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.
- 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. My favorite brand is Taylor & Colledge, which I buy through Amazon. 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.