Uh Oh, Can't Find Any Cream Cheese? Consider These Substitutes for Your Recipes
"Uh oh, there was no cream cheese at the store. Now what?" That's what many of us are asking these days when facing emptied sections of the dairy case. This is not a great time for a popular ingredient to be in short or sporadic supply, especially when we're ready to prepare our favorite holiday dishes that rely on the stuff. Don't despair; there are good substitutions we can use in many of our recipes.
The wise starting point for figuring out whether another product will do is to look at its website for recipes similar to the one you want to make. If you see nothing that comes close, there's probably a good reason. Substitutions can save the day, but we must be honest with ourselves. Only the real thing will do in certain baked recipes, and we're asking for trouble if we try something that is simply too different. If tried-and-true cream cheese blocks are essential to the success of your special signature holiday cheesecake or pound cake, this is the year to pivot to another dessert. Otherwise, give one of these options a go.
Substitute Neufchatel for Cream Cheese
One of the most straightforward swaps is a block of Neufchatel cheese, which is essentially reduced-fat cream cheese. Neufchatel is creamy and spreadable, though it can have a slightly granular texture. Because of the lower fat content, the recipe won't be as rich, but it makes a good substitute. This is probably your best bet when baking.
Substitute Dairy-Free Cheese for Cream Cheese
Another easy and reasonably straightforward replacement for traditional cream cheese is one of the vegan or dairy-free alternatives. The world of vegan "cheeses" has come a long way in recent years, and you'll find multiple brands and styles, both plain and flavored, in most grocery stores. Many of them are very similar to standard cream cheese in terms of texture, appearance, taste, and meltability. They can be an easy substitute when looking for a ready-to-use bagel or cracker spread or a base for chilled dips and cheese balls. Some brands work fine in baked desserts, casseroles, or warm dips.
Substitute Mascarpone for Cream Cheese
Try mascarpone, which some people describe as "Italian cream cheese." Although that's not completely accurate, they do perform similarly in recipes. Mascarpone is richer and creamier than cream cheese, but works well in recipes like cake frosting. It's not as salty or tangy as some brands of cream cheese, so taste the frosting to see if it needs a pinch of salt or a few drops of lemon juice for balance.
Substitute Yogurt for Cream Cheese
When making cold dishes and dips, consider using thick Greek- or Icelandic-style yogurt, preferably whole milk or full-fat to be closer to the rich creaminess we love in traditional cream cheese. Pour the yogurt into a bowl and give it a good whisk before adding it to the recipe, and taste it to see whether it could use a pinch of salt. If it tastes too tangy or tart, whisk in a splash of heavy cream, although not so much that the yogurt turns runny.
Substitute Ricotta for Cream Cheese
You might find similar success with full-fat ricotta, either fresh or stabilized with thickeners. Let your recipe guide you on which type will work best. Stabilized ricotta (the type we often use in lasagna and baked pasta dishes) is thick enough to scoop. Fresh ricotta is softer with more whey, and might need to be strained in a mesh sieve lined with a coffee filter, cheesecloth, or paper towels. It's important to avoid inadvertently adding too much liquid to your recipe. Ricotta is more crumbly than cream cheese, but the texture can be smoothed by mixing in full-fat yogurt or heavy cream if desired.
Substitute Other Soft Cheeses for Cream Cheese
Who among us hasn't turned to the quick and delicious convenience of spooning something delicious, such as pepper jelly or chutney, over a block of cream cheese to serve as an appetizer? In this case, we can turn to other mild, soft cheeses, such as a log of goat cheese or a round of ripe brie.