Cream cheese is an unripened cheese made from cow's milk, with emulsifiers added for firmness. At room temperature, cream cheese spreads easily and has a smooth and creamy texture. It is sold in foil-wrapped blocks or in a soft-spread form which has air whipped in to make it spreadable right from the refrigerator. In addition to regular cream cheese, you can also find low-fat and nonfat varieties. These can have different uses, measures, and characteristics for cooking.
Measurement Conversions for Cream Cheese
Conversions are a little tricky for cream cheese since cups and tablespoons are volume measures while ounces and grams are weight measures. As a result, regular cream cheese differs from whipped cream cheese since whipped cream cheese weighs less per unit of volume. Use these tables.
Regular Cream Cheese:
- 1/16 cup: 0.5 ounces | 1 tablespoon | 15 grams | 1/2 serving
- 1/8 cup: 1 ounce | 2 tablespoons | 30 grams | 1 serving
- 1/4 cup: 2 ounces | 4 tablespoons | 60 grams | 2 servings
- 1/3 cup: 2.6 ounces | 5 tablespoons | 75 grams | 2.5 servings
- 3/8 cup: 3 ounces | 6 tablespoons | 85 grams | 3 servings
- 1/2 cup: 4 ounces | 8 tablespoons | 120 grams | 4 servings
- 2/3 cup: 5.3 ounces | 11 tablespoons | 150 grams | 5.5 servings
- 3/4 cup: 6 ounces | 12 tablespoons | 170 grams | 6 servings
- 1 cup: 8 ounces | 16 tablespoons | 225 grams | 8 servings
There are 100 calories per 1-ounce (2 tablespoons) serving of regular cream cheese.
Whipped Cream Cheese:
- 1/16 cup: 0.4 ounces | 1 tablespoon | 11 grams | 1/2 serving
- 1/8 cup: 0.8 ounces | 2 tablespoons | 22 grams | 1 serving
- 1/4 cup: 1.6 ounces | 4 tablespoons | 44 grams | 2 servings
- 1/3 cup: 2.0 ounces | 5 tablespoons | 57 grams | 2.5 servings
- 1/2 cup: 3.2 ounces | 8 tablespoons | 91 grams | 4 servings
- 2/3 cup: 4.0 ounces | 11 tablespoons | 113 grams | 5.5 servings
- 3/4 cup: 4.8 ounces | 12 tablespoons | 136 grams | 6 servings
- 1 cup: 6.4 ounces | 16 tablespoons | 181 grams | 8 servings
There are 50 calories per 0.8-ounce (2 tablespoons) serving of whipped cream cheese. The volume by weight is less, thus fewer calories per tablespoon. Otherwise, it has the same nutritional profile.
Substitutions for Cream Cheese
In most applications, Neufchatel cheese may be substituted for cream cheese in equal measure. To reduce fat in dips and spreads, you can substitute yogurt cheese, creamed cottage cheese, or low-fat/nonfat cream cheese for regular cream cheese, in equal measure.
For recipes requiring melted cream cheese, note that low-fat and nonfat varieties will not melt as well as regular cream cheese. Because of the lower fat content, there are more emulsifiers and stabilizers which inhibit melting.
Softening Block Cream Cheese
You may need to soften block cream cheese to mix with other ingredients or to make it more spreadable for table use.
One way to soften cream cheese is to place the foil packet or plastic container of cream cheese in a bowl of lukewarm water for 10 minutes. If you have an opened package, first place it in a plastic zip-lock bag and press as much air out as possible, seal it, and immerse it in the lukewarm water.
To use the microwave to soften block cream cheese for mixing with other ingredients:
- Remove the cream cheese from the foil packaging and place it on a microwave-safe plate.
- For an 8-ounce block, cook at 50 percent power for about 1 minute.
- For a 3-ounce block, cook at 50 percent power for 30 seconds.
- Let the cream cheese rest for 1 minute before using.
To use the microwave to soften block cream cheese to room temperature for table use:
- Unwrap the cream cheese and place it on a microwave-safe plate.
- For an 8-ounce block, cook on high for 20 to 30 seconds.
- For a 3-ounce block, cook on high for 5 to 15 seconds.
Making Flavored Cream Cheese
You can cream your cream cheese together with ingredients such as herbs, fruit jelly, or spices to make your own flavored cream cheese. Place the cream cheese and other ingredients in a blender, food processor, or mixer bowl. Add a few drops of water or milk and process till the ingredients are creamed together.
Room Temperature Cream Cheese
When using cream cheese in cheesecake, it is important that the cheese is at room temperature before beginning in order to achieve a smooth, creamy result. To bring it to room temperature, simply remove it from the refrigerator for one to two hours before you will be using it in the recipe.
For a quick party dip, bring a block of cream cheese to room temperature and top with salsa, chutney, or fruit preserves. Serve with savory crackers, vegetables, fruits, or cookies.