Basic Cream Cheese Frosting With Variations

cream cheese frosting
Diana Rattray
  • Total: 10 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 1/2 cups (12 servings)

Whether it's atop red velvet cupcakes or a deliciously moist carrot cake, cream cheese frosting is the perfect complementary topping for a wide variety of cakes.

The cream cheese flavor comes through beautifully in this version, as it's made with all cream cheese and no butter. For the very best flavor and texture, use full-fat cream cheese. Neufchâtel cheese is lower in fat, but it isn't as low as the one-third less fat cream cheese. If you decide to use reduced fat cream cheese, choose Neufchâtel. If you want a more balanced flavor with softer cream cheese flavor, replace 2 to 4 ounces of the cream cheese with softened unsalted butter.

This recipe makes enough frosting to generously frost a 9-inch cake, a dozen cupcakes, or the top of a 9-by-13-inch cake, and it's easily scaled up for multi-layered cakes.


  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons ​cream (or milk, or as needed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (sifted, about 12 ounces)
  • Pinch salt

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese with 1 tablespoon of cream and the vanilla until smooth and creamy.

    Beaten cream cheese.
     The Spruce
  3. Sift the powdered sugar and measure 3 cups (about 12 ounces). Gradually add the powdered sugar to the cream cheese along with a pinch of salt and beat until smooth and fluffy. 

    Powdered sugar and cream cheese.
     The Spruce
  4. Add more cream or milk if needed for spreading or piping consistency. 

    Cream cheese frosting.
     The Spruce
  5. Use frosting on cake or cupcakes.

    Homemade cream cheese frosting.
     The Spruce
  6. Enjoy!


  • Softened cream cheese should be soft to the touch and still slightly cool. If cream cheese is used right out of the refrigerator, you will probably end up with lumpy frosting. To soften cream cheese, take it out of the refrigerator for about 30 to 40 minutes before you begin to make the frosting. You can speed the softening process up a bit by cutting it into small pieces.
  • For a two-layer cake, use 12 ounces of cream cheese, 3 tablespoons of cream or milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, and about 4 to 4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar.

Recipe Variations

  • Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting: Replace 1/4 cup of the confectioners' sugar with unsweetened cocoa powder, or beat about 2 ounces of melted dark chocolate (cooled) into the cream cheese. Because of the additional moisture, you may need extra powdered sugar. 
  • Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting: Add 1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon or orange zest and about 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh lemon or orange juice along with the vanilla. Because of the additional moisture, you may need to add extra powdered sugar.
  • Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting: Add about 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract along with the vanilla.
  • Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting: Replace about 1/4 cup of the cream cheese with 1/4 cup of creamy peanut butter (not reduced fat).