Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and that means red velvet everything abounds!  In my opinion, red velvet just isn’t the same without a great cream cheese frosting.  (None of this seven minute frosting business, thank you very much.)  As it turns out, cream cheese frosting is one of the recipes I receive the most questions about, so I thought it would be a perfect topic to cover in Cupcake Basics.  The single most common issue people report is that their frosting doesn’t hold its shape and doesn’t look attractive when piped.  Thankfully, that problem is easily remedied with two simple strategies.

First, always use chilled cream cheese.  Most recipes will call for room temperature cream cheese, but that will lead to a wimpy, runny frosting.  No bueno.  Using cold cream cheese helps keep the frosting stiff and pretty.  Of course the cold cream cheese will require more mixing to get a nice smooth result, but that’s okay.  It’s worth the extra time or effort.  (Also if you have a stand mixer and don’t yet have a beater blade, please buy one at your earliest convenience.  You’ll thank me later.)

Second (and very random) – use clear vanilla extract.  In pretty much all other recipes I use my homemade vanilla extract, but for cream cheese frosting I have found that you get a much nicer result with imitation vanilla.  I stumbled upon this fact completely by accident, when imitation vanilla was all I had available and so I used it.  Normally the frosting would fall a bit when natural vanilla was added but not so with the clear stuff.  As a bonus, it keeps the color a brighter white rather than off-white.  I always keep it on hand now specifically for use in cream cheese frosting.

In the event that your cream cheese frosting is still softer than you might like, a quick chill in the refrigerator should help it firm up a bit.  The recipe below is just right for generously frosting two dozen cupcakes.  In addition to red velvet, I looove this frosting on my favorite chocolate cupcakes (pictured above).  The combination is dangerously good.


10 oz. cream cheese, chilled
6½ tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 tsp. clear vanilla extract


  • 01

    Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add in the confectioners’ sugar and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat 2-3 minutes more.  Blend in the vanilla.  Frost cakes, cupcakes, and more to your heart’s content!


  • RikiTikiTembo

    I never use anything other than your recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting – its far and away the best! I keep it printed and on the side of my fridge for ’emergencies’ :)

  • Kate

    Hi Annie – Love your blog! I’ve searched your site for tips on frosting cupcakes but haven’t found any. For example, how you get the frosting piped so nicely on your cupcakes – they look perfect! Would love to see a future post on some basic tips like that. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Gotta be honest, I don’t like cream cheese frosting BUT the Mr loves it so I’m thinking I could make it a great frosting for his favorite angel food cake!

  • Anonymous

    It’s on the long list of future post topics. Thanks for your patience!

  • Nice tip on the clear vanilla. Had always wondered why my frosting never “sat as pretty” as I’d like. Trying this! Thanks.

  • Cream cheese frosting is my absolute fave :) I use it on any cake or cupcake when possible. Delish!

  • Sami

    This was just in time for a major hospital bake sale. Thank you so much!

  • Ashlye

    “miracle frosting” or boiled milk frosting is superior to cream cheese as a red velvet topper (in my opinion). cook’s illustrated printed a recipe for “miracle frosting” last year or so (i think). if you are a member of their recipe database, it should be in there somewhere. my family has been frosting our red velvet cakes with this frosting for over 35 years!! i think everyone should at least try a red velvet cake or cupcake with this frosting at least once. be warned: it takes a strong mixer, a lot of patience, and a little luck as this frosting can be tricky!

  • Alice

    Great tips on cream cheese frosting – I love the stuff. I laughed out loud about the beater blade because I am such a big fan of mine! I can’t imagine not having it now – it makes life better :)

  • risa

    Like everyone else, I LOVE your blog… It is my go-to place for anything baking/cooking related. In fact, even when I want to try a recipe from somewhere else, I check here first to see if it’s been “Annie Approved.” :)

    And thank you for the tip about the beater blade… I’ve never heard of that before. I’m definitely going look up the one for the bowl-lift model. Do you always use it instead of the paddle attachment that came with the mixer? Or are there applications where it’s better to use the other one?

  • Ellie

    Thx annie! I was gonna make these for valentines day! Funny thing is that I didn’t think the frosting would turn out since last time it didn’t and now I know how!

  • Will it be a good idea to tint cream cheese frosting?

  • Anonymous

    Sure, you can tint it if you like.

  • Anonymous

    Risa, thanks for the kind words! I do use the Beater Blade 99% of the time. I typically only use the standard paddle if (a) the Beater Blade is dirty and I don’t feel like washing it or (b) occasionally in the initial stages of mixing a dough…though nowadays I use the dough hook from start to finish, so this happens even less.

  • Kirsten

    Hi Annie! Great post. Do you find that you need to continue to chill the cupcakes to keep the form after frosting? If so, how long before serving do you pull them out? Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Kirsten,
    I only chill the cupcakes for the sake of food safety if I’m not serving them that day, but not because the frosting needs chilled to keep its shape. It will look the same at room temp for quite a while as long as it’s made properly in the first place. Hope that helps!

  • Lauren Ochoa

    The boiled milk frosting is delicious…I’ve made it on a number of different cakes, especially a carrot cake that got rave reviews from everyone at work. I like to think that with cream cheese, boiled milk and Swiss miringue frosting, I have a strong database of frostings to choose from! Each one combines with all the different cake possibilities to create an endless array of choices. I love frosting…

  • Hi Annie, I love your blog sooooo much!! I too love Red Velvet, it is my favorite cake ever!! I had totally planned to make it on Valentine’s Day and totally splurge(off my WW points!) I am going to try your frosting and your recipe. In the past I used a recipe I’d gotten off of Food Network, Cakeman Raven’s Southern Red Velvet. Yours sounds really good, looks good too! The recipe is similar too. Thanks for putting out such quality recipes and beautiful photos!!!!

  • Anna

    Hi Annie!

    It looks like the proportions of cream cheese and vanilla in this recipe are slightly different from the cream cheese frosting recipe posted with your red velvet cupcakes. Do you find that this version has a better taste or consistency?

    Thanks so much for posting!

  • dek2711

    Annie how many days do you think cupcakes can be keep outside iced without refrigeration? Do u think cupcakes kept in the fridge taste the same as room temperature?I would think the cake would loose its softness/moisture…?Thanks for ur help!!

  • Anonymous

    No, this is actually the exact same recipe (proportion-wise). Enjoy!

  • I’ve had trouble freezing this; it’s perfect when I whip it up, but in the freezer it forms lumps (even with the clear vanilla extract). I’m not sure why. But this is an absolutely fantastic recipe, my favorite ever, hands down.

  • Dalia

    HI Annie, I was thinking to make strawberry cream cheese frosting by adding a few tsps of strawberry jam. Good idea or bad?

  • Anonymous

    If you add something like that, you will alter the consistency (and anyway, my personal opinion is that strawberry jam doesn’t add good strawberry flavor at all because it isn’t fresh-tasting). I prefer a strawberry swiss meringue buttercream – I have one posted with strawberry cupcakes.

  • Anonymous

    Please see the FAQ page.

  • Heidi

    I absolutely LOVE this frosting. It reminds me of cinnamon rolls… so rich and decadent! (I wonder if you have ever tried a recipe for cinnamon roll – type cupcakes that you could put this frosting on)
    I had never had red velvet cake before trying your recipe for cupcakes and I have to say, it is my new fave recipe… of everything I could ever have for a special treat… that’s it! Thank you so much!

  • i just wanted to send you a quick comment telling you how much i appreciate you and your blog. you have helped me with my backing and cooking so much and i am so thankful!! thank you again!!

  • Red velvet with cream cheese frosting is one of my favorites, but I’ve never used chilled cream cheese. Perfect excuse to make a batch of cupcakes and “test” it out. ;)

  • 2Charlot

    this may be an odd question but what type of cream cheese do you use? can you describe it, e.g. fat content? I’ve been trying to make cream cheese frosting various times, but it never worked. I’m wondering whether I’m simply buying the wrong dairy and what you name “cream cheese” is not what I buy as “cream cheese” in a German store. thank you!

  • Connie W.

    Love visiting your blog, pictures are always so beautiful and crisp. I most definitely need to check out the Beater Blade, I’m sure it’ll save a lot of time on scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

    Mmm my favorite frosting!

  • I love red velvet…only with cream cheese! I too have often wondered why the cream cheese icing is always so much softer…I just thought I wasn’t putting enough icing sugar in. Thanks for the help and recipe!

  • sweetsugarbelle

    Argh!!! I wish I’d seen this earlier! It’s a little late but I’m linking this to my latest post!!! Looks perfect.

  • Amanda Machin

    These are gorgeous! What frosting tip do you use?

  • Wendy

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! No more lumps!

  • Cindy

    AMEN to that beater blade for your kitchen aid mixer. Worth every penny. My paddle is not stainless steel……………..I don’t even use it………I can’t believe they dont’ make the paddle rust resistant. What a waste


    Yum! This frosting is delicious. I’ll have to look into getting the beater attachment and clear vanilla. I think Cook’s Illustrated did a taste test of various vanillas and imitation vanilla came out on top.

  • I enjoy this cupcake basics series! I would enjoy some basic frosting tutorials that include which tip to use when, and other useful tips for the BASICS (I enjoy the tutorials for fancier cupcakes, such as the Sesame St. characters, but I would be even more thrilled with something even more basic. I’m just getting started in this whole adventure. :)

  • Great post! This is my all-time favorite frosting. I apologize if you have answered this previously (I skimmed the comments on here and on your red velvet cupcake recipe and didn’t see this question), but I am wondering what your thoughts are on a chocolate cream cheese frosting. Have you tried to make one before? I’m trying to imagine what it would taste like and assume it would be good but am still a bit hesitant. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Yes, that is in the works. Just so many things to post, you know :)

  • Anonymous

    Well, my very favorite chocolate frosting does use cream cheese, but I don’t think it tastes super cream cheesy. I think if you did make a cream cheese frosting and added a lot of chocolate, it would affect the consistency, but I haven’t specifically tried to make a chocolate cream cheese version so I’m not sure. In any case, the one I love is posted on the triple chocolate cupcakes – it’s amazing!

  • Anonymous

    I would like to make cinnamon roll cupcakes eventually. They’re on my list to try :)

  • Anonymous

    I use Philadelphia brand. I don’t know anything about the exact fat content but you could probably find it by Googling. I hope you can find a suitable sub!

  • Thanks, Annie! I’ll have to try that one next time (sounds good regardless of how cream cheesy it tastes!). I made your red velvet cupcakes last night and filled them with cream cheese to take to my classmates for an early Valentine’s Day celebration.. everyone LOVED them!

  • Rikki1983

    I have a tough time getting my frosting to stiffen up. I followed your directions, and even left the icing in the fridge over night; but to no avail. What am I doing wrong?

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great question and I’m not sure what else to recommend. If your cream cheese was chilled, it should have been stiff from the get-go. If not, a chill overnight absolutely should have fixed it. Sorry!

  • Cluttercafe

    Hi Annie! Can you tell me what tip you used on those beautiful cupcakes?

  • annieseats

    I always list the tips with the specific post they came from. However, both of these used a large, unlabeled star tip.

  • Sarah

    Could the cream cheese be replaced with mascarpone cheese? I love the taste of tiramisu cream frosting and trying to replicate it on a cupcake.

  • annieseats

    Wait to see my post coming up this Friday – it involves mascarpone frosting!

  • Lala

    Im new to baking so can you tell me is it possible to dye this different colors? What product would i use for this?

  • annieseats

    Yes, you can tint it with icing gel colors.

  • Sara

    Hi I’m just wondering, instead of using vanilla extract could you use vanilla sugar?

  • annieseats

    I don’t generally use granulated sugar when making cream cheese frosting.

  • Xioely Moran

    Hi annie, I made a frosting recipe before getting this on your page and the ingredients are basically the same just in different amounts, and I am a very light cream that is dripping from cupcakes… there will be some way to remedy this? because I added more sugar and lost all the flavor of cream cheese and put more unctuous and too much sweet, and your sample is so firm that takes the shape of the nozzle! I hope you can help … Cheers

  • annieseats

    I’m not sure what to recommend other than to use the recipe listed here. The correct proportion of the various ingredients is key, and that is why I swear by this recipe. Good luck!

  • Xioely Moran

    Well I think that I’m gonna stir a little bit of milk and let it for cinnamon rolls aaaaand make your frosting recipe… thanks a lot!!

  • TiffanySue

    Hi Annie,

    After frosting the cupcakes are they OK to sit at room temp or should they stay chilled in the fridge?

  • annieseats

    Please see the FAQ page. Thanks!

  • Have you ever frosted two layer 8-inch cake with this recipe?

  • annieseats

    Not that I recall except underneath fondant.

  • Ah, does this recipe make enough to frost a cake?

  • annieseats

    I’m not sure since I’ve only used it in a thin layer, and I don’t remember the exact quantity I used (if I had to double the batch, etc.)

  • Ok! Well thanks all the same, and if I try it out, I’ll let you know if I had to double.

  • rose1

    Hello Annie,
    You noted to make sure to use chilled Cream Cheese for this frosting, but the times I have used chilled cream cheese my frosting curdled =/. I agree using room temp Cream Cheese leads to runny frosting as well ahhhh can you offer any tips??

  • annieseats

    The frosting wasn’t curdled, the cream cheese simply wasn’t beaten fully until totally smooth. You just need to beat it longer. Hope that helps!

  • rose1


  • This is my new go-to cream cheese frosting recipe! I’ve made a few different kinds in the past but this was the first time using the imitation vanilla. I was a bit aprehensive, but your recipes always come out amzing and this is no exception. I coupled it with a lemon bundt cake and the friends and family adored it! Thanks Annie!

  • Meetal

    Can I use granulated sugar instead of confectioner’s? I know I’d need to let it sit in the mixer longer for starters but wasn’t sure if you have any tips that let me use it.

  • annieseats

    You should really use confectioners’ sugar.

  • Meetal

    Thanks! I think I will stick to that for now then.

  • Meghan

    Does this frosting hold its shape without being refridgerated, say, when piped onto cupcakes? FAQ doesn’t address this (post-decorating). Thanks!

  • annieseats

    Please read the text of this post, this is addressed. Thanks!

  • I found your cream cheese frosting recipe this Christmas; my mother-in-law was frustrated with the recipe in her cookbook because she couldn’t pipe it onto cupcakes. A quick search led me here. She raved about this recipe/method the whole day & every time anyone ate a cupcake. Thank you for saving Christmas dessert for her!

    Also, the split picture of the cupcakes is not able to be pinned… thought
    that you might like to know.

  • annieseats

    Fixed that. Thanks!

  • Tiffany Sweeney

    Hi Annie, I love your blog!! I made your chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes for Valentines Day for my husband and 3 boys! It was such a hit!! They loved it. I wanted to ask you if you have ever put this icing inside a cupcake. I wanted to do a chocolate cupcake with a cream cheese inside and cream cheese icing. Kind of like a black bottom cupcake and not an actual black bottom.


  • annieseats

    I haven’t but I see no reason why you couldn’t. Though, my best advice for that is to pipe dollops of the frosting onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper and freeze them. Then you can easily pop them into the cake batter and not worry about it bubbling to the top/making a mess. (See the pumpkin cream cheese muffins for the general idea if you need more tips. Same general concept, though that suggests using a log and slicing, I now prefer the pipe and freeze method.)

  • Joellyn

    Is it possible for you to define chilled? I have mine in the fridge for overnight, and was thinking to just use them straight from the fridge tomorrow evening when I make the frosting..?

  • Anna Efthimiou

    Hi Annie, how many grams are the ingredients? I think pastry works better with scales, as cup sizes vary a lot and can totally mess a recipe! Thanks!

  • annieseats

    Please see the FAQ page regarding conversions. Thanks!

  • annieseats

    That’s what I do. Enjoy!


    Hello. I would like to know if I can make this frosting into different colors? Will it be ok to? And could u do a recipe on rainbow cake? Thank u so much. Love ur blog.

  • annieseats

    Sure, you could add icing gel colors to this. Enjoy!

  • Heather

    I love this recipe! By far it is the best I’ve made. If I’d like to make chocolate cream cheese frosting, should I add cocoa powder?

  • annieseats

    I’m not sure. You could try, but I’m not sure it would add a very good chocolate flavor. Adding actual chocolate would affect the consistency. Personally, I would just make this recipe ( instead of trying to alter a cream cheese frosting recipe.

  • Hi, this sounds exactly like what I need to make for a friends wedding. Just wondering whether you used usual cream cheese in block form or spreadable cream cheese in the tub? Thanks

  • annieseats

    Most recipes that call for cream cheese are referring to the block form, since that is pure cream cheese. The spreadable form in the tubs is not really meant for baking. Enjoy!

  • If you add 1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice this is also excellent on pumpkin cupcakes.