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.
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.
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.
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:
*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.
Yes, this frosting pipes wonderfully and accepts both gel (water-based) and oil-based food coloring.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
For 1 cup:
For 3 cups:
For 4 1/2 cups:
Please try to use weights for this recipe. The volume measurements are close estimates, but the perfect recipe is in grams.
If the finished cream cheese frosting is overly soft, place it in the fridge for 5- 10 minutes to set the cream cheese a little. If you still find it too loose, you can add more softened butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it becomes a little easier to work with.
*The cream cheese brands that I’ve tested: Lucerne, Walmart’s Great Value, Target’s Good and Gather, Trader Joe’s, Philadelphia (block or tub). It does not matter whether you choose cream cheese that comes in a block or tub because we are stabilizing the cream cheese, no matter how much water it contains.
** The citric acid contained in lemon juice increases the acidity or “tanginess” of cream cheese without adding a lemon flavor. It’s delicious if you love a cream cheese flavor. You can sub vanilla extract, but it adds an extra flavor element on top of the cream cheese instead of enhancing it like lemon juice.