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Cream Cheese Frosting Recipes

Updated on January 7, 2015
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Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

Cream Cheese Frosted Carrot Cake With Toasted Pecans
Cream Cheese Frosted Carrot Cake With Toasted Pecans | Source

Carrot Cake Frosting or Icing

Whether you´re looking for creamy, homemade frosting for a sheet cake or smooth, sophisticated icing for a wedding cake, you´ve come to the right place. Cream cheese frosting is a popular complement for carrot cake, but did you know that cream cheese frosting is delicious paired with many other cakes? Here´s a short list:

  • apple spice
  • red velvet
  • banana
  • hummingbird
  • gingerbread
  • pumpkin
  • date
  • chocolate
  • strawberry

Below you will find a classic cream cheese frosting recipe plus variations and ideas to personalize it to your taste. I´ve also included a "crusting" cream cheese frosting recipe, which is easy to smooth or pipe onto cakes. It´s best for frosting a 2-3 layer carrot cake and is the perfect icing for a wedding cake. You will also find instructions for making your own powdered or confectioners´ sugar, which will give you ways to personalize cream cheese frosting.

Cast your vote for Cream Cheese Frosting

Basic Cream Cheese Frosting

Prep time: 15 min
Ready in: 15 min
Yields: Frosting for 2 layer or sheet cake


  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) salted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered or confectioner´s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Place cream cheese and butter in a deep mixing bowl.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer, whip for several minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  3. Gradually add confectioner´s sugar, a cup or so at a time, until frosting is thick and smooth.
Turbinado Sugar, 1 lb.
Turbinado Sugar, 1 lb.
Barry Farm sells the most flavorful turbinado sugar on the market.

Homemade Powdered Sugar

If you have a fairly high-powered blender, you can make your own powdered or confectioners´ sugar at home and save money. In Peru, powdered sugar is expensive and low quality. I can make better frosting by blending my own powdered sugar. Another advantage of homemade powdered sugar is that I can use either white sugar or azúcar rubio, a less processed alternative which is more akin to the raw turbinado sugar sold in the United States.

I have found that if I try to blend too much sugar at once, the powdered sugar retains its gritty texture. For more information on my method, please click below:

How to Make Powdered Sugar

You can also try this method with natural sugars such as raw or turbinado. These sugars have a higher concentration of molasses and will give your frosting a rich, caramel flavor.

Why use cornstarch? Cornstarch not only gives powdered sugar a smoother texture, but will also contribute to thicker frosting. Other options are arrowroot powder or tapioca starch.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting | Source

Maple or Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting

Molasses-frosted gingerbread cake is hard to beat! Maple cream cheese frosting is a delicious choice for carrot or pumpkin cake.

1. To Make the Powdered Sugar:

  • 4 cups maple sugar (for maple frosting) or turbinado sugar (for molasses frosting)
  • 4 tablespoons corn starch

Place one cup each of sugar and cornstarch in a blender container. Cover lid with a tea towel and blend at least 2 minutes, or until sugar is completely powdered. Taste the sugar and if it´s still grainy, blend a little longer. Empty blender container and repeat with the remaining portions of sugar and cornstarch. Yield: 4 cups powdered sugar

2. To Make the Frosting:

  • 4 cups homemade powdered sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 8 ounces butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. maple extract if using maple powdered sugar OR 1 tablespoon black strap molasses if using turbinado sugar
  1. Place cream cheese and butter in a deep mixing bowl. Using a stand or hand mixer, whip on high until butter and cream cheese is light and fluffy.
  2. Add maple extract (or molasses) and powdered sugar, one cupful at a time, until frosting is thick and smooth.
  3. Yield: Frosting for 1 two layer cake.

A Low Glycemic Sugar

Organic coconut palm sugar is a nice option for those who would like a healthier choice. This unrefined sugar has a deep caramel flavor, similar to brown sugar. Made from fresh coconut tree sap, it is unrefined and low on the glycemic index, meaning it won´t give you such a "crash" as other sugars. It is also highly nutritious and contains both B vitamins and many minerals.

This sugar can be powdered in the blender just like turbinado or white sugars. Not just for frosting, this sugar can replace brown sugar 1:1 in any recipe. Of course, it´s still sugar and should be enjoyed in moderation.

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosted Chocolate Cupcakes
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosted Chocolate Cupcakes | Source

Refrigerator vs. Room Temperature Storage

Cream cheese frosting will firm up even more when stored in the refrigerator. If your cake is butter-based, allow it to return to room temperature before serving.

If the cake is oil-based, as are many carrot cakes, it is perfectly fine to serve a slice of cold cake. Oil-based cakes retain their soft texture, unlike butter cakes which solidify at lower temperatures.

Cream Cheese Frosting Variations

Add different spices and flavorings to vary cream cheese frosting. You can try ground cinnamon, citrus juice and zest and flavors/extracts such as almond, maple, orange, lemon, rum or bourbon.

You may also enjoy adding a little drained, crushed pineapple to your frosting. Just be sure to drain the pineapple well so it doesn´t thin the frosting. You can also stir flaked coconut into the frosting or sprinkle it over the top of the frosted cake. Another favorite is toasted pecans. Instead of mixing them into the frosting, try sprinkling them over the top so picky or allergic guests can scrape them off, if necessary.

Another unique option is to add a little espresso powder to the frosting. Dissolve 1/2 tablespoon of high quality espresso powder, such as Starbuck´s VIA Italian roast, in a little milk before adding it to the frosting. The bitterness of espresso powder nicely offsets the cloying sweetness of cream cheese frosting.

Candied ginger and marshmallow fluff are other nice additions. The seeds of one vanilla bean, scraped into the frosting, add delicate vanilla flavor and beautiful flecks to the frosting. Even Mexican spices such as a combination of ancho chile powder, cayenne and cinnamon can add a festive touch. Be creative and try different flavor combinations. Please see the chart below for specific measurements.

Cream Cheese Frosting Variations for Cakes

Cinco de Mayo Frosting
1 tsp
ancho chile pepper
1/8 tsp
1/2 tsp
ground cinnamon
Cinnamon Spice Frosting
1 tsp
ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp
White Chocolate Cream Cheese
8 ounces
white chocolate, melted & cooled
Marshmallow Fluff Cream Cheese
1 1/2 cups
marshmallow fluff
Tropical Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup
crushed & drained pineapple
1/2 cup
flaked coconut

"Crusting" Cream Cheese Frosting for Wedding Cakes

This cream cheese frosting "crusts" like good old-fashioned wedding cake frosting. Try to buy high ratio shortening which contains more fat and makes for a smoother, tastier frosting. This type of frosting is an especially good choice for 2 or 3 layer carrot cakes and is easy to smooth out and use for decorations.

  • 1/2 cup high ratio vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon white vanilla extract
  • 8 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Scrape the shortening, butter and cream cheese into a deep mixing bowl.
  2. With a stand or hand mixer, whip the fats until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Add vanilla extract, salt and powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating after each addition. Beat until smooth and spreadable.

Yield: Frosting for one 2-layer cake

Apple Spice Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Apple Spice Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting | Source

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