Chefs share the best and worst dishes to make with cream cheese

Sophia Mitrokostas
cream cheese brownies cheesecake brownies
Cream cheese can elevate brownies. Shutterstock
  • Insider asked chefs about their favorite ways to cook and bake with cream cheese, plus the dishes they'd never use it in. 

  • They suggested adding cream cheese to macaroni and cheese or mashed cauliflower for extra richness.

  • Cream cheese can also upgrade macaroni and cheese or be the star of a frosting.  

  • Chefs said cream cheese won't add much to Alfredo sauce or lasagna. 

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Cream cheese is soft cheese that's at least 33% milk fat, and it's good for much more than spreading on bagels.

Read on for some of the best (and worst) things to make with cream cheese, according to chefs.

Cream cheese can add body to macaroni and cheese.

mac and cheese
Cream cheese can be added to boxed mac and cheese, too. Igor Dutina/Shutterstock

Jessica Randhawa, head chef and recipe creator at The Forked Spoon, told Insider that she recommends using cream cheese in macaroni and cheese sauce. 

"Homemade macaroni and cheese with cream cheese is perfect as a side dish or a last-minute dinner," said Randhawa.

You can also use cream cheese to upgrade boxed macaroni and cheese by adding a tablespoon of warmed cream cheese to the prepared pasta dish. 

Cream-cheese frosting is an easy way to dress up desserts.

baking spreading whipped cream cheese  glass pan
Cream-cheese frosting pairs well with a range of cake flavors. SingerGM / Shutterstock

Making cream-cheese frosting only requires four ingredients and a whisk. 

"Cream-cheese frosting is my favorite kind of frosting," said Randhawa. "All you need to do is blend cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar."

Frosting made with cream cheese pairs well with carrot cake and red velvet cake.

 

Use it to make tangy and rich homemade ice cream

scooping ice cream
Cream cheese can improve the texture of homemade ice cream. Eva Orlova/Shutterstock

Chef and food blogger Lindsay Ash of Starfish in the Kitchen told Insider that one of her favorite ways to use cream cheese is in homemade ice cream. 

"If you use an egg-based custard, you risk curdling your recipe," said Ash. "Using cream cheese instead adds a luxurious texture, rich mouthfeel, and complex tang that makes for the perfect ice cream."

Cream cheese can make brownies look and taste even better.

cream cheese brownies cheesecake brownies
Cream cheese can add a cheesecake flavor to your brownies. Ika Rahma H/Shutterstock

Try swirling cream cheese into brownies for a dose of decadent flavor and visual interest. 

"Cream cheese can add a rich, creamy element to baked goods like brownies," said Ash. "It even pairs well with sweet quick breads, like pumpkin bread." 

To add cream cheese to brownies, sweeten the cheese to taste and then swirl a helping into a pan filled with brownie batter. Be careful not to overmix the batter and cheese. 

Use it to add flavor to mashed cauliflower.

Mashed cauliflower with oil
Mashed cauliflower can be served as a side dish. Julia Mikhaylova/Shutterstock

If you've sworn off mashed cauliflower because of its sometimes watery texture and bland flavor, adding cream cheese could help.

"Cream cheese adds so much more body and flavor to mashed cauliflower than milk or cream," said Ash. "You get a more velvety finished product."

For extra pizzazz, try adding flavored cream cheese or creating your own with smoked salt, roasted garlic, or chopped chives. 

Drizzle cinnamon rolls with cream-cheese icing.

Ann Sather cinnamon rolls
Cinnamon rolls can become even sweeter with a cream-cheese icing. Shirley Cheng/Business Insider, Clancy Morgan/Business Insider

Carolyn Truett, chef and recipe creator for Caramel and Cashews, told Insider that she likes using cream cheese to make icing for cinnamon rolls. 

"I use equal parts butter and cream cheese, plus powdered sugar to taste, for a slightly tangy, perfect cinnamon-roll icing," said Truett. 

If you're having trouble mixing the icing by hand, warm the cream cheese slightly in the microwave to make the blending process easier. 

 

Make your own flavored cream cheese.

cream cheese bread
Flavored cream cheese can elevate a piece of toast. Shutterstock

You can easily make your own flavored cream cheese at home by adding herbs, spices, and chopped ingredients to it. 

"Just beat the cream cheese with a few of your favorite flavors using a hand whisk or powered whisk," said Truett, who added that she likes blending her cream cheese with maple syrup and walnut pieces, or lemon and dill.

 

Cream cheese works well in creme patisserie.

chocolate eclairs
You can use creme patisserie to fill chocolate eclairs. Shutterstock

Creme patisserie is the light, sweet cream filling often used in desserts like eclairs, layer cakes, cream puffs, and fruit tarts.

Shaun Davis, executive pastry chef at Cotton Blues Kitchen + Marketplace, told Insider that cream cheese pairs surprisingly well with this delicate whipped filling. 

"Melting a knob of cream cheese into creme patisserie at the end of the cook time for even more creaminess," said Davis. 

Alfredo sauce shouldn't be made with cream cheese.

Using the wrong shape of pasta for your sauce
Use more parmesan instead of adding cream cheese to your sauce. Crystal Kirk/ Shutterstock

Using cream cheese to add body to alfredo sauce sounds good in theory, but Ash explained that it can overpower the flavor of parmesan in the sauce. 

"This is one of those internet tips that doesn't work in real life," said Ash. "Alfredo is all about parmesan flavor and adding cream cheese messes with that."

If you're looking to add more cheese flavor to Alfredo sauce, you're better off simply adding more parmesan. 

You may want to avoid using it in casseroles.

casserole
Cream cheese won't really add much flavor to a casserole. wsmahar/iStock

Cream cheese can add richness to dishes, but the soft texture can make baked casseroles soggy and bland. 

"My least favorite way to use cream cheese is in casseroles," said Truett. "You can make a delicious casserole without a brick of cream cheese, which can be too soft and mild for good flavor and texture."

Try using sharper, harder cheeses like cheddar or parmesan in casseroles that call for a cheesy flavor. 

Sushi and cream cheese may not pair well.

sushi cream cheese chopsticks
Cream cheese doesn't pair well with all types of sushi. Shutterstock

Randhawa told Insider that even though some people like to add cream cheese to sushi, she doesn't think the flavor and texture of the soft cheese complements sushi rolls. 

"Easily the worst thing to make with cream cheese is sushi," said Randhawa. "Rice and cream cheese simply don't work together in my professional opinion."

If you're looking to add some extra creaminess to your sushi roll, consider using chopped avocado instead.

Lasagna would benefit from something else.

lasagna melted cheese
Consider adding parmesan to lasagna instead. Shutterstock

Lasagna filling is traditionally made with soft ricotta cheese. But Davis said he doesn't think that cream cheese makes a good substitute for ricotta. 

"Some people like putting cream cheese in their lasagna, but I find it doesn't lend good texture or flavor," said Davis. 

 

Try swapping cream cheese for another spread in pinwheel sandwiches.

spinach feta sandwich pinwheels
Spice up your pinwheels by using spreadable cheese instead. Shutterstock

A popular appetizer, pinwheel sandwiches are created by wrapping deli ingredients in a tortilla and slicing the roll into segments. 

"Sandwich pinwheels with cream cheese don't taste as good as pinwheel sandwiches made with other types of sauces," said Randhawa. 

You can use mayonnaise, flavored spreads, or melted cheese to add flavor to pinwheel sandwiches instead. 

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