and even cinnamon rolls.
- I’ve been making this cream cheese frosting recipe for years, so it is tried, true and tested! It is the best cream cheese frosting you will ever make.
Ingredients and substitutions
As always, you’ll find the complete list of ingredients and quantities in the recipe card at the end of this post. Below are some notes and substitution tips for each ingredient:
- Cream cheese – for the best cream cheese frosting, use full fat brick cream cheese. I don’t recommend substituting light cream cheese or whipped cream cheese here.
- Butter – use unsalted butter, don’t substitute salted butter because it will make your frosting very salty, especially because this recipe has a low amount of sugar. I have done this before by mistake and it was not delicious.
- Powdered sugar – icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar is used here. Don’t try to substitute granulated sugar since the measurement will be completely different and you most likely will end up with grainy frosting. Even if you try to make your own powdered sugar by grinding granulated sugar with cornstarch, I don’t think you will be able to achieve the super fine texture of store bought powdered sugar.
- Vanilla – use pure vanilla extract, vanilla bean or vanilla bean paste here for the best flavor. Don’t use artificial vanilla flavoring.
How to make cream cheese frosting
The following instructions, step by step photos and tips are here to help you visualize how to make the recipe. You can always skip straight to the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
First, allow your cream cheese and butter to soften at room temperature, but not melted. Add the softened butter, cream cheese and vanilla to a stand mixer bowl. Beat with the whisk attachment until thoroughly incorporated and smooth.
Second, add powdered sugar to the bowl. Stir to mix at first, then slowly increase speed to beat until all the sugar is incorporated and the frosting is creamy and fluffy. That’s it!
Troubleshooting common problems
Frosting with lower sugar content can turn out very soft, especially in warmer weather. I found that when I made this recipe with an equal amount of cream cheese and butter, the frosting turned out softer and runnier. But it can harden up with a little refrigeration and can still be pipeable.
This recipe calls for 2 parts cream cheese and 1 part butter, which I found to be the perfect ratio to get a pipeable frosting right away without having to refrigerate before piping.
Make sure your butter is at room temperature, it should give a little when pressed but it should not be too soft or melted. If it is a warm day and your butter seems almost melted, it could contribute to a runnier frosting. Again, you can fix it with a little bit of refrigeration once the frosting is made.
Use liquid flavoring like extracts or juices sparingly. If you want to flavor the frosting, it’s better to use citrus zest, ground spices or ground freeze-dried fruits to avoid adding too much liquid to the frosting.
Except for cinnamon rolls, you want to make sure all your cakes and cupcakes are completely cool before adding frosting on top, or your frosting will cry and melt off the surface of the cakes.
Over beaten frosting
If your frosting is runny because it has been over beaten, and refrigeration doesn’t do the trick. You may need to fold in more powdered sugar to stiffen it up but you risk making the frosting too sweet. A couple other ideas are:
- Adding a starch like corn starch or tapioca flour to thicken the frosting. However, too much can alter the flavor of your frosting.
- Change the flavor of your frosting by adding cocoa powder or ground freeze-dried fruits which should also thicken your frosting.
If nothing works, you will need to start over.
More baker’s tips
- Soften your ingredients but don’t let them melt – cream cheese and butter need to be at room temperature so they can be beaten and incorporated easily. But make sure they are not overly warm or melted, or your frosting will end up too soft.
- Don’t overbeat – this frosting doesn’t need to be beaten for a long time, the powdered sugar should incorporate fairly quickly and the frosting will be creamy in just a few minutes.
- Refrigerate to avoid a meltdown – due to the nature of this not too sweet cream cheese frosting, it softens quickly at room temperature. So keep your cake refrigerated until just before you are ready to serve, especially in the middle of summer.
- How much cake can this recipe cover – this recipe is enough to frost a dozen cupcakes if you want your frosting piled high or up to 18 cupcakes. You can also frost a 2-layer 6” cake generously or a 2-layer 8” cake naked style.
- Add citrus zest for a refreshing flavor, like in these Lemon Cupcakes – a little lemon zest and lemon extract add some zing to the classic version.
- Use ground freeze-dried fruits to add fruity flavor and color like raspberry, blueberry and strawberry like in this Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting which goes perfectly with these Strawberry Cupcakes.
- For chocolate creamy cheese frosting, add cocoa powder or fold in melted chocolate.
- Add instant espresso powder for the coffee lover.
- Add spices like cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice for warm Fall flavor. Spiced cream cheese frosting can pair well with pumpkin cupcakes, sweet potato cake, apple pie cake.
If serving right away, you don’t need to keep cream cheese frosting refrigerated. It can sit out at room temperature for a few hours.
If you’re making ahead or have leftovers, keep it refrigerated in an airtight container. It will last up to a week in the refrigerator. Let it come to room temperature and re-whip before using.
You can also freeze cream cheese frosting for 3-6 months. Thaw and let it come to room temperature and re-whip before using.
Yes, this frosting will harden in the fridge. So if your frosting is too soft to pipe once beaten, you can pop it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to harden up.
But if you refrigerate the frosting overnight or freeze it, it will be too hard to pipe, simply let it soften at room temperature, re-whip until fluffy and use as desired.
Since this frosting has less sugar, it is softer and is not suitable for piping intricate designs. However, you can pipe it using a piping tip on top of cupcakes or make simple swirls to decorate cakes. If you fill the pastry bag with a piping tip and refrigerate the frosting for 15 – 30 minutes, it will be sturdier for simple piping.
Sure you can. For natural color, you can use ground freeze-dried fruit. Or use gel color to limit the amount of liquid you’re adding to this recipe.
Store all baked goods with cream cheese frosting in the refrigerator, especially since this frosting has low sugar (which acts as a preservative) and can melt or go bad at room temperature.
To serve, simply thaw on the counter for 10 – 15 minutes, both the cake and the frosting will soften.
You can also freeze leftover cakes and cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for 3-6 months. Freeze them on a baking sheet until the frosting hardens before wrapping and storing in a freezer bag. Thaw completely before serving.
Leftover frosting can be stored in the fridge or freezer for later use. If you don’t have enough cake or cupcakes, you can always use it on something else:
– Use it instead of icing on cinnamon rolls. For these, add frosting right out of the oven so it can melt into all the layers, nooks and crannies.
– Spread it on top of cookies, make cookie sandwiches, or fill cookie cups like these red velvet cookie cups.
– Use it as a dip for strawberries, other fruits, pretzel sticks, graham crackers, etc.
More frostings to try
- Chocolate buttercream frosting
- Vanilla buttercream frosting
- Peanut butter frosting
- Swiss meringue buttercream
📖 Recipe card
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 12 oz cream cheese (room temperature, 340 g)
- 6 oz unsalted butter (room temperature, 170 g)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (5 g)
- 1 ¼ cup powdered sugar (125 g)
- Add softened butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract to a stand mixer bowl and beat on medium speed with the whisk attachment just until incorporated and creamy.
- Add powdered sugar and stir to mix, then slowly increase mixer speed to medium and beat just until all the sugar is incorporated and the frosting is creamy and fluffy.
- Use a pastry bag fitted with your favorite piping tip to pipe frosting onto cakes and cupcakes or simply use an offset spatula or butter knife.
- Allow the cream cheese and butter to soften at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, but don’t let the butter melt. If the butter is too soft, the frosting can be too soft as well.
- Overbeating cream cheese frosting can make it too runny. When all the sugar is incorporated into the frosting, don’t beat it for much longer to avoid overbeating.
- If the frosting is too soft, pop it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to harden before piping.
- If your refrigerated cream cheese frosting is too hard, you can let it soften at room temperature and re-whip it to make it fluffy again.
- Always store cream cheese frosting in the refrigerator, do not leave it at room temperature overnight.
- This recipe is enough to frost a dozen cupcakes if you want your frosting piled high or up to 18 cupcakes. You can also frost a 2-layer 6” cake generously or a 2-layer 8” cake naked style.
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