As much as we’d love to tell you we know of an amazing substitute for the creamy component of the iconic New York bagel, we can’t. Because there isn’t one. It’s a known fact that the cut side of a bagel wants but one thing: the thick, rich tang of its beloved schmear. Recipes, however, aren’t quite so finicky and are usually willing to let other ingredients play the role of cream cheese. So when cream cheese is scarce, here are seven substitutes that can work beautifully in cooking and baking. Any one of these will serve you well, but combining a few–e.g. a blend of ricotta, sour cream, and Greek yogurt–will get you even closer to replicating cream cheese’s inimitable texture and flavor.
7 Cream Cheese Substitutes for Cooking and Baking
Mascarpone Cheese. This velvety Italian cheese looks like cream cheese, spreads almost like it, and is rich in fat, making it an almost ideal swap.
Plain Greek Yogurt. Thick, creamy, and nutritious, Greek yogurt–the higher the fat content, the better–is a great substitution for cream cheese in baking. We always have it on hand, so we’ve swapped it for cream cheese in a wide variety of recipes and have never been disappointed. We were surprised how well it worked in both vanilla and chocolate frostings and as the “cream cheese” swirl in brownies.
Labneh. This creamy, tangy cheese is made of strained yogurt and is used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Its dense texture is similar to cream cheese, but labneh contains much less fat and much more protein. If you’re anything like us, once you’ve subbed labneh for cream cheese in cheesecake, you’ll never go back.
Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese. Another soft Italian cheese. It’s a bit less rich, not as smooth, and milder in flavor. Not ideal for cream-cheese frosting but otherwise terrific for baking. Cheesecake made with ricotta is amazing!
Quark Cheese. Popular in Central Europe, this mild, creamy fresh cheese is thick and spreadable like cream cheese, but it’s higher in protein and not as tangy. Versatile as an ingredient, quark can be swapped into recipes as a sub for cream cheese as well as for other dairy products, including sour cream, ricotta, and yogurt.
Neufchatel Cheese. Think of it as cream cheese made with milk instead of cream, a low-fat version of cream cheese. Neufchatel, though slightly firmer and lighter than cream cheese, is a commonly recommended substitute.
Farmer’s Cheese. Remember Little Miss Muffet and her curds and whey? Well, if you take those curds and press out every last drop of the whey, what you get is … farmer’s cheese. Although drier and leaner than cream cheese, farmer’s cheese has a marked tanginess that, from a flavor perspective, makes it a good sub for cream cheese in recipes.