After the time and care it takes you to bake up a beautiful homemade cake or batch of soft sugar cookies, you may be tempted to pull out the tub of store-bought frosting lurking in the back of your cabinet. The problem with that high-fructose corn syrup-laden frosting is that its artificial flavor and coloring will ruin the deliciously decadent flavor of your freshly made cake.
It’s time to kick the tub to the curb and meet your new baking best friend: this oh-so-easy cream cheese frosting that’s ready in 10 minutes or less! We love cream cheese frosting because it’s a bit more tangy and less syrupy sweet than plain frosting. Because the frosting is made with simple, on-hand ingredients like cream cheese, butter, vanilla and confectioners’ sugar, you’ll be able to pronounce everything in the recipe. (What even is polysorbate 60? Yuck.) Plus, this quick and effortless cream cheese frosting can be stored in the fridge for later, so you’ll never be tempted to go store-bought again.
With the guidance of our Test Kitchen experts, here’s the step-by-step guide to the best frosting recipe ever.
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt, optional
3-3/4 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
Step 1: Prep the Ingredients
Let the cream cheese and butter soften if they’re hard from the fridge. (In a pinch? Try these tips to soften butter in a snap.) While they sit on the counter, measure out the rest of the ingredients. It’s important to have the ingredients ready to go for this recipe, since they all have to come together so quickly.
Test Kitchen tip: If you need a pure white frosting, use clear vanilla extract rather than a standard vanilla extract. (Ever tried homemade vanilla extract? It’s so good.)
Step 2: Just Beat It
Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt (if desired) in a large bowl. (I like to sprinkle the salt over the vanilla extract, so it dissolves into the liquid and blends into the frosting more smoothly.)
Keep beating until the mix is light and fluffy. It’ll already look a little bit like frosting, but will be thicker and glossier.
Test Kitchen tip: If your confectioners’ sugar is clumpy, sift it with a fine mesh sieve before adding it to the cream cheese mixture to prevent a lumpy frosting.
Step 3: Add the Sugar
Gradually beat the confectioners’ sugar into the mix. We usually add one cup at a time-you don’t want all that sugar to fly up into your face. (Don’t ask us how we know.)
Once you’ve added three cups, slow down a bit. Taste the frosting. Is it sweet enough? Is the texture firm but workable? If it’s not sweet enough or if it’s too thin, add more sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until it tastes good and the texture’s just right. If you add too much sugar and the frosting gets stiff, you can thin it out with a dash of milk.
Test Kitchen tip: While making the frosting, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula frequently, to make sure all of the ingredients are incorporated evenly.
Step 4: Frost
Ta-da! That’s it! You’ve just made cream cheese frosting from scratch. After you sample a few fingerfuls (for quality control purposes, of course), get frosting!
This recipe yields about 3 cups of cream cheese frosting, which is enough to cover a two-layer cake, a single-layer sheet cake or 2 dozen cupcakes.
After frosting, be sure to store your goods in the refrigerator until serving. Cream cheese and butter can get melty or even go bad if left at room temperature.
Test Kitchen tip: This frosting can be made and refrigerated so you can always have some on hand for desserts or a late night treat. Just bring it to room temperature and beat again to fluff it back up before using.
More Flavors to Try
This classic frosting is a great base for lots of flavors. Some of our favorites:
* Almond: Add a few drops of almond extract in place of (or along with) the vanilla.
* Lemon: Add a few drops of lemon extract in place of the vanilla.
* Peppermint: Add a few drops of peppermint extract or oil in place of the vanilla.
* Rum: Add a tablespoonful along with the vanilla.
Test Kitchen tip: Remember to start with less and add to taste.