Buttercream Vs Cream Cheese Frosting – What’s The Difference?

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Buttercream and cream cheese frostings are two of the simplest yet most delicious types of icing you can make for a variety of cakes and desserts. 

But what are the differences between buttercream and cream cheese frosting? The main difference is the ingredients used to make them. Simple buttercream is a combination of butter and confectioner’s sugar. In cream cheese frosting, some of the butter is replaced with cream cheese. Also, buttercream frosting is sweet while cream cheese frosting is tangy and sweet. 

Read on to learn more about the differences between buttercream and cream cheese frosting, including their variations, uses, texture, and appearance!

What Are The Different Types Of Frosting?

If you have a sweet tooth but are not much of a baker, you might not know all the different types of frosting!

But if you bake sweet treats and like making desserts, you surely do know that there are different types of frosting, made with varying ingredients and techniques.

So, what are the most popular types of frosting?

Frostings can be divided into a few broad categories:

  • Buttercream frosting
  • Whipped cream frosting 
  • Cooked frostings
  • Ganache 
  • Royal icing 
  • Glaze

What Are The Differences Between Buttercream And Cream Cheese Frosting?

As you can see, buttercream frosting is one of the main types of frosting. Cream cheese frosting, on the other hand, isn’t considered one.

This is because cream cheese frosting is considered to be a buttercream frosting variety, with cream cheese being used instead of butter as the main source of fat

Let’s learn more about buttercream and cream cheese frosting and what the differences between them are. 

What Is Buttercream Frosting?

Even if you don’t bake often, you surely have heard about buttercream frosting. Buttercream frosting is perhaps one of the most commonly used types of frosting. 

As it’s easy to guess by the name, the base ingredient of this frosting is butter, though this is not always the case.

Margarine or shortening may also be used as a source of fat to make buttercream frosting. Mix the butter with confectioner’s sugar and you get simple yet delicious buttercream frosting. 

What Is Cream Cheese Frosting?

Cream cheese frosting is another classic and easy-to-make frosting. As the name implies, the primary ingredient in this frosting is cream cheese.

It provides a unique tangy flavor in the frosting. So, you can tell always tell whenever there is cream cheese in a cake. 

Buttercream Vs Cream Cheese Frosting

Buttercream and cream cheese frosting have many similarities, but they are different in some aspects too. Let’s have a closer look at the two of our favorite frostings. 


As mentioned earlier in this article, buttercream frosting is a broad category of frostings. This cannot be said about cream cheese frosting as it may fall under the category of buttercream frosting. 

Here are some of the most popular types of buttercream frosting:

  • American buttercream. Known as American buttercream, this is the simplest buttercream variation. It can be made with only two ingredients: butter and powdered sugar. 
  • French buttercream. If you find regular buttercream to be rich, then French buttercream will be your absolute dream. It is the richest of the buttercreams. French buttercream is made with cubed butter and egg yolks. You will also need sugar and water to make simple syrup for French buttercream. 
  • Italian meringue buttercream. This buttercream variation is your best option for when you need the buttercream to withstand warmer temperatures. This stable meringue buttercream has a slightly more complicated preparation process and calls for a few other ingredients in addition to butter and sugar. You will need eggs, cream of tartar, and water. 
  • Swiss meringue buttercream. Swiss meringue buttercream implies using a different preparation technique. You will first need to cook a sugar and egg mixture in a double boiler. Then the mixture is whisked to achieve stiff peaks after which soft cubed butter is added to it. 
  • German buttercream. German buttercream is not as popular as the abovementioned types of buttercream frosting. It is less stable and more complicated to make. For German buttercream, you will first need to make custard or pudding for the base. 

As for the variations of cream cheese frosting, we may distinguish cream cheese buttercream frosting that contains both butter and cream cheese as a source of fat, and simple cream cheese frosting. The latter doesn’t contain any butter. 


Simple buttercream and cream cheese frosting are made of butter and powdered sugar, the only exception being the fact that to make cream cheese frosting you replace some of the butter with cream cheese.

You may leave out the butter and make cream cheese frosting using only cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar. 

You can also add vanilla extract and a pinch of salt to both buttercream and cream cheese frostings for a balanced flavor

Depending on the type of buttercream frosting you are making, you may need a few other ingredients, including eggs, granulated sugar, milk, custard, etc. 


When it comes to the preparation of simple buttercream frosting and cream cheese frosting, the process is very similar. 

You start with creaming the butter, or cream cheese and butter in the case of cream cheese frosting.

Then, you gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing until you reach a smooth consistency. You can add a few drops of vanilla extract at the end. 

The process of making other types of buttercream frosting, such as Swiss or Italian meringue buttercream, is very different from making simple buttercream or cream cheese buttercream frosting.

For these types of buttercream frosting, you need to use the stove, added ingredients, as well as control temperatures. 


Simple buttercream frosting and cream cheese frosting look quite similar. All frostings look similar at first sight. 

But if you look closer and you are a pro at making frostings, you will notice the slight differences between the appearance of buttercream and cream cheese frosting. 

Cream cheese frosting has a white color while simple buttercream frosting is ivory thanks to the amount of butter in it.

But buttercream varieties that contain egg whites are white too. It is the easiest of all to distinguish French buttercream. It’s yellow thanks to the egg yolks used to make it. 


When it comes to texture, simple buttercream frosting is thick and creamy. It can look greasy or be slightly grainy if you fail to mix it properly. And yet, it is quite soft and gets softer at warm temperatures.

Meringue buttercream frostings are airy in comparison to regular buttercream as they contain whipped egg whites. 

Cream cheese frosting is also smooth and creamy if you do everything right. Also, the texture of the cream cheese frosting depends on the room temperature and the temperature of butter at the time of making the frosting.

When the cream cheese frosting gets warm, it may become runny. And if you mix the cream cheese with cold butter, it may come out lumpy

The general characteristics both frostings share is richness and creaminess. 


One of the main differences between buttercream and cream cheese frosting is their flavors. 

Buttercream frosting is rich and sweet. Cream cheese frosting, on the other hand,  is not only sweet but also tangy

Uses And Pairings 

When it comes to pairings, buttercream frosting is certainly more versatile than cream cheese frosting. This is because buttercream has a neutral flavor while the tanginess of cream cheese frosting can be overpowering in certain recipes. 

Cream cheese frosting is a popular addition in carrot cakes, red velvet and hummingbird cakes, and many other cakes that have a moist sponge.

You can also use it for pumpkin cookies, gingerbread, key lime pie, and various fruit-based baked goods.

The key is to not overuse cream cheese so that it doesn’t overshadow other flavors in the dessert. 

As mentioned above, buttercream frosting has a wider range of uses. If you have just got into baking, it would be great to master buttercream frosting as you can use it for a range of desserts.

Buttercream frosting works for cakes, cupcakes, and sheet cakes

You can use buttercream frosting to make a classic white cake as well as go for bolder flavor combinations. From fruits to jams, you can layer buttercream in cakes with various ingredients. 

You can also make flavored buttercream. Chocolate, peanut butter, lemon, caramel buttercream frosting—these are only some of the flavor combinations you can create with buttercream!

Is Buttercream Or Cream Cheese Frosting Good For Decorating? 

Buttercream frosting works better for decorating cakes than cream cheese frosting. 

Buttercream frosting, especially Italian and Swiss meringue buttercream, works great for cake decorations.

Simple American buttercream is soft and pipeable. But as it gets very soft at warm temperatures, it’s best to use it for simple decorations. 

Cream cheese frosting is best as a layer in-between cake sponges, but you can pipe it on cupcakes too. 

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