A simple recipe for basic cream cheese frosting, with just four ingredients, plus a dozen ways to use it. This can be made with or without dairy.
Cream cheese frosting is our favourite across the board. The slight tanginess, creamy texture, and not overwhelming sweetness ticks all the boxes. Use it for cakes, cookies, rolls, and more – see below for some of these recipes we love with this icing.
You need just four ingredients, and there are lots of ideas for additions and flavours in the substitutions section below. We outline making vegan cream cheese frosting and lower sugar options, too.
Use the JUMP TO RECIPE button at the top, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the printable recipe card with full ingredient measurements and complete instructions.
- Cream cheese (the block type, not spreadable)
- Icing sugar
Add the cream cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla to a large mixing bowl (or a stand mixer). Whip on low speed to start, to prevent sugar explosions, then gradually increase the speed to high and mix for 3-4 minutes.
Once the frosting is finished, it should be light, fluffy, and have no graininess present when you rub a bit between a finger and thumb. If the sugar isn’t fully dissolved, mix a little longer.
Refrigerate the finished frosting in an airtight container if not using immediately, and it’ll keep for about four days.
Tips and Notes
This can be made with cold cream cheese and even cold butter if you’re in a pinch. You’ll just need to mix a little longer to make sure everything is incorporated, but the heat from mixing will work some magic too.
Powdered sugar adds structure to the frosting, which makes it great to use for icing cakes! It holds its shape very well and can be swirled and swooped any way you like.
Since it is cheese, though, you’ll have to refrigerate anything you ice with it unless it’s only staying out for a very short period of time. The frosting can be made ahead of time so it’s best to ice shortly before serving if you don’t want to refrigerate the dessert.
You can see that we used vanilla powder instead of extract, but it doesn’t matter. Both options are in the recipe card below, and you can also use vanilla paste.
Try adding any number of spices or extra flavourings to the frosting – cinnamon, cardamom, orange or lemon zest, peppermint, cocoa (as seen in the death by chocolate cake) and so on. It’s a blank canvas.
If you’d like a lower sugar icing, use honey or maple syrup instead of the powdered sugar. This works well if you don’t need loads of structure in whatever you’re making, like for cookies rather than cake, and tastes great. Do this to taste. We typically go for 3-4 tablespoons when using honey.
For a vegan cream cheese frosting, use your favourite dairy-free cream cheese, butter, and icing sugar. The frosting pictured is actually vegan and it’s delicious! The vegan version does tend to be a little softer, but it depends on what kind of cream cheese you can get.
12 Ways to Use Cream Cheese Frosting
- On our apple cinnamon rolls
- Coating this lemon ricotta cake
- To ice cinnamon sugar cookies
- Between layers in our death by chocolate cake
- Turn vegan pumpkin cookies into whoopie pies by sandwiching cream cheese frosting between them
- Replace the mint frosting in these chocolate sandwich cookies
- Top vegan vanilla cake for a simple treat
- Switch out the coconut whipped cream on our vegan carrot cake
- Use it to fill your own choux buns
- With chocolate cinnamon rolls
- Over this spicy gingerbread cake
- On sweet pea and pistachio cake
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Measuring cups and spoons or a digital kitchen scale
- Mixing bowl
- Hand or stand mixer
- 8 oz. pure cream cheese, one block
- ¼ cup butter, room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or ¼ teaspoon vanilla powder
- Add the cream cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla to a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer.
- Use electric beaters to mix, starting on low speed and gradually working up to the highest speed, for 3-4 minutes.
- When it’s mixed, the frosting should be smooth, creamy, and fluffy. There shouldn’t be any grittiness when tasted or a small amount is rubbed between a finger and thumb.
- Store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.