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.

This buttercream uses my Sugarologie Method for frostings, which means we need to make a syrup that is then emulsified into butter. It's the most difficult of all the cream cheese frostings I have on my site but I will teach you everything I know.

The payoff is worth the effort because if you need a frosting that is smooth, creamy, and has the stability of a  Swiss meringue buttercream this cream cheese frosting is for you.

If this is your first time making my style of frostings, be sure to read everything first before getting started. I’ve also included a 1 cup recipe in the card below if you want to try the frosting out before attempting a large quantity. This is a good idea to get the method down.

Also, the tradeoff for this frosting's stability is a slightly reduced cream cheese flavor. Some bakers love that it's not overly cream cheese flavored to balance it with other flavors in your cake. But if you're looking for a frosting that tastes predominantly of very sweet cream cheese, you can try this recipe here.

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 one with a *very* pronounced cream cheese flavor, 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 slightly less stable and has a granular feel from powdered sugar. It’s great for simple cakes (no crumb coat etc.), my mini cakes, piping cupcakes, and topping cinnamon rolls and sugar cookies. That recipe is right here.

**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.

Can you pipe or color this cream cheese frosting?

Yes, this frosting pipes wonderfully and accepts both gel (water-based) and oil-based food coloring.

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.)

Step-by-Step

Step 1. Cut/chill butter.

Cut cold, unsalted butter into roughly inch-sized chunks and place back into the fridge to keep cool.

Step 2. Hydrate milk powder.

In a small bowl, rehydrate the milk powder with water (2a). Stir until most of the milk lumps are dissolved (2b). Set aside.

Step 3. Set up double boiler.

Pour water into a pot and start the heat. You want it to be a nice simmer so the rising fog will heat the bottom of your mixing. Also, ensure that the bowl does not sit directly in the water but as close to the water's surface as possible. 

Step 4. Loosen cream cheese.

Add the cream cheese (cold is fine) and granulated sugar to your mixing bowl (4a). With the whisk attachment, mix on high speed for 5 minutes (4b). The mixture will be grainy but looser (4c).

Step 5. Heat cream cheese mixture.

After the water starts to simmer, place the mixing bowl atop the double boiler. With a spatula, stir periodically until the mixture reaches 180°F/82°C.

You’ll notice as the cream cheese heats up, it will go through various physical changes. At first, it will be thick, creamy, and won’t fall off the spatula easily (5a). Then it will loosen up (5b), and then turn more yellow and run off the spatula easily (5c). Once you reach the final temp carefully feel the mixture (it will be hot so use caution) (5d) and ensure there are no sugar granules left. If there are, you need to cook until those melt. 

Step 6. Add stabilizers.

Add the milk powder paste and egg white powder to the warm cream cheese mixture (6a). With the whisk attachment, mix on high speed for 5 minutes (6b). When done, the mixture will be cream colored and have the consistency of Elmer’s glue (6c).

Step 7. Emulsification of butter.

Grab your chilled butter from the fridge, and with the mixer on low speed (still with the whisk) drop in the chunks of butter one by one (7a). They won’t integrate immediately so you may see big chunks, but once all it has been added, turn the mixer up to high speed (7b). This step is variable timing-wise and will depend on air and ingredient temps, and the quantity of frosting. But what you will see is the butter melt, then the mixture starts to thicken, turn lighter in color, and have large air pockets (7c).

Step 8. Smooth and flavor.

Switch to the paddle attachment (8a). I’m using my flex-edge one, but you can use the standard metal one too. Smooth on low speed for one minute, adding the lemon juice here. The final frosting should be smooth and creamy, and slightly cream in color (8b).

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


If you need a video tutorial, I have one here demonstrating how to make this frosting from start to finish:

You can use my recipe card below or create your own using my Cakeculator:

The gives you the instructions for 3 different quantities of this cream cheese frosting.

You can create your own combination cake along with this frosting using my Cakeculator. Select any cake flavor, and any pan size (cakes or cupcakes or whatever) and then choose "ButterCream Cheese Frosting" for the Frosting flavor.

Try the Cakeculator here.

Important note with all my recipes:

Please consider using the gram measurements, which allow you to perfectly replicate all my cake and frosting recipes. Weighing is the most accurate way to bake, and I use it exclusively.

For American bakers, I have converted grams to estimated volumes (cups, teaspoons, etc.), which are not as accurate and may have awkward proportions, but they still work. 

To bake, I use the OXO scale every day. If you’re interested in other tools I use for my baking, I’ve compiled a list here.

Hi! I'm Adriana.

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