Unveiling the Distinctions: Buttercream vs. Cream Cheese Frosting

Buttercream vs. Cream Cheese Frosting: Exploring the Differences

Buttercream and cream cheese frostings are two popular types of frostings used on various cakes and desserts. While they share some similarities, they also have distinct characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the key differences between buttercream and cream cheese frostings, including their ingredients, variations, texture, appearance, flavor, uses, and suitability for decorating.

Ingredients and Variations

Buttercream frosting, as the name implies, consists primarily of butter and powdered sugar. It is a simple yet delicious frosting that can be made in many variations. Some popular types of buttercream frosting include

  1. American Buttercream: This is the simplest variation, made with just two ingredients – butter and powdered sugar.
  2. French Buttercream: Rich and decadent, French buttercream incorporates cubed butter and egg yolks, along with sugar and water for a simple syrup.
  3. Italian Meringue Buttercream: This variation is ideal for warmer temperatures because it is more stable. It requires additional ingredients such as eggs, cream of tartar and water.
  4. Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Swiss meringue buttercream is made by cooking a sugar and egg mixture in a double boiler, then adding soft cubed butter.
  5. German buttercream: Less popular than other types, German buttercream requires making a custard or pudding base.

Cream cheese frosting, on the other hand, is considered a variation of buttercream frosting. It replaces some of the butter with cream cheese, which gives it a tangy flavor. There are two main varieties of cream cheese frosting:

  1. Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting: This variety combines both butter and cream cheese as the fat source.
  2. Plain Cream Cheese Frosting: This variation omits the butter and uses only cream cheese and powdered sugar.

Texture and Appearance

Both buttercream and cream cheese frostings have different textures. Plain buttercream frosting is thick, creamy and can appear slightly greasy or grainy if not mixed properly. It softens at warmer temperatures. Meringue buttercream frostings, such as Italian or Swiss, have a lighter and airier texture due to the incorporation of whipped egg whites.
Cream cheese frosting is also smooth and creamy when prepared correctly. However, its texture can be affected by room temperature and the temperature of the butter during preparation. When cream cheese frosting becomes warm, it can become runny, and mixing it with cold butter can result in a lumpy consistency.
Buttercream and cream cheese frostings have subtle differences in appearance. Plain buttercream frosting tends to be ivory in color due to the amount of butter used. However, buttercream variations that contain egg whites can appear white, while French buttercream has a yellowish hue due to the egg yolks.
Cream cheese frosting has a distinct white color that distinguishes it from buttercream frosting. However, it is important to note that the appearance of frostings can vary depending on the specific recipe and preparation technique.


The flavor profile is where buttercream and cream cheese frostings really differ. Buttercream frosting is rich and sweet, highlighting the buttery sweetness of the recipe. Cream cheese frosting, on the other hand, is not only sweet, but also tangy, thanks to the cream cheese component. This tanginess adds a unique dimension to the flavor and makes cream cheese frosting a favorite in certain recipes.

Uses and pairings

Buttercream frosting is incredibly versatile and widely used in a variety of desserts. It has a neutral taste, which makes it suitable for a wide range of recipes. It works well as a frosting for cakes, cupcakes and sheet cakes. Buttercream can be layered with different ingredients, such as fruit or jam, to create flavorful combinations. It can also be flavored with ingredients such as chocolate, peanut butter, lemon or caramel to enhance its flavor.
Cream cheese frosting, while also versatile, is often paired with specific desserts. It is a popular choice for carrot cake, red velvet cake, hummingbird cake and other cakes with moist sponges. Cream cheese frosting also complements pumpkin cookies, gingerbread, key lime pie, and various fruit-based baked goods. However, it is important not to overpower the other flavors of the dessert with the tang of the cream cheese frosting.

Suitability for decorating

When it comes to cake decorating, buttercream frosting is generally more appropriate than cream cheese frosting. Buttercream, especially Italian and Swiss meringue buttercream, is excellent for creating decorative elements on cakes. Plain American buttercream is soft and pipeable, but can become very soft at warm temperatures, making it more suitable for simple decorations.
While cream cheese frosting is not typically used for intricate decorations, it can be piped onto cupcakes or used as a filling between layers of cake. Its creamy texture makes it ideal for spreading or smoothing over the surface of a cake. However, due to its softer consistency, it may not hold intricate designs as well as buttercream frostings.

Bottom line

In summary, buttercream and cream cheese frostings are both delicious options for frosting cakes and desserts. The main differences lie in their ingredients, variations, texture, appearance, flavor, uses, and suitability for decorating. Buttercream frostings offer a range of variations, from simple American buttercream to more complex meringue-based frostings. Cream cheese frosting, a variation of buttercream, adds a savory dimension to the sweetness. Both types of frosting have their own unique qualities and are suitable for different types of desserts. Understanding the differences between buttercream and cream cheese frosting will help you choose the perfect frosting for your culinary creations.


What are the main differences between buttercream and cream cheese frosting?

The main differences are in ingredients and flavor. Buttercream frosting is made with butter and powdered sugar, while cream cheese frosting replaces some of the butter with cream cheese, resulting in a tangy flavor.

Can I use buttercream frosting and cream cheese frosting interchangeably?

While both frostings are delicious, they have different flavors and textures. Buttercream is sweeter and more versatile, suitable for a variety of desserts, while cream cheese frosting is tangy and often paired with specific cakes such as carrot cake and red velvet.

Are there different variations of buttercream and cream cheese frosting?

Yes, there are several variations of buttercream, such as American, French, Italian meringue, Swiss meringue, and German buttercream. Cream cheese frosting also has two common variations: cream cheese buttercream and plain cream cheese frosting.

Can I decorate cakes with both buttercream and cream cheese frosting?

Buttercream frosting is generally better for intricate cake decorations because it holds its shape better. Cream cheese frosting, while not ideal for intricate designs, can be piped onto cupcakes or used to spread and smooth over cakes.

How should I store desserts frosted with buttercream and cream cheese frosting?

Both frostings should be refrigerated due to their dairy content. However, buttercream frosting can withstand room temperature for a short period of time, while cream cheese frosting is more sensitive to heat and should be stored refrigerated.