Few ingredients are as useful and versatile as cream cheese. From taco dip to cheesecake, it can go almost anywhere! You might feel tempted to freeze cream cheese so that you always have some on hand when it comes time to make your favorite recipe--but is freezing safe, and does it work?
The short answer is yes, it is safe to freeze cream cheese. What you ultimately have to look out for is whether you can live with the textural changes.
To make life simple, we've put together a full guide to freezing, storing and thawing cream cheese to preserve as much flavor as possible.
Should you Freeze Cream Cheese?
There’s no question that it’s both safe and easy to freeze cream cheese. But, there is a catch--freezing causes the texture to suffer, making it useful for some applications, but not others.
Is It Worth It?
Cream cheese is a handy ingredient to have on hand. While greek yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk might be an acceptable substitute in some recipes, there is no replacement for the unique flavor of cream cheese. It offers a buttery richness that few other ingredients can approximate.
Because it only stays fresh in the refrigerator for a maximum of one month after the sell-by date on the package, a smart cook is always ready with a pack or two in the freezer to make red velvet cupcakes or baked mac and cheese on the fly.
Effects on Flavor and Texture
The texture of frozen cream cheese is much more grainy and crumbly than the fresh stuff. Cream cheese, like any cheese, is made up of protein and fat networks in which water has become trapped. Because water is denser than ice, these ice crystals expand upon freezing, causing the fat and protein networks to rupture.
When this happens, the structure of the cheese collapses, the fat and water portions separate, and the cheese takes on a grainy appearance and texture. Because cream cheese is about 50% water, the destruction of the protein structure is severe, and the effects are irreversible. However, it should not affect the flavor of the cream cheese, and it will still be ideally suitable for many recipes.
Freezing Cream Cheese Properly
Most cream cheese comes in airtight packaging, so it can be placed directly in the freezer. If you want to freeze an opened package of cream cheese, you’ll need to seal it in an airtight container, removing as much oxygen as possible.
If you have a vacuum sealer, use it! If not, place the cream cheese in a ziploc bag and press out as much air as possible before sealing it. Double-bag it, doing the same to the second bag. Alternatively, try using a Ziploc bag as your first layer and an airtight Tupperware as the second layer. Make sure to label and date the packages!
Thawing Cream Cheese Properly
Thaw frozen cream cheese by setting it in the fridge overnight or for a few hours. Allow it to soften completely in the refrigerator before using it. Once it has thawed, remember to use it within a week.
Making Cream Cheese Creamy Again
Because its protein “backbone” has ruptured, it is impossible to completely reverse the graininess of frozen cream cheese. However, by warming it slightly, the fats partially melt, and the graininess becomes much less noticeable.
If you do need to use cream cheese that has been frozen as a spread on your bagel or morning toast, you’ll want to go this route. Simply place the cream cheese in a microwave-safe container and warm it for ten seconds at a time, gently stirring or whisking in between, until it appears soft and creamy.
You can also place the cream cheese in the top of a double boiler, whisking constantly until the creamy texture reoccurs. If you plan to use frozen cream cheese in a baking or cooking application, there is no need to do this first. The graininess will take care of itself!
Frozen Cream Cheese Uses
Now for the good news! Although you probably don’t want to spread grainy cream cheese on bread, if you’re using it for baking or cooking, the graininess will not be noticeable. When baking or cooking, much of the water in the cream cheese will evaporate, and the proteins and fats will emulsify with other ingredients. The result is that the grainy texture will “dissolve,” but that much-loved cream cheese flavor will still be there to power your recipe.
So, go ahead and use frozen cream cheese for pound cake, frosting, casseroles, dips, or biscuits. Don’t use it when you make delicate recipes that rely heavily on the structural integrity of all component ingredients. For example, avoid using frozen cream cheese for cheesecake--the subtle texture of cheesecake requires the intact structure of fresh cream cheese. You should also steer clear of frozen cream cheese for no-bake fillings, puddings, trifles, or any non-heated applications.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Freeze Cream Cheese Frosting?
Yes! The sugar will act as an emulsifier of sorts and help maintain the structure of the frosting. Cream cheese frosting freezes well and thaws well, maintaining its initial texture. Follow the same rules outlined above: use an airtight container, label it carefully, and only keep the frosting about two months in the freezer.
Can You Freeze Philadelphia Cream Cheese?
You can freeze any brand of cream cheese. Philadelphia brand is particularly easy to freeze because it comes in airtight foil packaging. No matter which brand you use, follow the instructions and guidelines above.
Can You Freeze Cream Cheese Dips (Including Crab Dip)?
Cream cheese-based dips tend to separate and become grainy in texture when frozen, just like cream cheese. If the dip is meant to be eaten cold, this is a serious defect.
However, if the dip is served hot, the graininess will be much less noticeable after the dip has been reheated, although the texture will not be quite the same as when it was fresh. Make sure to package any dip in an airtight container labeled with the date, and don’t store it for more than two months. Reheat it according to the guidelines suggested above.
Can You Freeze Whipped Cream Cheese?
Whipped cream cheese freezes better than standard cream cheese for several reasons. First, to stabilize the protein network structure so that the air bubbles stay suspended in it, whipped cream cheese often has some kind of stabilizer added.
Secondly, it is usually thinned with a small amount of milk or cream. Third, the inclusion of air bubbles allows the ice crystals room for expansion. So, while a small amount of graininess may still occur, it should not be as noticeable in whipped cream cheese as in a block of classic cream cheese.
Freezing cream cheese is a simple and safe way to keep this all-American ingredient on hand for an iconic recipe. Remember to keep it airtight, well-labeled and, in general, to only use frozen cream cheese for cooking or baking applications.
If you are making a recipe in which the cream cheese won’t be heated, get a fresh pack. With those simple rules, you should nail it every time!
Comment below if you have any questions or suggestions.