Cream Cheese Buttercream for Cakes (thick + stable)

Cream cheese buttercream can be a cake decorator’s nightmare. Most I tried were frustratingly loose and runny; they never frosted smoothly and would squeeze out between cake layers during assembly. Twenty-two rounds of testing, and 4 months later, I came up with this cream cheese frosting recipe for layer cakes.

My cream cheese buttercream is thick, creamy, and tangy. Adding both meringue powder and milk powder helps stabilize the extra water in the cream cheese. This stable frosting supports the weight of multiple cake layers, frosts super smooth, and pipes intricate designs.

Raspberry red velvet cake (4 layers!) filled and frosted with cream cheese buttercream.

I’m happy to share with you my Butter Cream Cheese Frosting! This technique I’ve created is probably different than other cream cheese buttercreams you’ve seen, but it’s pretty awesome. You’ll be able to use cream cheese frosting for layer cakes with the same dependability you have with Swiss or Italian meringue buttercream.

Ingredients to make my Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Unsalted butter - contains the majority of the fat for this buttercream. The butterfat is the critical ingredient for structure and smooth-ability when building that layer of buttercream on the outside of our layer cakes. Use unsalted because cream cheese naturally contains salt in it already. Make sure the butter is chilled from the fridge (room temperature butter in this recipe will give a frosting too loose to work with.)
  • Dried milk powder (nonfat) - contains the milk solids from liquid milk without the water. This works by adding bulk to the cream cheese frosting. It may also work because it contains emulsifiers, which stabilize water and fat-based ingredients. (I’m still studying this, but if you’re curious, the molecule is casein, which is contained in milk and butter.)
  • Water - is used to rehydrate the dried milk powder. I tried this recipe without rehydrating the powder first - the milk powder would not dissolve properly and produced a grainy buttercream.
  • Cream cheese - is the flavor star of this buttercream and brings fat and water to this buttercream. This recipe can use either a block or a tub of cream cheese. You want to make sure it’s full-fat. The brands I have tested are:

    1. Lucerne; 
    2. Walmart’s Great Value; 
    3. Target’s Good and Gather; 
    4. Trader Joe’s; and 
    5. Philadelphia (both in block and tub form.)
  • Egg white powder (or Wilton’s meringue powder) - is liquid egg whites that have been dried to remove all the water. This creates a powder containing just the egg white proteins. These proteins give additional structure to the cream cheese so it can hold up better when incorporated into the butter.

    You can use either egg white powder or Wilton’s Meringue powder. (Meringue powder contains additional sugar and cornstarch but I’ve tested both - either works fine.) Click here to buy the egg white powder I use from Amazon.

    I often get asked if liquid egg whites can be substituted here - sadly, the answer is no. Liquid egg whites add extra water to the final buttercream. Using dried egg whites (or meringue powder) allows us to add only the egg white proteins without adding additional water.
  • Lemon juice - Do you ever wonder why cream cheese tastes so good? One of the main reasons is the acidity or tanginess in cream cheese that comes from lactic acid. Adding additional acid, such as citric acid in lemon juice, amplifies the yumminess. You don’t need much, and it won’t make the cream cheese frosting taste lemony.

How is this recipe different from other cream cheese frosting recipes?

My cream cheese buttercream frosting is different in texture, sweetness, and tanginess than others you’ve probably had.

Texture: the higher ratio of butter gives this buttercream a denser feel. It’s still very smooth and creamy but far less thick than American Buttercream. It’s most similar in texture to a French or Swiss meringue buttercream.

This frosting behaves very similarly to Swiss meringue buttercream. You can use a cake scraper to get super smooth and professional looking cakes.
This frosting excels in piping intricate designs. Check out this baker here who tagged me in her buttercream flowers (!!) using my recipe.

Sweetness: this frosting has a lower sugar content than most cream cheese frostings. Just to give you an idea, here are the sugar levels (in percentages) of Sugarologie frostings:

  • American Buttercream - 61%
  • American Cream Cheese Frosting* - 57%
  • Condensed Milk Buttercream - about 30%
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream - about 30%
  • Butter Cream Cheese Frosting** - 22%
  • Whipped Cream Frosting - 12%

*If you’re looking for a sweeter cream cheese frosting or something just a little easier to throw together, I have another frosting. It uses a simpler technique, but the tradeoff is that it is less stable. It’s great for simple cakes (no crumb coat etc.), my mini cakes, piping cupcakes, and topping cinnamon rolls and sugar cookies. Go to The Cakeculator, and choose “American Cream Cheese” under “Frosting.”

**This is the recipe you’re reading about right now

Tanginess: this buttercream also has a tad less tanginess due to a little less cream cheese. I tried to use as much cream cheese as possible to increase the flavor.

But there’s a limit to how much you can add - this is the main reason so many cream cheese frostings are runny. Cream cheese is about 55% water - so when you add lots of cream cheese, you’re adding a ton of water. Lots of water (combined with sugar) equals runny and loose frosting.

This recipe has the perfect ratio of cream cheese to butter to give enough stability to hold up layer cakes. Want more tanginess? Make sure to add that lemon juice to my recipe.

Does cream cheese frosting need to be refrigerated?

Per the USDA (US Food and Drug Administration), all cream cheese-containing desserts must be refrigerated within 2 hours.

However, this recipe cooks the cream cheese to 180°F /82°C. At that temperature, we are pasteurizing or killing off microbes contained in the cream cheese. For that reason, I’m comfortable keeping my cakes out with this frosting in my 73°F/ 22 °C home for up to 4-6 hours.

Please do what you are comfortable with (or what is required in your state/country). The great thing about cream cheese frosting is that it tastes pretty good even when a little chilled. I usually let my cakes (6 or 8-inch) sit out from the fridge for about 30 minutes to an hour before serving, so it’s the perfect temperature.

If you need to make this cake ahead of time, keep it in the fridge. The frosting will get firm, so even if you do any piping work, you can wrap the cake in saran wrap for a couple days to keep all the fridge smells out.

Can you freeze cream cheese frosting?

Yes, you can freeze this recipe.

It is an emulsion-based frosting, which means that it may seem broken when it comes back to room temperature. You’ll need to remix it on the stand mixer to get it back to the right consistency.

If you need help with this, check out my Swiss meringue buttercream videos. They guide you on how to freeze buttercreams and bring them to their smooth consistency for frosting. (Like this video on Swiss meringue buttercream for beginners on YouTube.)


How to make my cream cheese frosting

Step 1. Cut and chill the butter.

Cut unsalted butter into roughly inch sized chunks. Back into the fridge it goes.

Step 2. Make milk powder paste.

In a small bowl, rehydrate the milk powder with water.

Step 3. Mix the sugar + cream cheese.

In your stand mixer bowl, combine the cream cheese and sugar and mix for a couple minutes, then let it sit for another 5 minutes. This is what it looks like after sitting.

Step 4. Heat the cream cheese sugar mixture.

Cook atop a double boiler until it reaches 180F/82C.

Step 5. Add the egg white powder and milk powder and whisk.

Remove from heat and add egg white (or meringue) powder and milk paste. Mix for 5 minutes on high.

Step 6. Add butter.

Drop in those chilled butter cubes and mix to emulsify.

Step 7. Add lemon juice and smooth with paddle.

The whisk emulsifies really well, but it also adds air bubbles. Switching over to the paddle removes those air bubbles to create a smooth buttercream.

Here's what the finished buttercream looks like: creamy and thick and ready for those layer cakes!

Ok, ready for some yummy frosting? You can watch this video on putting it all together or check out my cream cheese buttercream recipe below:

IMPORTANT NOTE: You can perfectly replicate all my recipes using gram measurements. This is how I create and bake these recipes myself. For convenience, the Cakeculator converts to an estimated volume (cups, teaspoons, etc.). Still, it will not be as accurate as my gram measurements. Here is the scale I use daily.

Hi! I'm Adriana.

I built this site for the curious home baker. I'm a huge science + tech nerd; you'll feel right at home if you like exploring and experimenting in the kitchen too.

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