Food Recipes

4-Ingredient Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting


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This vegan cream cheese frosting calls for only four ingredients, and it makes one small batch. It’s the perfect amount for a dozen cupcakes or a single-layer square snack cake! The frosting is tangy, sweet, and an ideal accompaniment to vegan carrot cake.

An overhead image of a squiggle of vegan cream cheese frosting, piped onto a flat white surface.

It’s springtime, the season of blossoming foliage, longer days, and gentler temperatures.

Green things are starting to pop up at the farmer’s market: snap peas, asparagus spears, fava beans, and shelling peas.

There are holy days to observe and celebrate within many different faiths and spiritual traditions.

Perhaps least importantly—yet very happily—it’s also carrot cake season.

I’ve said it many times before, but I’m always happy to declare: vegan cake is my all-time favorite dessert, and carrot cake is my all-time favorite cake!

No vegan carrot cake is complete without swirls of vegan cream cheese frosting.

Cream cheese frosting is also the perfect go-to frosting for any person who likes a frosted cake, yet finds traditional buttercream to be a little sickly sweet.

In that spirit, I’m sharing my favorite recipe for vegan cream cheese frosting. It has a perfect consistency for piping or spreading, it’s super easy to make, and it’s enough for one small batch.

If you need enough frosting for a layer cake or a large sheet-pan cake, don’t worry: the frosting recipe can be doubled or even tripled.

What is cream cheese frosting?

Most frosting that’s used for piping calls for a foundation of butter.

To the butter—or vegan butter, for a plant-based frosting recipe—one adds powdered sugar and any necessary add-ins, such as artificial color or flavor extracts.

Cream cheese frosting, on the other hand, uses a mix of butter and cream cheese as the creamy base.

The result of this change-up is frosting that’s a little less sweet than traditional buttercream. Because cream cheese is tangy, it adds some brightness and acidity to a potentially cloying icing.

I also find that cream cheese frosting, in spite of its rich consistency, has a lighter quality overall than buttercream.

For both of these reasons, and especially because I like acidic flavors, vegan cream cheese frosting is my number one choice for all of my frosted cakes and cupcakes.

A dairy-free spin on a dessert classic

To make cream cheese frosting vegan, it’s necessary to use two non-traditional, dairy-free alternatives: vegan butter and vegan cream cheese.

The best vegan butter for frosting

A number of different vegan butters will work well for the frosting. I’ve tested the recipe with all of the following:

  • Earth Balance
  • Miyoko’s Creamery
  • Country Crock
  • Om Sweet Home Non-Dairy Butter Alternative
  • For:A Butter
  • Wegmans

My feeling is that the butters with lower melting points are optimal. I’ve had the most stable and consistent results with Earth Balance and For:A.

However, I’ve yet to try a solid, commercial vegan butter that simply doesn’t work in the recipe.

If you use a vegan butter that seems to soften quickly in a warm-ish room, be aware of the fact that it will be best to prepare the frosting quickly and in cool conditions. That way, you can avoid a batch of overly soft or melting frosting.

Otherwise, you can use your favorite vegan butter brand here.

What type of cream cheese should I use?

Once again, I’ve tried to test and sample a range of options. I’ve made batches of this vegan cream cheese frosting with:

  • Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese
  • Kite Hill plain Cream Cheese Alternative
  • Violife Just Like Cream Cheese Original
  • Miyoko’s plain Plant Milk Cream Cheese

Among these, I have two clear favorites: Tofutti and Kite Hill.

The former has a nice, firm texture, and it’s a good option for those with nut allergies.

The latter, Kite Hill, is my favorite for flavor. Its tanginess is unmatched, which leads to a balanced frosting.

However, as with the choice of butter, I haven’t yet tested a vegan cream cheese that was a disaster or simply didn’t work in the recipe.

Be aware that both the butter and the cream cheese that you choose should be at room temperature before you make the frosting.

This doesn’t mean hot or practically melting! Aim for butter and cream cheese that are each solid, yet not cold.

The advantage of a small batch

Listen, I love frosting, but there are very few scenarios in which I need to have a ton of it on hand.

Specifically, I need a larger volume of frosting when I’m making a layer cake or a larger sheet pan cake.

The rest of the time, I tend to make simple snack cakes and batches of cupcakes. For those purposes, a modest amount of frosting really does the trick.

The vegan cream cheese frosting that I’m sharing today will give you enough for a dozen cupcakes or for icing an 8-inch / 20cm or 9-inch / 23cm square snack cake.

You can easily double the recipe for frosting a layer cake, such as my beloved vegan carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

How to make vegan cream cheese frosting

The steps for making this frosting are quite simple.

Before I describe them, I should note that I usually make this recipe in my stand mixer, but the recipe works well with a handheld mixer, too.

Here’s what you’ll do.

Step 1: Beat the butter and cream cheese

First, you’ll beat the butter and cream cheese together for 3 minutes, or until they’re very smooth and just becoming fluffy.

An overhead image of a white bowl, filled with butter and cream cheese. It rests on a white surface.
Vegan butter and cream cheese are the rich base of this plant-based frosting.

You should do this on medium low speed, regardless of the type of mixer that you’re using. If you use a stand mixer, be sure to use the paddle attachment for this job.

Step 2: Add confectioner’s sugar

Next, you’ll add two cups of confectioner’s sugar (aka powdered sugar) to the bowl. Mix the sugar together with the butter and cream cheese on low speed for two minutes.

Then, raise the speed to medium low and continue mixing for 2-3 minutes, or until the frosting is very smooth and light. Add your vanilla extract, then mix for 30 seconds more: just enough to incorporate the vanilla fully.

Step 3: Use or store

At this point, you can use the frosting immediately or store it for future use.

If you plan to frost a cake or cupcakes soon (within 2 hours), you can cover the frosting and leave it in on a countertop until you’re ready to use it. However, you should be sure that your room is relatively cool, so that the frosting doesn’t get overly soft.

If you’d like to use the frosting within a few days, you can transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to 1 week. Be sure to bring the frosting to room temperature before you work with it.

Finally, you can freeze the frosting for up to 8 weeks. Defrost it in the fridge overnight, then allow it to come to room temperature before you use it for decoration.

How to work with cream cheese frosting

This frosting works beautifully for swirls and spreading—I like to use a small, invert spatula for this—or for piping.

This blog post captures some of my favorite tips and tricks for getting comfortable with piping and cake decorating!

Which recipes would work well with the frosting?

To be honest, I love this cream cheese frosting with so many different cakes and cupcakes. But here are a few of the ones that I think it’s best suited for:

  • Vegan carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
  • Vegan carrot cake cupcakes
  • Pumpkin carrot cake
  • Cinnamon spice sheet cake
  • Vegan apple cider cupcakes

I’m sure that you’ll think of lots of great treats to adorn with this creamy, tasty frosting. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup vegan cream cheese (60 g; make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature)
  • 8 tablespoons vegan butter (112 g, or 1 stick; make sure the butter is at room temperature)
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar (230g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Place the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or place them into a large mixing bowl and use a hand mixer.
  • Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes, or until the butter and cream cheese are very smooth and well incorporated.
  • Stop the mixer and add the sugar to the bowl. Mix the frosting on low speed for 2 minutes, then raise the speed to medium low. Beat for another 2-3 minutes, or until the frosting is very smooth and a bit fluffy.
  • Add the vanilla extract to the bowl, then beat the frosting for another 30 seconds to incorporate the vanilla fully.
  • Use the frosting right away, or store it in the fridge for up to 1 week. Be sure to bring it to room temperature before using it for decoration.

Easter Sunday, which is a hopeful celebration, is tomorrow. For me, desserts and sweet things are always intertwined with the appreciation of life, and appreciation helps to sustain my hope.

So, here’s to moist and fluffy spring cakes as a celebration of life’s sweetness—and a wonderful frosting to adorn them! Hope you enjoy it.

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