Everyone needs a perfect recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting! This classic recipe is essential for so many different kinds of cupcakes, cakes, and cookies. It is sweet and tangy, light and fluffy. I will show you just how to make it so that you get the perfect texture every time. A touch of lemon and vanilla in the frosting really brings out the flavor! 

easy cream cheese frosting on a beater on a table

The other day my baby Edison was doing this fake-crying thing. (It’s kind of shocking how young babies are when they start doing this! He’s not even a year old.) I said, “Oh man, he sounds pathetic!” Charlotte asked what pathetic means.

I had to look it up on my phone. Because while I know what pathetic means, explaining it to a 9-year-old is a whole different story. Right? Why is it so hard to define words? I always start a description only to trail off into a confused silence. “Pathetic is like…and then…you know?” Major props to dictionary writers, whoever you are.

cream cheese frosting recipe for cake

Anyway, pathetic is apparently defined as “arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness.” I read it out loud to Charlotte, while Edison was still fake-crying in the background, and she said, “Well, Edison has been very successful in his life so far.” Touché! Baby’s life mission: accomplished.

Who’s ready to make cream cheese frosting?? Do you have a favorite recipe? This is my go-to recipe and I figured it was high time I shared it with you!

Blackberry Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting

This recipe is so easy! It only has 3 ingredients that are absolutely essential: cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar.

how to make cream cheese frosting, softened butter

Make sure it’s nice and soft. I always nuke it in the microwave on a lower power level for a bit.

The 3 other ingredients are to add and enhance flavor: vanilla, lemon juice, and salt.

butter and powdered sugar beaten together on a balloon beater

This is after beating together the butter and cream cheese, before adding powdered sugar. Make sure there are no lumps!

The vanilla is important for adding aroma and depth to your frosting. Many people would include this in the essential list above!

Kosher salt enhances the flavor of the cream cheese, and balances out all the sweetness from the powdered sugar.

squeezing lemon juice into a stand mixer full of frosting

I love adding lemon to my cream cheese frosting. It brings out the tang of the cream cheese perfectly. It does NOT make your frosting taste like lemon. It just adds brightness. You can skip it if you don’t have a fresh lemon, but I really do think it makes a difference.

adding powdered sugar to frosting in a stand mixer

Make sure you add one cup of powdered sugar at a time, beating between each addition. You can add anywhere from 2 and 1/2 cups to 4 cups (see below for discussion on this).

cream cheese frosting on a balloon beater

This is the best cream cheese frosting recipe for cake

When making a layer cake, you need a cream cheese frosting that is sturdy enough to stand up to all those layers. This recipe is perfect for layer cakes, like this Homemade Spice Cake. (Spice and cream cheese, best combo ever, right?)

spice cake recipe slice on a plate

If you are frosting a layer cake, you might want to use 3-4 cups of powdered sugar. The recipe below calls for 2 and 1/2 cups, but if you need a sturdier frosting for lots of layers, you can increase the powdered sugar. The Spice Cake (pictured above) that I made actually only had a ratio of 2 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar in the frosting, because it’s more important to me to have the tang from the cream cheese than to have a perfectly frosted cake. A cake decorator I am NOT!

To frost a layer cake, you will need to double today’s recipe. You need at least 6 cups of frosting; a single batch of today’s recipe makes about 3 cups. One batch will give you enough to frost about 18 cupcakes or frost the top of a sheet cake.

Perfect for Piping

If you are planning to pipe this frosting onto your cake or cupcakes, this is the recipe you need. The amount of powdered sugar is adjustable in this recipe; if you want a really sturdy frosting for some serious decorating, add a bit more powdered sugar, up to about 4 cups.

homemade cream cheese frosting on a cupcake on a blue paint

If you find that your frosting is starting to get runny as you are piping, it’s probably because the heat from your hand is warming it up. Put the frosting back in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to chill before continuing.

Does cream cheese frosting need to be refrigerated?

Yes and no :)

This one is actually kind of up to you! I do not refrigerate this frosting when it is on a cake…at first. I let it sit at room temperature on the counter for up to 3 days. After 3 days, I put it in the fridge. The rest of the internet will tell you the limit for sitting on the counter is one day. I like to live on the edge, what can I say.

simple banana cake recipe, shot from the side with a bite taken out

Easy Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

That said, some people really prefer the texture and flavor of this frosting when it is chilled. Chilled frosting is going to have a sturdier texture than at room temperature. I love it either way!

If you chill your cream cheese frosting, take it out of the fridge about 20-30 minutes before serving, for the best texture and to bring out the flavor.

best cream cheese frosting on a beater

What are you going to make first??

Cakes to frost with cream cheese frosting!

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How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting

Yields 18 cupcakes or a 9x13 inch cake (3 cups)     adjust servings

Everyone needs a perfect recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting! This classic recipe is essential for so many different kinds of cupcakes, cakes, and cookies. It is sweet and tangy, creamy and swirly. I will show you just how to make it so that you get the perfect texture every time. A touch of lemon and vanilla in the frosting really brings on the flavor! 

Ingredients

  • 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, or up to 4 cups
  • 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, optional
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Soften your cream cheese and butter. You can either do this by leaving it out on the counter for an hour or two, or you can speed up the process by putting it in the microwave. I like to put the butter and cream cheese I need on a plate or in a bowl, and then microwave on power level 2 in 30-second increments. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't start to melt. When you can easily push your finger into it, it is soft enough.
  2. Add the cream cheese and butter to a large bowl or stand mixer. Beat for about 1-2 minutes, taking the time to scrape the bottom and edges of the bowl, to make sure it is all getting smooth. If you have any lumps in your mixture right now, there will be lumps in your frosting. Make sure you beat until the entire mixture is smooth and creamy. 
  3. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat together. If it is very clumpy, I recommend sifting it to make sure that you don't end up with powdered sugar lumps in your frosting. Make sure you scrape the bottom and edges.
  4. Add another cup of powdered sugar and beat well.
  5. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, and 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. You don't have to use the lemon juice, but I love how it really brings out the tang in the cream cheese. It doesn't make the frosting taste like lemon. 
  6. Add another 1/2 cup powdered sugar and beat well. 
  7. Taste your frosting and see what you think. If you are frosting a sheet cake and like the flavor and texture where it's at, leave it as is. If you are piping the frosting onto cupcakes, or using the frosting in a layer cake, you might consider adding more powdered sugar (up to 4 cups total) so that the frosting is more sturdy and will hold up. Remember that the more powdered sugar you add, the less tangy and cream-cheesy your frosting will taste. 
  8. Adjust salt, lemon juice, and vanilla to taste as desired. 

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If you make this recipe, share it on Instagram using the hashtag #TheFoodCharlatan so I can see it!