Dessert

34 Cream Cheese Recipes That Go Beyond Cheesecake

Plus, learn what exactly cream cheese is.

September  9, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

I often forget about cream cheese until I need it: A forlorn, toasted bagel begs for some schmear. A craving for cheesecake hits—and hits hard. A last-minute party demands a savory, creamy dip. Or it's someone's birthday who loves carrot cake (which, in my experience, actually means that they love cream cheese frosting). It's then that I search my fridge for the telltale foil-wrapped bricks, building blocks for any tangy, rich dish worth its salt (or sugar).

Recently, however, as I was putting cream cheese on the shopping list, I started wondering: what exactly is cream cheese, anyway? Is it cheese? How is cream involved? And why is it so dang delicious? So I decided to investigate—and rounded up a few (okay, 34) of my favorite ways to use cream cheese (both sweet and savory), in the process.


So, what is cream cheese?

Cream cheese is a soft, mild-tasting fresh cheese made from cow's milk, meaning it's unaged. To produce it, lactic acid bacteria is added to cream, causing the pH of the cream to decrease, driving the fat away from the liquid—in short, curdling it. At this point the mixture is heated, stabilizers (such as carob bean gum and carrageenan) added, and voila—you've got cream cheese.

Cream cheese is similar to Neufchâtel, a fresh French cheese also made of cow's milk, typically sold in the shape of a heart (aw). The main difference lies in the fat content: cream cheese traditionally contains cream, and thus has a higher fat content than its French counterpart, which is made only with milk. While they are quite similar in flavor, don't sub in Neufchâtel for cream cheese willy-nilly; the differing fat contents could cause some discrepancies.

Today, cream cheese is one of America's most widely-consumed cheeses—probably because its mild flavor means it's used in a myriad of sweet and savory applications. While most of us will pick up foil-wrapped blocks to use in spiced cheesecakes, creamy, savory dips, or to just to spread on toasted bagels, ambitious burgeoning cheesemakers may try to make their own. Regardless, now that you know what it is, use cream cheese to give a tangy richness to these 18 recipes—both sweet and savory.


Our Best Cream Cheese Recipes

1. Creamy Easy Cheesecake Cupcakes

No, not cake...cupcakes! These easy, individual cupcakes are a sweet twist on a classic cheesecake recipe. You’ll still find the buttery graham cracker crust and rich filling but with significantly less work for you.

2. New York Cheesecake With Sour Cherry Topping

Now that we’ve had our fun with a version of mini cheesecake, it’s time to get into the real deal. When you picture the perfect cheesecake, we bet it looks something like this--a sweetened cheesy top poured into a classic graham cracker crust.

3. Violette's Spinach Fillo

Cream cheese is often associated with two things: a sweet dessert or the ultimate bagel topping. But it has so many uses beyond those, especially when it comes to savory culinary applications. Here, it’s mixed with shredded Swiss cheese and chopped spinach for a French-style fillo.

4. Gran's Gifted Cheesecake

This cheesecake may not look much different on the outside, but it’s got just a little extra pizzazz to make it super special. A sprinkle of cinnamon and a touch of almond extract make the flavor of this cheesecake stand out.

5. Carrot Cake with Cardamom

Carrot cake without cream cheese frosting is like rain on the 4th of July. Kind of ruins the fun, right? Fear not! This perfectly spiced carrot cake is topped with the sweetest (but not too sweet) cream cheese frosting.

6. Lemony Cream Cheese Pancakes with Blueberries

Make batter better by adding cream cheese. Don’t believe us? Then maybe you should listen to our thousands of readers, who voted this their favorite pancake recipe of all time.

7. Cream Cheese Omelet With Everything Seasoning

An ounce of cream cheese is sprinkled into a classic three-egg omelet for a little extra creaminess that is sure to perk up your morning.

8. Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Biscoff Crust

A couple of easy ingredient swaps—Biscoff cookies for graham crackers and sweet, aromatic Meyer lemons—make this cheesecake recipe the one of the best you’ll ever try.

9. Bagel and Cream Cheese Strata

Inspired by the classic breakfast treat of bagels and a schmear of cream cheese, this all-American casserole calls for cubed stale bagels. They’re then layered with custard, thinly sliced lox, capers, chopped dill, and cubed cream cheese.

10. Butternut Squash & Spice Cheesecake

Come fall, we’re all about spiced flavors. Frankly, we’re all about spiced flavors before the leaves even change, but you get the idea. We’ve dressed up a cream cheese filling with a trio of warming spices—ground cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom—for the season.

11. Pomegranate + Lox Toast

This is the prettiest toast we’ve ever seen. Rye bread is topped with cream cheese, soft-boiled eggs, good-quality smoked salmon, pomegranate seeds, cucumber slices, a sprig of dill, and red onion.

12. Slab Shortcake with Roasted Rhubarb

A fun and creative twist on strawberry shortcakes, this slab pie has a buttery biscuit base and juicy rhubarb topping.

13. Jalapeño Cornbread

Your grandmother may scoff at the inclusion of cream cheese in our skillet cornbread, but believe us when we say it makes it so much better.

14. No-Bake Pistachio Mini Cheesecakes

Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or attending one as a guest, wow the crowd with these no-fuss, no-bake mini cheesecakes.

15. Chrissy Teigen's Everything Bagel Cream Cheese Breakfast Bake

For the ultimate savory breakfast bake, combine stale day-old everything bagels, tomatoes, a trio of cheeses, breakfast sausage, Dijon mustard, and a big ole block of cream cheese.

16. No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Skip the fussy water bath and complicated cooking process in favor of these no-bake cheesecake bars that are perfect for autumn.

17. Cream Cheese Banana Bread

Recipe developer Posie (Harwood) Brian found that the secret to moister-than-ever banana bread is four ounces of softened cream cheese.

18. Herby Chicken Burgers With Whipped Feta

Just a touch of cream cheese is incorporated with feta cheese and heavy whipping cream for a tangy secret sauce that upgrades burgers for dinner.

19. Buko Salad (Filipino Fruit Salad)

This is no ordinary fruit salad. It’s a genius way to dress up canned fruit cocktail, canned pineapple chunks, and shredded coconut. Mix it with cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk for a creamy spread.

20. Cookies n' Cream Scones

Store-bought shortbread cookies are ground into crumbs and mixed into this cookie dough, along with Oreo cookies and cream cheese, for a sugary sweet breakfast treat.

21. Cream Cheese Fruit Dip

“I don't think I'd be wrong in declaring that cream cheese makes everything more desirable. Whipped into an ethereally airy mass, sweetened lightly, and served alongside skewered fruit for dipping—I’m not sure there exists a most perfect, fun dessert out there,” writes recipe developer Renae E. Wilson.

22. Guava Cream Cheese Rugelach

Guava paste and cream cheese gives these rich rugelach a tropical spin that will make you immediately want to take a trip to the islands after your first bite.

23. Port Wine & Cheese Spread

Put together a wine and cheese tasting in the form of a crowd-friendly dip. Whip together shredded yellow cheese, cream cheese, Dijon mustard, port wine, toasted walnuts, a handful of herbs, and a little bit of butter for this cream cheese recipe.

24. Blue Cheese & Cherry Crostatas

“A whole-wheat, cream cheese–based dough pulls together this sweet-and-savory combo: funky blue cheese and whatever fruit catches your eye,” writes recipe developer and food editor Emma Laperruque.

25. Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing

We could talk for days about the olive oil cake alone, but today we’re here to focus on the maple cream cheese frosting, which gets a little extra sweetness from muscovado sugar.

26. Northwest Smoked Salmon Chowder

Our secret to ultra-creamy chowder? A few ounces of cream cheese (four to be exact), of course!

27. Rich Lemon Cake with Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

Two kinds of citrus—the juice and zest of both lemons and limes—are incorporated into the batter and frosting for this tropical cake. Don’t worry...the recipe calls for plenty of dark rum too.

28. New-School French Onion Dip

A traditional (aka old-school) onion dip usually calls for just sour cream, or just crème fraîché, but this combines sour cream and cream cheese for an absolutely fabulous twist on the classic party starter.

29. Cream Cheese Cookies

Cream cheese not only gives these four-ingredient cookies a little bit of tang, but it also makes them extra-chewy, extra-moist, and extra-delicious.

30. Cheesy Potato and Bacon "Brown Betty"

“A savory version of the classic apple dessert, Brown Betty, this recipe subs potatoes for apples—you’re gonna love it,” writes recipe developer Greg Henry.

31. The Perfect Cheese Ball

The perfect cheese ball doesn’t exist...oh wait, now it does! Cream cheese is mixed with prepared horseradish, three kinds of cheese, a trio of herbs, and a splash of vinegar. It’s the ultimate make-ahead appetizer for entertaining.

32. King Cake With Cream Cheese Dough

Celebrate Mardi Gras with our literal twist on a classic King Cake, which has cream cheese in both the dough and the confectioners’ sugar icing on top.

33. Lemon Bar Cheesecake

This dessert isn’t lemon bars nor is it cheesecake bars. It’s a cheesecake inspired by lemon bars! A combination of prepared lemon card and fresh lemon zest make each bite taste like pure sunshine.

34. Silver Palate's Thanksgiving Potatoes

Make your Thanksgiving feast better than ever this year with these silky mashed potatoes, which have three kinds of dairy: cream cheese, sour cream, and unsalted butter.

What's your favorite way to use cream cheese? Or do you just spread it on bagels and call it a day? Tell us below!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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8 Comments

Nancy September 9, 2021
Late addition. Artichoke spinach dip. The cream cheese is neither biggest nor dominant ingredient, but in making some recently I realized it's the one that pulls it all together. Serve with good things to dip. Also (non traditional) as a topping for baked potatoes or spread on a tomato sandwich.
 
Joan B. January 7, 2018
I've never been enamored of the texture of commercial cream cheese. The stabilizers put me off. It is possible to find cream cheese on the west coast that has no stabilizers, and of course if you make it yourself it will have no stabilizers. The texture is more crumbly, which the stabilizers are there to counteract I suppose, but which I find much more appealing. I've never tried baking with it but highly recommend seeking it out or making it just once to see if you prefer the real deal for spreading on bagels or whatever.
 
sgoyette January 2, 2018
Neufchâtel, as tge article you linked says, is similar to Brie, with a mild white rind. In France, cream cheese is "fromage à tartiner", or spreadable cheese. Neufchâtel that one sees in American stores is typically just lower fat cream cheese with a fancy name.
 
sgoyette January 2, 2018
I learned this the hard way making carrot cake with friends in France. They bought Neufchâtel - aged, like Brie. I cut out its heart and made frosting anyway.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. January 3, 2018
Interesting! Yes, I'd read that it could be sold very fresh (similar to cream cheese) or aged with a rind like Brie. I've never tried *actual* Neufchatel cheese, but am eager to do so!
 
Elizabeth January 2, 2018
Adding lactic acid bacteria causes the pH of the cream to decrease, not increase! Can't wait to try the butternut squash and spice cheesecake.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. January 3, 2018
Whoops! Correcting now.
 
AntoniaJames January 2, 2018
Berenbaum's pie crust recipe is terrific. I tried it for the first time over the holidays, strictly following the brief, for a lattice topped pear pie (fruit prep and baking methods adapted from recipes by Stella Parks and Kate McDermott, respectively). It was one of the best pies I've ever made - and I've made quite a few over the years!
Another great use for cream cheese is -- hold on -- mixed with butter and aromatics, either in the form of a traditional liptauer or this riff, what we call "anchovy cheese": https://food52.com/recipes/8098-anchovy-cheese ;o)