A super easy cream cheese frosting made with spreadable cream cheese!
Cream cheese frosting is a standard accompaniment to many classic cakes. Most people find it synonymous with carrot cake or red velvet, and it is just generally a very useful icing to keep in any baking repertoire. My version below is a super simple cream cheese frosting, conveniently making use of spreadable cream cheese.
Cream Cheese in the UK versus the USA
Frustratingly, as an American in Britain, cream cheese frosting is one of the recipes most often lost in translation. This comes down to fundamental differences in ingredient availability. In the US, you can regularly buy blocks of cream cheese, separate from the spreadable tub versions. These blocks are typically considerably stiffer than their spreadable counterpart mainly because they contain a higher fat content. In the US, recipes including cream cheese will call for the baker to leave the blocks out to soften, treating them similar to butter.
In the UK, you can usually only find cream cheese in tubs as a spreadable soft cheese. This is even the case for brands that cross the Atlantic such as Philadelphia. This version of cream cheese has more liquid and less fat content.
The lack of the blocks is most likely down to customer demand. Recipes calling for cream cheese are usually American imports, so things like cheesecakes and red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting are a bit of a novelty. So the spreadable cream cheese is more than enough for the general grocery store's stock.
Spreadable Cream Cheese Frosting - Common Errors, Tips and Tricks
If you try to make an American recipe with British spreadable cream cheese, you will almost certainly end up with a mess. If you don't make amendments, the frosting will be runny and likely not cover the cake well. It will not be the nice thick creamy icing that you would be expecting based on the pictures!
There are some common errors you might make in trying to save your cream cheese frosting:
- Adding more powdered icing sugar
- Adding more cream cheese
The problem with the spreadable cream cheese is the fat content. Adding more powdered sugar or adding more cream cheese will not fix the ratio in your icing and won't stabilise the frosting. Trust me - I've tried this and learned the hard way. If you add more powdered sugar and/or cream cheese, this will dissolve together and only increase the runny mess.
Trying to Remove the Liquid
One workaround for using spreadable cream cheese in Britain is to drain this thoroughly. This can help as one of the chief problems is the excess liquid. Draining the cream cheese will reduce the liquid and in some recipes may work out.
There are various tutorials online that will instruct you to drain using muslin or cheesecloth. I tend to find it a bit cumbersome and difficult to drain the cheese thoroughly enough to resolve the problem entirely. But, especially if you're planning to cover your frosting with another topping such as shredded coconut, this may work for you.
The Best Tip for Fixing Runny Cream Cheese Frosting
The key to fixing a cream cheese frosting that is too runny because of the spreadable cream cheese is to use more butter. The butter will increase the fat ratio and will help to stabilise your icing where the icing sugar and cream cheese fails. Beating in softened butter should help to bring this back together. The problem with most American recipes is that the ratio needed may distort the rest of the recipe and may be difficult to incorporate well at the stage you realise there is a problem.
If you are going to use spreadable cream cheese, it is best to go forward with intention. Use a recipe that is explicitly intending for spreadable cream cheese to be used.
Making An Easy Cream Cheese Frosting with Spreadable Cream Cheese
The best way to resolve the issue of spreadable cream cheese is to essentially treat it like a flavouring to a buttercream and make a cream cheese buttercream. Due to the higher fat content in American cream cheese, it is just about a butter anyway!
Start off by beating softened unsalted butter until it is light and airy. Then add in sifted powdered icing sugar, just like you would for a basic buttercream. Beat this on low till well combined. Finally add in your cream cheese. There is no draining necessary here, but do avoid unnecessarily adding in the liquid. Any good cream cheese frosting will also have a touch of vanilla for flavour and balance. Beat on low until nice and creamy smooth.
The benefit of this style recipe means that you can also control the flavour of cream cheese a bit more - if you want a slightly stronger flavour, add in another half tablespoon or so of cream cheese. If you'd like to thin it out without more cream cheese, you can add a touch of milk.
The frosting below will be enough to top 12 cupcakes in a swirl of cream cheese frosting, as seen in my Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes. It is quite stable and easily pipeable.
Some FAQs for Easy Cream Cheese Frosting in the UK
Absolutely! You can double it, triple it or even halve it if needed. Frosting recipes based around buttercream are very easy to upscale or downscale as it is all based around ratios.
For this style of buttercream, adding more icing sugar should help to bring it back to a thicker texture. Generally it is harder to re-thicken an icing, so try to be moderate with adding any liquid-y additions or extra cream cheese. Add these slowly to ensure they are not making anything too runny for you!
For thinning a frosting, it depends a bit on your tastes. Adding a touch of milk (a teaspoon or two at a time) will help to thin out the icing. Alternatively, adding a bit more cream cheese can as well or adding flavouring.
Cream cheese frosting should generally be refrigerated until used. On a cake or cupcake, the below recipe can be kept out in a cool place for several hours without spoiling, but if you are planning to make this the day before it should be refrigerated overnight.
You can freeze this in an airtight container.
Cream Cheese Frosting with Spreadable Cream Cheese
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened at room temperature
- 1½ cup powdered sugar sifted
- 3 tablespoon spreadable cream cheese
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- In a medium bowl, beat your softened butter until lightly whipped.
- Add the sifted icing sugar and beat to combine. Once the mixture starts to come together, add the cream cheese and vanilla.
- Beat on a medium low setting until well combined and creamy. Now its ready to use.