Finally, a recipe for cream cheese frosting made with European cream cheese for a frosting that is creamy and smooth yet firm enough to pipe cupcakes or frost and fill a cake with. This recipe is absolutely foolproof and I'll explain step-by-step how you can make the perfect cream cheese frosting.
After many, many years in Austria and countless batches of runny, drippy frosting that were only suitable for the garbage can, I have finally found a recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting that's perfect every time.
European vs. American cream cheese
The problem with the cream cheese that's available in Europe is that it is a spread. It comes in tubs and contains more liquid and less fat than the American cream cheese that is available in bricks or blocks. Even the Philadelphia brand cream cheese is a spread in Europe.
The success of this recipe lies not so much in the recipe itself as in the method for making the frosting using European cream cheese.
The problem is that when you add sugar to cream cheese spread, it draws the liquid out of the cream cheese, resulting in the soupy consistency I mentioned earlier.
How to make cream cheese frosting with European cream cheese
The key to success is binding the powdered sugar with the butter first and then the cream cheese can be safely mixed in without the sugar drawing the liquid out of the cream cheese. Applied physics!
1. Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on high speed until light and fluffy.
2. Add the powdered sugar, one-third at a time,
3. and beat on high speed for several minutes
4. until mixture is light and creamy.
5. Add the cream cheese
6. and beat on high for a few seconds to incorporate.
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- Cream cheese. For this recipe, use full-fat, plain cream cheese spread. It doesn't have to be room temperature but can come straight from the fridge.
- Butter. Use regular, unsalted butter softened at room temperature. The spreadable butter available in tubs is not suitable for this recipe.
- Powdered sugar. Always sift your powdered sugar for frosting recipes. Be aware that in Austria, you need to use Puderzucker. Staubzucker isn't ground finely enough and will yield a frosting that is grainy with undissolved sugar crystals in it.
- Vanilla extract. This is my favorite brand: https://amzn.to/3mtZL4c Or you can make your own, you’ll find my recipe for vanilla extract here. Vanilla extract from the supermarket in Austria contains a lot of sugar and is rather expensive.
FAQs about cream cheese frosting made with spread
How do I know if my cream cheese is a spread or not?
- If your cream cheese is in a plastic tub with a peel-back foil lid, it's a spread and you need to use the method below for making Cream Cheese Frosting. If your cream cheese is a block or brick wrapped in foil, it is brick-style cream cheese and you should use a traditional American cream cheese frosting recipe.
What is cream cheese frosting used for?
- The cupcakes featured in these photos are my Perfect American Vanilla Cupcakes, absolutely dreamy light, moist and fluffy vanilla cupcakes. Cream Cheese Frosting is the best frosting for Carrot Cake as well as Banana Cake, Red Velvet Cake (below), Chocolate Cupcakes and much more.
I don't have a stand mixer, can I still make this recipe?
- Making this frosting is easy with a stand mixer but you can use a regular electric hand mixer to beat the ingredients together. Just be sure to fully incorporate the powdered sugar into the butter at each step by mixing on high for 2-3 minutes before you attempt to add the cream cheese.
Can this recipe be halved or doubled?
- I would avoid changing the amounts because there's a risk that the recipe won't turn out for you.
- I've calculated the amounts of the ingredients in the recipe below for two different-sized batches. The "regular" amount will yield enough frosting to pipe onto 22 cupcakes, to frost a sheet cake or to fill and frost a small round cake. The "large" batch yields enough frosting for 24-30 cupcakes or to fill and frost a large round cake.
- If you wish to make more frosting than the larger batch, I would suggest making separate batches to ensure perfect consistency.
How is cream cheese frosting stored?
- Because it contains cream cheese, cream cheese frosting and frosted baked goods need to be stored in the refrigerator.
- Cake or cupcakes frosted with cream cheese frosting may stand at room temperature for a couple of hours before serving but otherwise must be stored in the fridge.
Can cream cheese frosting be made the day before?
- Yes! Cream cheese frosting can be made ahead and stored tightly covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Allow chilled cream cheese frosting to stand at room temperature for an hour or two until it is soft enough to spread or pipe. Stir vigorously to bring back the creamy consistency.
What can you do with the leftovers? Can you freeze cream cheese frosting?
- Tightly sealed, cream cheese frosting can be frozen for up to two months.
- Defrost cream cheese frosting overnight in the refrigerator, then allow it to stand at room temperature for an hour or two until it is soft enough to spread or pipe. Stir vigorously to bring back the creamy consistency.
- Leftover cream cheese can be used as a fruit dip, on muffins, cookies, or on banana or zucchini bars. Or make graham cracker sandwich cookies: sandwich together two graham crackers (or other cookies) with cream cheese frosting filling.
My cream cheese frosting is too soft, what can I do?
- Normally, adding some additional powdered sugar would thicken up an American buttercream like this one. But that doesn't work in this case. No amount of powdered sugar can rescue a runny cream cheese frosting. Believe me, I have tried!
- If your frosting is just soft, and not liquidy, runny or soupy, chilling it for one or two hours will solve the issue and the frosting will be firm enough to pipe onto cupcakes or spread on a cake.
- If your frosting is runny or liquidy, you can try chilling it but it probably won't be salvageable. Before you discard it, you could consider using it as a glaze.
Can I make this recipe with less sugar?
- I haven't tried it but several readers have left comments that they used half the amount of sugar called for and the frosting turned out beautifully.
Can I use margarine instead of butter?
- Yes, as long as you use the margarine in blocks or sticks and not the spreadable margarine, the frosting will turn out fine.
Can I make cream cheese frosting with lactose-free cream cheese?
- Yes, lactose-free cream cheese works great in this recipe.
Can this recipe be made vegan?
- Yes! I've made this cream cheese frosting using vegan butter (margarine) and vegan cream cheese and it works perfectly.
Can cream cheese frosting be used as a buttercream under fondant?
- I'm afraid cream cheese frosting is too soft to be used under fondant. I would search for a ganache or buttercream recipe that's specifically for under fondant.
Can you add food coloring to cream cheese frosting?
- Yes, gel, paste and powdered food coloring all work with cream cheese frosting.
Here are the top tips for making heavenly cream cheese frosting with European cream cheese:
- Always sift your powdered sugar.
- Add the powdered sugar to the butter bit by bit.
- Ensure the powdered sugar is thoroughly incorporated into the butter by beating them together for 2-3 minutes on high speed with each addition.
- If your finished cream cheese frosting gets too soft, chill it. Stir vigorously afterward for a uniform creamy consistency.
Cream Cheese Frosting with European Cream Cheese (or Cream Cheese Spread)
- ¾ cup (166 g) butter room temperature
- 3 ¾ cups (400 g) powdered sugar sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 7 ounces (200 g) plain, full-fat cream cheese spread
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (250 g) butter room temperature
- 5 ½ cups (600 g) powdered sugar sifted
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 10 ½ ounces (300 g) plain, full-fat cream cheese spread
- Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, one third at a time, and beat on high speed for several minutes until mixture is light and creamy. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process until all of the powdered sugar is well incorporated. Beat in vanilla. You should now have a very stiff buttercream.
- Add the cream cheese and beat on high for a couple of seconds to incorporate. Scrape bowl and beat on high again for a couple of seconds.
- The frosting can now be spread on cake or cupcakes or chilled until it is firm enough to pipe. Store frosting and frosted baked goods in the refrigerator.
Hey, I’m planning on making this for a red velvet cake tomorrow… how sweet is the frosting? My grandmother would be having it and she doesn’t like things that are too sweet. My other question is if I’m making a large batch would it still work with a cup less of sugar?
How sweet is the frosting? Great question! I often make cakes with this frosting and people love it. I don't find it too sweet but I think you could easily reduce the sugar in the recipe and the frosting would still be delicious. So I would say go ahead and make it with one cup less sugar. 🙂
Hi, in your recipe it only says butter, does it mean either salted or unsalted butter would be fine? Thanks
Thanks for your question! Unsalted butter is best but if you only have salted butter on hand that should be fine. 🙂
All the best,
Jess from Oslo
You have no idea how maddening this issue was for me! Thank you so much, works great.
Great to hear! Thank you so much for your feedback and kind words!
All the best,
You saved my pumpkin bars, thank you ever so much! My husband does our shopping and when I asked for cream cheese, I'm thinking the blocks, but he bought the spread. I've been wondering what to do with it, then decided, why not use it to make cream cheese frosting. Thought I'd try just adding the powdered sugar, rather runny, added more powdered sugar, really runny. Put it on my pumpkin bars anyway, but couldn't pick them up for the runny frosting. It was at that point that I turned to google and found your article. Can't believe what a difference that made, perfect consistency and delicious. Just had to scrap the first frosting off before adding the good stuff. Now I know. Thank you, thank you.
Thank you for your comment! Glad you were able to save your frosting! 😚
Thank you so much!!! I'm from Switzerland and want to try a cream cheese frosting so I was looking just for this!
One question though: wouldn't the small triangle shaped Frischkäse like the "Kiri" brand work for the frosting? The consistency is like the one of cream cheese and contains around 30% of fat. Those taste like the spreadable cheese we have (like Philadelphia). Did you ever try it?
Oh!! And I've also read about using Mascarpone as an American cream cheese substitute for the frosting. What's with that?
Hi Romi, It's my pleasure! 🙂 You could try the Kiri, why not? I've never tried making frosting with it but if it has similar fat content it should work, I would think.
I think you could probably use mascarpone instead of cream cheese in this recipe and the consistency would be ok but the frosting would taste a lot sweeter and wouldn't be as tangy. If you want to try a mascarpone frosting recipe, I have one here that also uses cream cheese and whipping cream and a lot less sugar: https://livingoncookies.com/tiramisu-cupcakes-with-mascarpone-frosting/
I hope that answers your questions! Have a great day! Krista
Thanks so much for the quick reply!! I'm new to
baking so I have so much to learn and your blog will be super helpful. I'll check the mascarpone recipe as well! Vielen Dank☺️
How long does the leftover frosting keep and how do you suggest storing it?
Hi Kat, store frosting in an airtight container. It can be frozen for up to two months or stored in the fridge for up to four days. Allow it to thaw overnight in the fridge if frozen. Allow refrigerated frosting to stand at room temperature until it’s soft enough to use. Stir vigorously or beat with and electric mixer briefly to make it smooth again.
just made it - worked perfectly! Only thing I would add is that it is very sweet. Maybe
leave out the .vanilla? I only made 1/2 batch - put a few drops of lemon juice as one other
reviewer suggested and also added more of the spread. Sweet and delicious! Thank you for the
recipe. Easy and the spread cost very little compared to block. I put the remainder in the freezer and will use it next time.
Hi, hope everything is well, if I want to make it a chocolate flavor cream cheese icing, how much cocoa do you recommend I use? and would I put less sugar because of it? Thank You!
To make Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting, I add melted semi-sweet chocolate. For the full recipe above, mix in 7 ounces (200g) melted, cooled chocolate after the last step above. The Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting is amazing. 🙂
I only want to make 1/4 the recipe above ie 1/4 cup butter instead of 1 cup just to pipe on an orange cake. Just wondering if that will work. Also I want the frosting to be orange flavoured. Will it b ok if I add some grated orange zest to the frosting?
Hi Shamini, yes that will work and it sounds amazing!!! If you’re making 1/4 recipe, it might be easier to really work the sugar into the butter if you use an electric hand mixer and a smaller mixing bowl.
Oh my goodness! Thank you!
I will be trying this - I am from Wisconsin and live in Vorarlberg a decade and WHY, OH WHY don't Austrians have real cream cheese?
(Though in Vorarlberg I kind of understand it- many of the locals do not consider anything besides Bergkäse to be "REAL CHEESE". So cream cheese is not even call cream cheese - just "Philedelphia" - because it is not Bergkäse and therefore not cheese.)
As a dairy farmer's daughter - my heart grieves for thier constricted view of cheese - I love almost all of the cheeses. Bryndza, skyr, bergkäse, cheddar, gouda, oszczypek... so many cheeses....
As for the reader that is asking about Schmand - you can try to make your own.
Schmand is basically the same thing as the Śmietana / Smetana - which is the Polish / Russian version of the stuff.
I found a tutorial here where you can try to make it in different versions. Maybe it will help you reader? https://petersfoodadventures.com/homemade-sour-cream/
Thank you so much for your nice feedback Shannon! I’m sure your tip will help someone. 😍 I am from Minnesota and am familiar with Wisconsin cheese - YUM! All the best, Krista
I wonder if this process would work with this New York Cheesecake recipe.
It’s the closest I can find to a what I always had.
What would you do different?
Hi Ana, that recipe for New York Cheesecake looks really good but I am concerned about using that much sour cream, which has a lot of water in it. Normally I would recommend reducing the sour cream to make up for the fact that your cream cheese has more liquid in it than the American kind, but I’m not sure with this particular recipe. If it helps, I developed my own New York Cheesecake recipe you could try: https://livingoncookies.com/new-york-cheesecake-with-strawberry-sauce/
All the best, Krista
I am SO GRATEFUL to you for having done the research and testing to discover this and then to share it with us. Right now there is a shortage of cream cheese here and all I could buy was the spread. I almost made the disaster you described by using it as though it were the block - one more web search led me to you and you saved the day. Thank you again!
I followed the recipe to the letter (to the gram, that is) and it came out *beautifully*.
For fellow Kitchaid standing mixer users - forget using the whip attachment and just use the standard mixing paddle all the way.
Thank you for the helpful tip and your sweet comment! You made my day! ☺️
I love your recipe. Being a fellow expat living in Austria (but Australian origin) I have struggled for years to solve this problem…I knew it was a fat issue so I tried EVERYTHING (mascarpone, increasing the fat in the cream cheese) - and here you have cracked it. You absolutely made my New Year…there’s nothing like a last minute win!
I’m wondering if I chill the frosting to stiffen and then pipe it, if it goes back to room temperature after piped will it get runny again?
No, it will be fine. It’s only occasionally a little too soft to pipe right after being made, depending on the brand of cream cheese you use, the temperature of your kitchen, etc.
I want to use this recipe of yours for the cream cheese frosting and I bought ingredients last weekend only to discover that I bought 5 tubs of creamed smooth cottage cheese instead of cream cheese, could I still use this recipe and substitute the cream cheese with the creamed cottage cheese ?
Hi Kelly, my guess is that the frosting recipe would not work because of the high moisture and low fat content of cottage cheese.
I attempted to make cream cheese frosting with european style cream cheese but it was so runny that it cant even be pumped fr a frosting bag. What should i do? Chill it 1st? Add thick cream?? My pump head is snowflake design and i didnt manage to even pump out a decent snowflake because its so liquidy.
Hi Emily, you can definitely try chilling it! Chilling often helps when the frosting is too soft to pipe. If after at least two hours in the refrigerator it is still liquidy, in my experience there is nothing more you can do to thicken it. Did you follow the recipe and directions exactly? You have to beat all the powdered sugar into the butter before attempting to add the cream cheese. If you try to mix all the ingredients at once, it will likely become runny.
I am planning on making a Red velvet cake with 2 9 inch pans. Would the recipe be the right amount or can I cut it in half? I don't think I will use all the frosting plus there is so much of the ingriedients and I most definetly do not want to waste it. I've made the frosting before but with homeade powdered sugar and the only downside was that my sugar wasn't fine enough so it was gritty. Next time, I'll just stick to the store-bought hehe. Other than that it was PERFECT( it was my first time making a frosting).
I have a Red Velvet Cake recipe for 2 9-inch pans here on the blog. I use the same amount of frosting as this recipe to fill and frost it but feel free to use less if you prefer. I’ve had to grind my own powdered sugar so I know there’s a graininess you can’t quite get rid of. The finer, industrial powdered sugar is so much better! Sift it too so it incorporates well. Happy baking!
I am planning on making a Red velvet cake with 2 9 inch pans. Would the recipe be the right amountor can I cut it in half? I don't think I will use all the frosting plus there is so much of the ingriedients and I most definetly do not want to waste it. I've made the frosting before but with homeade powdered sugar and the only downside was that my sugar wasn't fine enough so it was gritty. Next time, I'll just stick to the store-bought hehe. Other than that it was PERFECT( it was my first time making a frosting).
I was only able to find lactose-free cream cheese (the type made from real dairy) in the spreadable format. I've had mixed experiences making cream cheese frosting from it in the past. This one was perfect! The others were too sweet because I had to add extra powdered sugar to get the texture right. This recipe was perfect! Perfect texture and balance of flavors. Thank you sooooo much!
Hi Cindy, that’s so awesome to hear - thanks for the feedback! 😃
Thank you so much for this recipe! It worked to a T and saved my husband’s 40th birthday.
I‘m so glad! Thanks for the feedback!