This is simple cream cheese frosting that's versatile and delicious. Use it on cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and cinnamon rolls! As a bonus, it can be made with or without butter!
In this post, I'm sharing my go-to simple cream cheese frosting recipe, as well as all my tips and tricks for thickening frosting, making it without butter, and answering other FAQs about cream cheese frosting.
Nothing beats silky, sweet cream cheese frosting swirled on top of spice cakes, chocolate layer cake, or even warm cinnamon rolls.
Many people turn to store-bought cream cheese frosting, not realizing how quick and easy it is to make at home. Plus, you can make a big batch of frosting and freeze it for later!
To make this simple cream cheese frosting, I use a combination of butter and cream cheese mixed with vanilla and confectioners' sugar to make a really versatile, tangy frosting.
I use unsalted butter, so a pinch of salt (optional) doesn't hurt either.
Keep reading to learn more about why I recommend using unsalted butter when making frosting!
Should I Use Salted or Unsalted Butter for Frosting?
Salted butter is so delicious, especially spread on your bread. But really it should stop there!
Unsalted butter allows you to control the salt content of a dish as well as guarantees freshness.
A few more reasons to avoid salted butter in frostings include:
Salt is a preservative — It is added to butter to prolong its shelf life. I know when I buy unsalted butter that it hasn't been sitting there as long.
Too much salt impacts the flavor — Salt is a flavor enhancing seasoning! However, too much of a good thing is, well, too much! For cream cheese frosting, I want a sweet, perfectly flavored topping. I like to control that by adding my own salt, or not!
Can Salted Butter Be Used in Frosting?
Yes, however you'll need to omit the pinch of salt called for in the recipe. And know that your homemade cream cheese frosting will just be a tad bit saltier than the originally tested recipe.
Can I Make Cream Cheese Frosting Without Butter?
Yes, you can make this simple cream cheese frosting with no butter. Just keep in mind that it will be a denser, softer icing.
While butter certainly cuts down on the intense cream cheese flavor, it also adds aeration (air bubbles that form after whipping) that give the frosting lift and texture.
I use 2 parts cream cheese to 1 part butter so that I get the best of both worlds in this simple frosting. Using just cream cheese could make a nice icing for cinnamon rolls.
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting
My favorite ratio of cream cheese to butter is 2 to 1. I use 8 ounces of cream cheese (1 block) and 4 ounces (1 stick) of unsalted butter.
I think this ratio gives the silky, rich flavor of butter to the frosting while packing the perfect punch of classic cream cheese flavor.
Here's an overview of how this simple cream cheese frosting comes together:
- Beat the cream cheese until smooth.
- Add the butter and beat until smooth and incorporated.
- Add the vanilla and salt and stir.
- With your mixer running on low speed, add the confectioners' sugar about ½ cup at a time. (This will ensure a smooth frosting.)
Tip: I like to use a stand mixer or a hand mixer to make simple cream cheese frosting.
Adjusting the Thickness of the Frosting
Depending on how thick you want the frosting to be, you can add 3 to 4 cups of confectioners' sugar.
- 3 cups of confectioners' sugar creates a frosting that's a little softer and less sweet if you are into that.
- Using full 4 cups of sugar gives you a balanced frosting that's just stable enough for a layer cake
How to Store Cream Cheese Frosting
Homemade cream cheese frosting can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days. If the frosting is too stiff to immediately spread onto cakes or cookies, let it rest on your counter for about 5 minutes before using.
Can You Freeze Cream Cheese Frosting?
Yes! Freezing this recipe is perfectly acceptable. Store it in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 1 month.
If you have the time, thaw frozen frosting in the fridge. Otherwise, you can thaw it almost to room temperature and then beat it in the mixer again to get the texture back.
You may need to add a little more confectioners' sugar to stabilize it as the cream cheese molecules break down slightly being frozen.
Using This Recipe for Different Sized Cakes
This frosting recipe makes enough to frost a 9x13-inch sheet cake or 24 cupcakes (if you are piping more frosting on each cupcake, it will frost about 15 to 18).
For a round layer cake, you may want to 1.5 times this recipe. (Use 12 oz cream cheese, 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, 6 cups confectioners' sugar and 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla.)
The best way to thicken cream cheese frosting is to add confectioners' sugar. Add ½ cup at a time and mix in to check texture. Using cold cream cheese will help your frosting keep a thick consistency.
You can make cream cheese frosting with just cream cheese and confectioners' sugar. The frosting will be a different texture than the classic recipe. It will not be as fluffy if you do not use butter.
Yes, it must be refrigerated since it contains dairy.
Cream cheese frosting will last up to a week in the fridge. You can freeze the frosting for up to 4 months. This type of frosting will keep well at room temperature for up to a day.
Homemade cream cheese frosting can safely sit out for 6 to 8 hours before it needs to be refrigerated again.
To make a chocolate version, I recommend following my Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting instead. It combines the taste of rich milk chocolate with tangy cream cheese.
Uses for Cream Cheese Frosting
Now that you know how to make homemade cream cheese frosting, it's time to start baking! Here are some of my favorite desserts that use cream cheese frosting:
- Soft Sugar Cookie Cutouts
- Easter Bunny Cupcakes
- Christmas Tree Cookies
- Classic Gingerbread Cookies
- Homemade Spice Cake
More Homemade Frosting Recipes
- Classic Vanilla Frosting
- Fluffy Chocolate Frosting
- The Best Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Whipped Peanut Butter Frosting
- How to Make Caramel Frosting
Simple Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 oz (one block) cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 4 cups confectioners' sugar sifted, only if there are hard lumps
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add the butter and beat until smooth and incorporated, about 1 minute.
- Add the vanilla and salt and stir.
- With the mixer running on low speed, add the confectioners' sugar about ½ cup at a time. After each cup or cup and a half, scrape the inside of the bowl and turn mixer to medium-high speed. Then reduce speed to low and add more sugar. This will ensure a smooth frosting.
- Use immediately or keep refrigerated for up to a week.
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About Tara Teaspoon
I’ve been in the food publishing business for over 20 years, creating recipes & food-styling for magazines, books, television & advertising. Order my new cookbook & stick around for amazing things to eat.
Recipe by Tara Teaspoon. Photography by Ty Mecham.
What is that chocolate cake pictured with the cream cheese frosting? It looks dreamy too!!
Sarah it was the One Bowl Chocolate Cake I used to make all the time at Martha Stewart. I really should put my version up on this site, but haven't done it yet!! Here's a link. I think I baked it in several 7 inch pans for this picture. https://www.marthastewart.com/340315/one-bowl-chocolate-cake
Oh my goodness! I have tried many cream cheese frosting recipes but this one is my all-time favorite! Thanks, Tara Teaspoon!
Tara Teaspoon says
Thanks for the wonderful comment Mary! Tara