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This easy cream cheese buttercream frosting is tangy, sweet and perfectly balanced. The secret to the perfect flavor is lemon juice! Use this professional chef’s recipe for silky, smooth cream cheese buttercream to top cakes, pound cakes, or cookies.

cream cheese buttercream frosting in metal mixing bowl.

Look no further for the perfect tangy cream cheese buttercream frosting. As the Executive Pastry Chef in Manhattan restaurants this frosting is one of my most requested recipes! The other one is the carrot cake that beat Bobby Flay and these thick chocolate chip cookies.

The secret is the high ratio of cream cheese to powdered sugar and fresh squeezed lemon juice. It does make for a looser frosting at room temperature but the flavor is worth it! A quick chill in the refrigerator is all it needs to maintain its shape.  

Why This is the Best Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Tangy balanced flavor. The high ratio of cream cheese to butter and powdered sugar plus the fresh lemon juice make this the best cream cheese frosting! It is bright, tangy and not too sweet.
  • Silky smooth texture perfect for cakes. This frosting is the perfect addition to all the classic cakes like hummingbird cake, the best carrot cake, and red velvet cake. It is also exceptional on less traditional cakes like an easy one bowl chocolate cake or these peach cupcakes.
  • Versatile & easy to make. No complicated steps or ingredients are necessary in this frosting. It comes together in 10 minutes and can be use straight away.
red velvet cake sliced with bourbon cream cheese buttercream cake slices on pink plates.
Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream Closeup Featured
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Professional Tips for Making Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • The cream cheese and butter should be very soft. Not melty but soft. If either one is too cold then there will be lumps of cream cheese or lumps of butter. It doesn’t matter either way because a lumpy frosting is a lumpy frosting.
  • Use full-fat cream cheese (please). You can do anything, because it’s your kitchen, but please don’t use low-fat cream cheese. Don’t make me beg. It is buttercream and it’s going on cake! Just allow it this one thing: all the fat. Low-fat or whipped cream cheese will make a looser, less tangy buttercream.
  • Use for up to a 3-layer cake. For taller layer cakes, multi-tiered cakes or shaped cakes, use a combination of cream cheese frosting and Swiss meringue buttercream. Use the SMB as a dam and for the crumb coat, then fill the layers with cream cheese frosting and frost the outside. This gives you the perfect combination of structure and flavor.

Ingredients Needed

  • Cream Cheese: We already talked about it, so I won’t belabor the point again. Use full-fat brick-style cream cheese. I do prefer the texture and taste of Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Powdered Sugar: This isn’t typically necessary but if your powdered sugar is unusually lumpy, sift it into the butter cream cheese mixture.
  • Lemon Juice: Please use freshly squeezed lemon juice. The juice in the bottle tastes like my tears. Do you know what they use to keep it “fresh”? Me neither. Just squeeze the damn lemon.
  • Vanilla Extract

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.

carrot cake with swirled cream cheese buttercream.

Possible Variations

  • Change the flavor: Add cocoa powder to make chocolate cream cheese frosting or easy strawberry jam for a strawberry cream cheese frosting like I did for these red velvet cupcakes. You could also add bourbon or another alcohol like I did in my red velvet cake. Try cinnamon or a mix of spices like pumpkin spice recipe like I did with this pumpkin cake!
  • Add-ins for decoration: Add sprinkles for a funfetti frosting like on these funfetti cupcakes or try poppyseeds like on this lemon poppyseed cake! Use vanilla bean seeds or vanilla bean paste for an extra vanilla variation.
  • Make it thicker: Making it thicker will also change the flavor. You can make this frosting thicker by adding powdered sugar or a little cornstarch. I don’t recommend adding cornstarch to thicken frosting because it doesn’t taste nice. If you want a thick frosting for decorating cookies, try this cream cheese frosting for cookies instead.  
spiced cream cheese buttercream on pumpkin cupcake.
Pumpkin Spice Variation
red velvet cake sliced with bourbon cream cheese buttercream.
Bourbon Variation
strawberry cream cheese buttercream on red velvet cupcake piped with strawberry on top.
Strawberry Variation

How to Make Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting          

Use these instructions to make the silky smooth cream cheese frosting! Further details and measurements can be found in the recipe card below.

Step 1: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the softened butter and cream cheese. Beat well until smooth. You can also do this is a large bowl with a hand mixer.

How to Soften Cream Cheese & Butter

If you forgot (or didn’t have time) to soften your butter and/or cream cheese or if your room is too cold, then you can soften each one individually in a stand mixer.

  • Start with the butter and gently heat the outside of the bowl using a kitchen torch with the mixer on medium-high. Move the torch constantly and stop frequently to check and allow the temperature to even out.
  • Then remove the butter to a small bowl and add the cream cheese to the mixer bowl. Repeat.
  • Add the butter back to the bowl with the cream cheese and proceed with the recipe as written. Yes, you need to soften them separately or the cream cheese will melt before the butter softens.

Step 2: Add all the powdered sugar. If yours is lumpy, sift the sugar directly into the bowl.

If you decided to roll the dice on the lumps in your confectioner’s sugar, I support you. Sometimes a few stubborn lumps remain even after all the beating, and this is totally fine. Simply stop the mixer and press those lumps with the back of a spoon against the sides of the mixing bowl. It takes a little patience but it will work.

Step 3: Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract.

Chef Lindsey’s Recipe Tip

If it gets too warm, refrigerate it. Just pop the whole mixer bowl along with the buttercream and attachments in the fridge and give it an hour. Beat with paddle. Breathe.

How to use cream cheese frosting?

Frost a layer cake. Layer it between layers easy carrot cake, hummingbird cake, or red velvet cake.

unsliced swirled cake with cream cheese buttercream.
easy carrot cake slice with cream cheese frosting.
red velvet cake sliced with bourbon cream cheese buttercream marble cake stand.

Pipe it on cupcakes. This buttercream holds its shape when frosting cupcakes like these carrot cake cupcakes, chocolate caramel cupcakes, or red velvet cupcakes.

Spread it on top of a pound cake. Who said you can’t frost pound cake? Slather a good thick layer on my sour cream pound cake or red velvet pound cake.

Use it in a roulade: I use it in this carrot cake roll and my fabulous pumpkin roll. It is the perfect texture that remains soft even when refrigerated.

sliced pumpkin roll cream cheese filling.
carrot cake roll with cream cheese buttercream on wooden board.

Make the perfect sheet cake. This frosting would be delightful on top of my funfetti sheet cake or a Guinness chocolate cake!

Perfect for the Holidays! Try adding cinnamon to this cream cheese buttercream frosting for a pumpkin cake or plain with pumpkin cupcakes. It is also the perfect pairing with old fashioned gingerbread!

A fork filled with pumpkin cake from a plated slice.
spiced cream cheese buttercream on pumpkin cupcakes on cake stand.
gingerbread cake slice with cream cheese frosting blue plate.

Spread on cinnamon rolls. Use leftover cream cheese frosting to spread on my easy cinnamon rolls or these amazing sourdough cinnamon rolls!

Frequently Asked Questions

How to store cream cheese frosting?

Store cream cheese frosting in a clean, airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 2 months. To thaw frozen buttercream, refrigerate it overnight, allow it to sit at room temperature for several hours or place it in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. The friction will gradually warm it up.

Will the recipe multiply?

I have made this in an 80 quart commercial mixer, so the answer is you can make as large a batch as you’d like.

How to thicken cream cheese buttercream frosting?

One of the reasons this frosting is less sweet than every other recipe on the internet is because it uses less powdered sugar. Powdered sugar along with butter thicken this style of frosting just like in vanilla buttercream. You can add more powdered sugar to this frosting to make it thicker.

What is my cream cheese frosting not hardening?

It is important to note that cream cheese frosting will not set as hard as Swiss meringue buttercream or Italian meringue buttercream because of the amount of butter and the nature of meringue. An American buttercream like chocolate buttercream frosting will also set more firmly because it contains more butter and powdered sugar.

If your cream cheese buttercream still isn’t setting even after refrigeration, it could be because either the butter or the cream cheese got too soft. Using low-fat or whipped cream cheese will also make a loose frosting.

Does a cake with cream cheese buttercream frosting need to be refrigerated?

You can leave cake frosted with cream cheese frosting at room temperature for 2 hours safely. For longer storage, store in the refrigerator or wrap well and freeze.

If you tried this recipe and loved it please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it goes in the comments below. I love hearing from you; your comments make my day!

Cream Cheese Buttercream in mixing bowl
5 from 3 ratings

Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

This easy cream cheese buttercream frosting is tangy, sweet and perfectly balanced. The secret to the perfect flavor is lemon juice! Use this professional chef’s recipe for silky, smooth cream cheese buttercream to top cakes, pound cakes, or cookies.
Prep: 25 minutes
Total: 25 minutes
Servings: 24 Cupcakes



  • Cream together cream cheese, butter, and sugar until smooth.
  • Add lemon juice and extract. If it gets too warm, chill it. Just pop the whole bowl and attachments in the fridge and give it an hour.
  • Beat with a paddle.



This is enough buttercream to frost a 6 inch, 4 layer cake or generously frost an 9-inch two-layer cake. Or 24 cupcakes. I halved the recipe to frost this gingerbread cake.
Yield – 2 Quarts
Flavor Tips – Use fresh squeezed lemon juice.
Variations – Add cocoa powder, dehydrated strawberry powder, extracts or alcohol to change the flavor.
Storage – Store cream cheese frosting in a clean, airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 2 months.


Calories: 202kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 48mg | Sodium: 79mg | Potassium: 37mg | Fiber: 0.004g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 596IU | Vitamin C: 0.5mg | Calcium: 27mg | Iron: 0.04mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, Germany
Calories: 202
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Before You Go

I hope you enjoyed this professional chef tested recipe. Check out our other easy buttercream & frosting recipes or skip straight to the cake recipes!

Hi, I’m Chef Lindsey!

I am the baker, recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Chef Lindsey Farr. I believe in delicious homemade food and the power of dessert!

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