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May 3, 2010 02:09 PM

Why does my cream cheese frosting always go runny?

I am in the uk and despite being a competent baker, I cannot make make cream cheese frosting that doesn't turn into a gloopy, runny, un-pipable mess.

I nearly always end up pouring it over my layer cakes and letting it drip down the sides.

Can you tell me the exact components of american powdered sugar? ours is pure sugar with anti caking agent, I think american p. sugar has cornflour in it, is there anything else?

Just maddened by this today! Hope someone can help me solve the problem.

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  1. How are you making it? Recipe?

    11 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Doesn't seem to matter which recipe, I have tried with mostly cream cheese and a little butter beaten together, and I've tried half butter half cream cheese, and as soon as I add the icing sugar, it becomes impossible to work with.

      Do you think that american philly is different to uk philly cream cheese?

      Today I used this recipe - the cake was excellent btw!

      1. re: kookiegoddess

        Cream cheese icing is not be something you can pipe, imo. What you describe is what I always get with cream cheese frosting, soft and somewhat flowing; it's the nature of the beast. IIRC, the cream cheese in the UK is very similar to what we have in the States. The recipe you used also contained chevre, was there an improvement in the texture of the icing with that? I can't imagine there would be, as fresh chevre is a soft cheese, just an improvement in taste.

        Cream cheese icing is just not a firm, pipable icing, like a buttercream. I know this from experience, as I tried to pipe it onto a wedding cake one time, back in my youth; no good, bad idea. It doesn't ice well on layer cake sides either, and tends to slide downward. Chilling it before icing might help for icing cupcakes or a sheet cake, but the cream cheese/butter/sugar combo is softer than cream cheese alone. The cornstarch in the powdered (icing) sugar is not the issue. The issue is the sugar, it's hydroscopic, attracts water molecules and tends to melt when it comes in contact with moisture; that would be, the moisture in the cream cheese. Powdered sugar doesn't melt as much as granulated, but you'll always have soft icing. You can't really make a good cream cheese icing without the sugar as a sweetener, though. I suggest trying another icing if you want to pipe.

        American powdered (icing) sugar does indeed have cornstarch (cornflour) in it, although it's a very small percentage and functions as an anti-caking agent. From my box of Domino powdered sugar, "contains sugar and cornstarch."

        1. re: bushwickgirl

          If you cut back the sugar, cream cheese icing is not only pipeable, but in my opinion tastier (doesn't just taste like sugar). I throw in a wee bit of butter and salt, and whatever flavoring is appropriate. I use 1 c. sugar per one block cream cheese, and have had success using it on 3-D cakes that have traveled up to 1 hour by car.

          1. re: maxie

            I respect other opinions and experience but, from my experience I have found the icing to be unstable when placed on sides of cake layers or when used to pipe. I also have traveled with cream cheese iced cakes and didn't have a icing melting problem, but it's just not the best choice for finer, crisp, well defined piping without aggravation, imo. If you use too high ratio of butter to cream cheese to stiffen the icing, it will have a greasy mouth feel.

            Rose Levy Berunbaum, in the Cake Bible, has a formula for a white chocolate cream cheese icing and I stablized with whipped cream, it was highly pipeable, good for leaves, roses, etc. It doesn't have much of a white chocolate flavor, either.

            The OP used a recipe of 9 oz combined cream cheese and chevre, very little butter and one cup of sugar. I use a base recipe of 16 oz cream cheese, 8 oz butter and one cup of sugar, with flavoring. Here's a recipe link that claims it's good for piping, and contains an extraordinary amount of sugar:


            Perhaps the OP is buying "whipped" cream cheese, as we have it in the US, in the tub, which would be too soft. I'm not sure if cream cheese is sold in blocks in the UK.

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              That's the same recipe as the one I posted below. It has a pound of butter/cream cheese for the 2 cups of powdered sugar (vs 9 oz of cheese/cream/butter to 1 cup of sugar in the OP's recipe) so it isn't a higher ratio of fats to sugar. I think of cream cheese frosting as similar to american buttercream, only with cream cheese in place of some of the butter. I find both on the sweet side but have never felt a greasy mouthfeel from American buttercream, unless it uses shortening. Butter melts in my mouth. But, both pipe the same, possibly a bit more creamy w/ the cream cheese but roses, scrolls, etc. are the same. Refrigerating helps somewhat, if it gets soft.

              I do think the OP using a tub of cream cheese makes a difference. Even the non-whipped tub is too soft for frosting.

              1. re: chowser

                I don't even find American buttercreams to be so great for fine piping, plus they're usually too sweet. I stick with an Italian or Swiss buttercream for the best results.

                I was just generally commenting that the greasy mouthfeel thing will happen if the ratio is not balanced and contains too much butter or heaven forbid, vegetable shortening. I didn't think the OP's recipe had nowhere near enough butter, actually, otherwise our recipes are propotionately similar to the OP's, given the amounts of cream cheese and sugar. I think he/she should consider a different cream cheese icing recipe or another type of icing all together. Just my opinion.

              2. re: bushwickgirl

                I do agree that it really isn't good for flowers and detailed piping, but you can get out some nice basic stuff with it. The one I use has 8 oz. cream cheese, 1 stick butter, tsp vanilla, and 4 cups powdered sugar. It stays nice and stiff all day with no refrigeration.

                1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                  hi! I am living in a tropical country and I need to prioritize the stability of the buttercream of my cakes and cupcakes. It will be very nice of you if you will share how you do your cream cheese buttercream recipe :)

            2. re: bushwickgirl

              It is kind of sweet, but works well for transporting and holding its shape.

            3. re: kookiegoddess

              I think it depends on the recipe. Even the picture in the one you posted looks runny. I've piped cream cheese frosting, made leaves/ roses, etc. but you need a higher ratio of butter. The basic one I use is along these lines:


              You can tell in the picture that it's stiff and pipeable. You want the butter and cream cheese to sit about half an hour at room temperature but not too long. If it's too warm, you can refrigerate it to firm it up. Also, as maxie said, you want cream cheese in a block, not in a tub. That'll probably make a big difference.

              1. re: kookiegoddess

                Hello. Philly in the uk have changed their recipe (since making the sizes smaller too may I add). Since then ive never ever been able to get a firm whipped cream look either, just a gloopy mess. So you're not doing anything wrong Philadelphia has let us down (lol)

            4. I always bring cheese and butter to room temp and beat well.

              1. I think the cream cheese is somewhat different in UK. It should be thick and not runny before you add any thing. I think you want to use what you call icing sugar. I believe it is the same as what we call powdered sugar.
                Also as recipe says the cake must be cool. I could see this happening if your cc had a consistency of our sour cream or a double cream in UK.

                2 Replies
                1. re: celeryroot

                  Cream cheese comes in a tub and is firm like butter (not as hard as tho) when you get it out of the fridge. the mixture is usually thick and spreadable before I add the sugar. Cakes were totally cooled.

                  I am concerned with the change in texture as soon as I add the icing sugar.

                  1. re: kookiegoddess

                    I pipe mine , sometimes I put in bag and refridgerate for a short time. Also low fat does not work well and is much softer. Dont overbeat .

                2. I am not familiar with the UK cream cheese, but in the US I would always choose block over tub. If the tub is "spreadable" it likely has more water in it. You might also try cutting back on the sugar.

                  1. I've had this problem, but I think I've come to a solution: first, I always use cream cheese AND butter. Usually a 2:1 cream cheese/butter ratio. It's important to have the butter at room temperature and the cream cheese not too cold, but not quite room temperature.

                    First, I cream the butter *well* (no cream cheese yet) and add some of the sugar. THEN I add the cream cheese and the rest of the sugar.

                    Too, while it makes for a pretty sweet frosting, I find the more sugar (powdered) the better to hold its shape.

                    Still softer than buttercream w/o cream cheese. But better and definitely pipeable.
                    Hope that works...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jayaymeye

                      ok thanks for all these posts - but I am sure there must be a way to make pipeable cc frosting!!! I recently bought a cupcake from a shop near me and the frosting on it had been piped with a large star tip and it was light, fluffy, not unbearably sweet and you could still taste the cream cheese.

                      I have some royal icing sugar ( for making the icing for wedding cakes that sets very hard) and I have some fondant icing sugar (which sets lightly) - if I made it with either of these, do you think it would be firmer?

                      1. re: kookiegoddess

                        i think if you try the recipe link that chowser posted above, which is the same formula I use. You can get a reasonably good piping result with a large star tube, as is shown in the recipe link photo, if the icing is at a proper temperature, not warm. It won't be good for fine piping, but I already said that a few times... good for cupcakes or sheet cakes.

                        Royal icing sugar and fondant sugar in the US is powdered (icing sugar-UK) sugar. We refer to it alternately as powdered, confectioner's or 10-X sugar; this is the one you want for a nice smooth texture. So yes, you can use that sugar. I'm not clear whether the sugars you have for royal icing and fondant are different, but the powdered sugar is the one to chose.

                        Good luck with this, I hope it works out for you. Please post your results!

                      2. re: jayaymeye

                        I agree with the 2:1 ratio. I also find that more sugar is the key to a stiff and pipeable icing. Yes, it's sweet, but not overly so.