Let me start this blog post by confessing: I absolutely loathe cream cheese.
I know, it’s controversial. But I’ve never liked the ‘cheesiness’ of cream cheese. Yes, it’s ridiculous and I should get over it but I haven’t and, in all honesty, I never will. I’m too old for that now – and that’s exactly why this post has come into existence.
Plagued by issues with substituting cream cheese in recipes – especially when baking – I simply needed the answer as to what on earth I could use in my cakes besides cream cheese. From carrot cake frosting to cheesecake bases and savoury dips, I found the answers, below, so you don’t have to.
Note: All the below are full fat varieties; reduced fat types will have stabilisers which split or go soggy when cooked with.
Cream cheese alternatives for cheesecake
1. Ricotta cheese
The best substitute for cream cheese in a cheesecake is ricotta cheese. Ricotta is a medium to low fat curd cheese which makes cheesecakes light and fluffy – ideal for baked cheesecakes. It also has the added benefit of being less calorific.
2. Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese is another healthy alternative to cream cheese when making a cheesecake. However, the texture is lumpier than smooth cream cheese, and this means you’ll need to substitute in some heavy cream, too.
3. Mascarpone cheese
While many cheesecakes do ask for mascarpone filling vs a cream cheese filling, it’s not always wise to sub in mascarpone over cream cheese when the recipe demands the former. That’s because mascarpone is far richer and fattier (mascarpone has around double the fat content of cream cheese) so your cheesecake could end up tasting very dense if made with mascarpone instead of cream cheese.
That being said, a dense cheesecake isn’t a dud cheesecake – but perhaps leave the mascarpone substitutions for unbaked cheesecakes as they are less reliant on a light and fluffy texture.
Cream cheese alternatives for icing/frosting
Buttercream is traditional for filling cakes, not topping them. Nonetheless, buttercream is a good alternative to cream cheese for frosting or icing – the finish just might not look as velvety. For me, it’s a store cupboard favourite.
2. Mascarpone cheese
The high fat content of mascarpone cheese works well for icing and frosting – especially for rich products like carrot cake and red velvet cake. Its naturally sweet taste and buttery texture help to bring out the sugary flavour profiles in your bake.
3. Greek yogurt
A much healthier alternative to cream cheese, greek yogurt can be whipped to create a velvety consistence not too dissimilar from its creamy cousin.
Yogurt is of course not as rich as cream cheese so doesn’t serve up that indulgent mouthfeel that is common of cream cheese frosting, but it does the job – and it doesn’t taste half bad! For best results, choose a full fat yogurt that’s been strained several times as it will be thicker.
Cream cheese alternatives for sauces/dips
1. Soured cream
Soured cream is the best substitute for cream cheese in dips and sauces for the simple fact it’s smooth and savoury-tasting. Soured cream’s tanginess mimics the flavour profile of cream cheese but has around 15% less fat. It also pairs beautifully with common dip ingredients, like herbs, onions, and tomatoes. Choose soured cream as your alternative for anything meaty too, like buffalo chicken dips.
2. Ricotta cheese
Ricotta has a much lower fat content than cream cheese, making dips with ricotta instead of cream cheese taste lighter and healthier. The only thing to consider is that ricotta is not as creamy (that’s due to the lower fat content) which means it works best in dips or sauces with bold complementary flavours and textures.
3. Cottage cheese
A Weight Watchers staple, cottage cheese is great for creating healthy dip alternatives – especially dips with a heavy emphasis on garlic.
Lots of people use cottage cheese in plain dips where the base is simply cottage cheese, salt, and garlic as the flavour of the cottage cheese is pretty light and won’t hold well in heavy bases like meat or tomato dips. Perfect served with crudites!
How to make your own cream cheese
If none of the cream cheese alternatives suit you, you can always make your own cream cheese with items already in your pantry.
The recipe for cream cheese is surprisingly simple:
- Heat whole milk in a saucepan until it boils.
- Then turn off the heat and add lemon juice. This will curdle the milk (and for once, curdling is exactly what you want! It looks gross at this stage, but persevere).
- After a few minutes, pour the curds through a cheesecloth.
- Rinse the curds and then squeeze to remove all remaining whey.
- Blitz the curds in a food processor and add salt until the texture is creamy and lump-free.
And that’s all there is to it!