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Cream Cheese Icing Turned Runny

Asked by bubbleyin. Answered on 20th June 2011

Full question

I have tried with various recipes to make cream cheese icing, and each time, the icing has turned out too runny to 'frost' a cupake or carrot cake. I've tried using full fat cream cheese and the correct proportion of cream cheese to icing sugar, but still no success (e.g. 125g cream cheese, 250g icing sugar, 2 tsp lemon juice). I've tried using an electric mixer and by hand. Many thanks.

Our answer

Unfortunately occasionally cream cheese frosting does liquefy and this mainly comes from the liquid in the cream cheese mixing with the icing (confectioners') sugar and dissolving it, leading to a runny icing. Adding extra sugar will not correct the problem and will also lead to a frosting that is too sweet. You are correct to use full fat cream cheese as the reduced and low fat types contain more liquid (plus stabilizers) and will not work properly for a frosting. We would suggest reducing/omitting the lemon juice as this adds extra liquid - you could use finely grated lemon zest instead if you want to add a lemon flavour or a couple of drops of cider or white wine vinegar if you want some acid to cut through the sweetness of the frosting. Always add any extra liquid at the end.

There is a chance that the cream cheese was over beaten before the sugar was added, which can sometimes lead to the cheese partially melting and dissolving the sugar. You could try making the frosting in a food processor, putting the sugar and cheese in together and whizzing for about 1 minute, until the ingredients are just combined.

We would also suggest using a recipe which contains part butter and part cream cheese. This is usually a bit more stable since the butter adds slightly more fat and is less likely to dissolve the sugar. Nigella has a Buttery Cream Cheese Frosting recipe in Kitchen (p249) which uses equal quantities of butter and cream cheese - it is whizzed together in the food processor but you can make it with a regular electric mixer by briefly beating the butter until softened slightly then beating in the cream cheese until just combined. Finally beat in the icing sugar a little at a time.

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What 3 Others have said

  • Put a bit of cornflower into the cream cheese, not too much. Have a look at the recipe for Guinness Cake. They've updated the recipe, it never used to have cornflower in it.

    Posted by madm00se on 18th August 2018
  • This has happened to me many times and I have found two solutions. If possible try to source 'block' cream cheese which has a lower water content this is what most recipes are based on, whether they mention this fact or not! It's the most common kind in the USA. In the U.K. you can sometimes get it in Lidle or similar shops selling Eastern European produce. If you can't find any, decant a tub of cream cheese into a muslin and hang it for 20 minutes or so. A surprising amount of water drains off and what's left is much thicker and less likely to liquefy. If it's too late and your mix is already runny, you can add 50-100ml double cream and whip vigorously. The thickening cream starts to thicken the mixture - this can take a few minutes. Keep adding cream a glug at a time and whipping untilit thickens to a spreadable/pipable consistency. It doesn't alter the taste much and saves you throwing out your icing. For very large batches you'll need more cream to get the ratio right.

    Posted by Bakingmama on 31st March 2018
  • This will work every time: beat sugar and room temp butter FIRST until smooth and creamy, in a magimix or with a beater, and only then add COLD cream cheese until just mixed and your icing will not be runny. It does not have to be Philly, but full fat.

    Posted by BakerChica on 4th November 2017
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