Tufts of tangy, sweet cream cheese frosting are essential for covering classic desserts like carrot cake, red velvet cake, and hummingbird cake, and it's sometimes the upgrade you need to make a boxed mix of cupcakes feel luxurious. This homestyle frosting, made with just cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar, gets whipped until smooth and fluffy. After years of testing different cream cheese-to-butter ratios, I've found a ratio and mixing method that makes the perfect frosting every time.
The Ratio for Perfect Cream Cheese Frosting
The perfect cream cheese frosting consists of equal parts butter and cream cheese with enough powdered sugar to sweeten both into a whipped but still swirl-able frosting. It tastes distinctly tangy like its namesake cream cheese, but without reminding you of a bagel.
A one-to-one ratio of butter to cream cheese makes a cream cheese frosting that is easier to mix and more balanced in flavor. Don't worry — the frosting won't taste any less cream cheesy with the higher amount of butter. This higher butter-to-cream cheese ratio is what makes the frosting easier to spread.
Mixing Perfect Cream Cheese Frosting
For years, I mixed my cream cheese frosting like everyone else — beat the cream cheese first, then add the butter before incorporating the powdered sugar. Over-mixing the cream cheese often results in a cream cheese icing with a sticky mouthfeel. After accidentally discovering that beating the butter and then the cream cheese gave the cream cheese frosting a smoother finish, I've been using this method ever since. And there's good reason behind it. Both cream cheese and powdered sugar each have a little bit of added starch. When the frosting is over-mixed, the starches can bind, making a cream cheese frosting that is, well, gloppy and stiff.
Sifting the Powdered Sugar
Some cream cheese frostings call for sifting the powdered sugar before adding it to the mixing bowl, which eliminates any clumps and guarantees a perfectly smooth frosting. I'm not a big fan of sifting and instead whisk my powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl between measuring it out and adding it to the frosting mix. If your powdered sugar is older, tightly packed, or visibly lumpy, give it a sift before making your frosting to avoid any unwanted lumps.
How To Make Perfect Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 4 cups
What You Need
(2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
cream cheese, at room temperature
powdered sugar (about 4 1/2 cups)
Measuring cups and spoons
Electric hand or stand mixer
Beat the butter: Place the butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on medium speed until light and smooth, about 1 minute.
Add the cream cheese: Add the cream cheese and beat on medium speed until homogenous and light, about 3 minutes.
Gradually add the sugar: Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add 1 cup of the sugar, return to medium speed, and beat until incorporated. Repeat scraping and beating in the remaining powdered sugar 3 to 4 more times.
Add the vanilla and salt: Add the vanilla and salt.
Beat again: Beat the frosting again on medium speed until smooth and slightly increased in volume, 3 to 5 minutes.
Storage: If not using immediately, the cream cheese frosting can be refrigerated for up to 2 to 3 days in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature and then beat until smooth again before using.