close up shot of cream cheese frosting in a bowl

This smooth and silky cream cheese frosting recipe is absolutely perfect for so many baked goods! From red velvet cookies to carrot cake, banana bread to funfetti cupcakes, you can use this simple, five-ingredient, homemade frosting on just about anything.

Homemade Cream Cheese Frosting

Guys, I have something to admit: I haven’t always been a fan of frosting.

I know. I KNOW. You’re like, “But you have so much frosting on your blog!” and you’re not wrong. But here’s the thing — when I was little, I was 100% that weird kid who pulled the frosting off of her cupcakes and ate them plain. I never asked for an end piece of cake, and sometimes I’d even scrape off what miniscule layer of frosting was spread on top of my slice. Me + frosting = not love at first bite.

But that all changed when I met cream cheese frosting.

Cream cheese frosting is so different — it’s smooth, silky and tangy. It’s sweet but not so much so that it makes your teeth hurt. It’s versatile, and it plays well with other flavors rather than overpowering them. And it’s the only frosting to this day that I could (and would) eat with a spoon.

That being said, even homemade cream cheese frosting has its quirks — which is why I’m dedicating this entire post today to my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe. Get ready to also fall in love with a frosting.

ingredients for cream cheese frosting flatlay

Best Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting

To make this magical frosting, you’ll need just five ingredients (+ salt!):

  • Full-fat BLOCK cream cheese. Please please please do not use cream cheese spread for this recipe, as it won’t give you a sturdy-enough frosting to use for your baked treats. And do not mess around with low-fat cream cheese here, either — we are making FROSTING, after all, so let’s go big or go home.
  • Unsalted butter. Make sure your butter (and cream cheese) are super-soft before mixing them together for this frosting so you can 100% avoid Lump City (no one wants to go to there). I let my ingredients sit on the counter for a good 2-4 hours in order to be sure they’re softened enough for this recipe.
  • Powdered sugar, sifted. Yes, please sift the powdered sugar! I know you want to skip this step (I usually do, too), but it’s imperative that you don’t so you can get that silky-smooth frosting you deserve. See the Recipe Notes on more details about this step.
  • Vanilla extract. Aka frosting’s friend that often gets overlooked but is actually an integral part of the group. Be a good friend and don’t forget the vanilla.
  • Lemon zest. This gives the frosting an extra oomph of tang and bite, really bringing those cream cheese flavors to the forefront.
  • Pinch of salt. Salt is also super important here, as it helps to bring out all the flavors in the frosting.

How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting

OK! Now that we’ve got all of our ingredients ready to go, let’s talk about how to make this frosting from scratch:

Time needed: 10 minutes

  1. Step One: Combine the cream cheese and butter.

    In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until the mixture is perfectly smooth and creamy.

  2. Step Two: Stir in the powdered sugar.

    Slowly stir the powdered sugar into the bowl with the cream cheese-butter mixture. Beat everything together until well-combined.

  3. Step Three: Add the vanilla, lemon zest and salt.

    Add the remaining ingredients and beat everything together until smooth, silky, light and creamy.

Now you’re ready to use this frosting on all the things (or just eat it out of the bowl with a spoon).

cream cheese frosting on carrot cake

Uses for Cream Cheese Frosting

Honestly, cream cheese frosting is one of the most versatile frostings out there. Because it isn’t as sweet as other frostings, you can use it on pretty much anything from breakfast to dessert. Here are a few recipes I love that use (or could use!) cream cheese frosting:

And, psst — there may or may not be a cake recipe on the blog soon that involves this very frosting! Stay tuned. 🙂

carrot cake on a plate

Tips and Tricks

In case I haven’t already made it abundantly clear, cream cheese frosting is one of the best and easiest frostings you can make, BUT — it also has its quirks. Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure you get the best results:

  • If you want to use cream cheese frosting to pipe onto cupcakes, I recommend refrigerating the frosting for 30-40 minutes so it holds its shape better. You still won’t get as sturdy of a frosting as you would with a classic buttercream, but it will be much easier to pipe on when its chilled.
  • If you want a slightly sturdier frosting for a layer cake, you can add up to 1/2 to 1 cup more powdered sugar to this recipe to give it more stability. That being said, I have frosted cakes with this exact recipe (no changes) and it works great.
  • Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl any time you add/mix in an ingredient. This is actually important for any recipe that is mixed in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, as some of the ingredients can get stuck to the sides/bottom of the bowl. Use a spatula to scrape those bits back into the mixture so everything is well-combined.
  • Store any baked goods that are frosted with cream cheese frosting in the refrigerator. Cream cheese frosting will get runny if you leave it out at room temperature for too long. Cover your frosted baked goods tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate them.

Friends, frosting lovers and fellow frosting skeptics — this cream cheese frosting is for you. May you henceforth enjoy every bite of your desserts, frosting and all.

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cream cheese frosting on carrot cake

Cream Cheese Frosting

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  • Author: Stephanie
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: About 4 cups 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Mix
  • Cuisine: American


Five ingredients are all you need to make this smooth and silky cream cheese frosting — perfect for cakes, cupcakes, cookies and more!


  • 1 lb (2 blocks) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons, or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted*
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • Pinch salt


  1. In a large bowl using an electric hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. 
  2. Reduce speed to low; gradually spoon in powdered sugar. Once powdered sugar is just incorporated, increase speed to medium-high and mix until frosting is light and silky, about 1 minute.
  3. Reduce speed to low; add vanilla, lemon zest and salt. Return speed to medium-high until ingredients are well-combined, about 10 seconds.
  4. Use frosting on cakes, cupcakes, cookies, quick breads, etc. Store leftover frosting in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.


  • *To sift powdered sugar, spoon and tap it through a fine-mesh strainer. If you don’t have a strainer, you can whisk the powdered sugar in a bowl until no large clumps remain.

More Recipes Using Cream Cheese!