What to Eat With Cream Cheese (Beyond Bagels) and Yummy Recipes to Try

Think beyond the bagel and give new life to cream cheese with these sweet and savory recipe ideas.

Cream cheese isn't only for your breakfast bagels and decadent cheesecakes. This soft, mild, tangy cheese is surprisingly versatile. After learning what to eat with cream cheese from chefs around the country, you'll want to stock up on this affordable ingredient.

Think ahead and leave cream cheese on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour before 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
Andy Lyons

Make a Super-Easy Appetizer

If you love Asian flavors, you'll be a fan of this easy-to-make party pleaser from chef Gabrielle Watson of Honey River Catering in Columbia, South Carolina.

  1. Cut a block of cream cheese in half lengthwise to resemble two sticks of butter.
  2. Add cream cheese to a bag filled with tamari or soy sauce, and let marinate in the fridge for an hour.
  3. Remove the cream cheese from the bag and roll in sesame seeds, then garnish with chopped green onions and serve with crackers.

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
Jason Donnelly

Spread on Sandwiches

Making sandwiches for a crowd? Avoid them 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, the co-founder of Bennett's Butter Co., is a huge fan of adding cream cheese to breakfast sandwiches and tuna sandwiches for lunch.

Top a Pizza

You may not think of homemade pizza as what to eat with cream cheese but 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 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, like flavor extracts or orange zest.

Make Next-Level Homemade Ice Cream

Add a block of cream cheese to the mixture when making homemade ice cream. It gives it that stick-to-your-ribs quality like frozen custard, says chef David Grillo, who makes incredible fried ice cream at Cantina 76 in Columbia, South Carolina. 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? Cream cheese can replace eggs in some baking recipes, says David Cáceres, co-owner/head baker at La Panadería in San Antonio. It adds excellent flavor and texture. Substitute 1 tablespoon of cream cheese for each egg.

Note: 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. Grillo says that made this way, grits tastes fantastic with other Southern favorites like fried chicken or spicy shrimp.

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

Whip Up a Quick Frosting

You can mix cream cheese into fresh sweetened whipped cream, then use it to frost a cake. The stabilizers in the cream cheese help hold texture so frosting 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. For example, try cream cheese frosting on pumpkin or lemon cupcakes and chocolate or banana cake (and while you're at it, why not frost banana bread, too?).

IIf 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.

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