Wondering what to do with that extra cream cheese that's been sitting in your fridge? Give it new life with these sweet and savory ideas that go beyond spreading it on a bagel.

Cream cheese isn’t only for your breakfast bagels and decadent cheesecakes. This soft, mild, tangy cheese is surprisingly versatile. If you don’t have any on hand, stock up on the affordable ingredient the next time you head to the supermarket, after learning about these clever cream cheese ideas from chefs around the country. Try to think ahead and leave cream cheese on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour prior to using it, as it spreads and blends easier at room temperature. (If you forget, you can always try one of these tips for speeding things up.)

Cream Cheese
Credit: Andy Lyons

Make a Super-Easy Appetizer

If you love Asian flavors, you’ll be a huge fan of this party pleaser, which comes together in a flash. Cut a block of cream cheese in half lengthwise so it resembles two sticks of butter, then add them to a bag filled with tamari or soy sauce, and let them marinate in the fridge for an hour, says chef Gabrielle Watson of Honey River Catering in Columbia, South Carolina. Remove the cream cheese from the bag and roll in sesame seeds, then garnish with chopped green onions and serve with crackers. Done! Of course, there's always the popular jalapeño jelly variation of this idea, where you just pour some jelly over a block of cream cheese and serve with crackers or other dippers. (It's not the most beautiful dish, so serve on your prettiest appetizer plate and/or sprinkle with fresh herbs.)

Thicken Up Pimento Cheese

Jennifer Hill Booker, a private chef and cookbook author in Atlanta, has a trick up her sleeve for pimento cheese: In addition to shredded extra-sharp and mild cheddar, she adds a block of cream cheese to her recipe. While it’s heaven on crackers or a sandwich, or even as a burger topping, this famous Southern spread shines when stuffed into deviled eggs, Booker says. Using cream cheese helps the spread to firm up well, making it stay put inside egg whites (and be totally picnic-worthy).

Strawberries and Cream Waffle Sandwiches with honey
Credit: Jason Donnelly

Spread on Sandwiches

Making sandwiches for a crowd? Prevent them from getting soggy while adding serious creaminess and tang by spreading the inside of each slice of bread with cream cheese instead of mayo before adding the rest of your ingredients. Chef Austin Orwasher, co-founder of Bennett’s Butter Co., is a huge fan of adding cream cheese to breakfast sandwiches, as well as tuna sandwiches for lunch.

Get Our Strawberry Cream Cheese Waffle Sandwich Recipe

Top a Pizza

Think you’ve tried every flavor combination out there when it comes to homemade pizza? Think again. You haven’t lived until you’ve made a pizza topped with cream cheese, says Drew Watson, chef/co-owner of Hops & Pie in Denver. His favorite recipe includes smoked brisket, jalapeños, pineapple, and cream cheese. Slice the block of cream cheese nice and thin, so it melts right into the pie. (By the way, we highly recommend making pizza on the grill.)

Add a Surprise to Cupcakes

Stir up a batch of your favorite cupcakes but don’t put them in the oven just yet. In a bowl, whip together a block of cream cheese with ½ cup sugar, one egg, and one egg yolk, says pastry chef Nicole Guini of Blackbird and Avec in Chicago. Then scoop your batter into a cupcake tin and drop a spoonful of the cream cheese mixture into each cupcake before baking. This creates a surprise cheesecake filling you can customize with add-ins, too, like flavor extracts or orange zest.

Make Next-Level Homemade Ice Cream

Adding a block of cream cheese to the mixture when making homemade ice cream gives it that stick-to-your-ribs quality that’s almost like frozen custard, says chef David Grillo of Cantina 76 in Columbia, South Carolina (which serves up incredible fried ice cream). Be sure you’re using a standard custard-style ice cream recipe in which you cook cream, eggs, and sugar; otherwise, it can leave your dessert too thick to scoop.

Replace Eggs in (Some) Baking

Fresh out of eggs and craving chocolate chip cookies? Believe it or not, cream cheese can actually replace eggs in some baking recipes, plus add amazing flavor and texture, says David Cáceres, co-owner/head baker at La Panadería in San Antonio. Substitute 1 tablespoon of cream cheese for each egg, keeping in mind that this hack works best in cookie recipes.

Enhance a Pot of Grits

Once you’ve made your favorite recipe for grits, take things up a notch by stirring in a block of cream cheese cut into cubes, right after you remove the pan from the heat. This results in an ultra-creamy, hearty dish that can hold its own but also tastes amazing with other Southern favorites like fried chicken or spicy shrimp, Grillo says.

Carrot Cake Recipe on a Silver Cake stand with a slice cut out. Carrot ribbons on top.
Credit: Waterbury Publications

Whip Up a Quick Frosting

You can mix cream cheese into fresh sweetened whipped cream, then use it to frost a cake. Since the cream cheese contains stabilizers, it holds texture so it won’t slide right off or melt, says Tracy Wilk, lead chef at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Likewise, an easy cream cheese frosting recipe can transform any baked good into a decadent dessert: Think pumpkin or lemon cupcakes and chocolate or banana cake (and while you’re at it, why not frost banana bread too?).

Make Our Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

If you’re wondering what to do with leftover cream cheese frosting, you can’t go wrong using it as a dip for salty pretzels, blending it into a milkshake, adding a spoonful to your morning oatmeal, tucking a dollop into a baked sweet potato, or swirling it onto fresh-baked cinnamon rolls; the list goes on.


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