Basic Cream Cheese Frosting With Variations

cream cheese frosting without butter recipe

The Spruce / Diana Rattray

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 10 mins
Servings: 12 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
183 Calories
7g Fat
29g Carbs
1g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 183
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 4g 22%
Cholesterol 22mg 7%
Sodium 87mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 29g 10%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 28g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 20mg 2%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 28mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Whether it's atop red velvet cupcakes or a deliciously moist carrot cake, cream cheese frosting is the perfect complement for a wide variety of desserts. In this recipe, the cream cheese flavor comes through beautifully, as it's made with all cream cheese and no butter. Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature, so it blends in easily and makes for a smooth and creamy frosting.

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


  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

  • 1 to 2 tablespoonscream or milk, more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or vanilla bean paste

  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

  • Pinch of kosher salt

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for basic cream cheese frosting without butter

    The Spruce

  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. Into a bowl, 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 on cupcakes
     The Spruce


  • 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. In a pinch, you can use the microwave to soften (some models even have a setting for softening cream cheese), but be sure to keep a close eye on it so it doesn't get warm.
  • 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.
  • For the very best flavor and texture, use full-fat cream cheese. If you decide to use reduced-fat cream cheese, however, choose Neufchâtel. Neufchâtel cheese is lower in fat, but it isn't as low as the one-third less fat cream cheese.
  • If you want a more balanced flavor with a softer cream cheese flavor, replace 2 to 4-ounces of the cream cheese with softened unsalted butter.

Recipe Variations

  • Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting: Replace 1/4 cup of the confectioners' sugar with unsweetened cocoa powder, or beat about 2 ounces of cooled, melted dark chocolate 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. You may need to add extra powdered sugar because of the additional moisture.
  • 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).