It's more than a bagel topping, try cream cheese as aversatile ingredient in sauces, dips, baked pasta, the filling for Martha's favorite pierogi, and more.

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Cream cheese is an under-utilized ingredient. Of course, it's satisfying to eat an everything bagel with plain cream cheese (or a plain bagel with everything cream cheese!), but this popular bagel topper is actually good for so much more. It can be transformative in both sweet and savory dishes, including pastas, dips, fillings and frostings, and the pound cake pictured above. Here's what you need to know.

cream cheese pound cake with jam on sea foam green table
Credit: Bryan Gardner

What Is Cream Cheese?

Cream cheese is a soft, mild cheese that is made with cow's milk and cream, lactic acid, and stabilizers like carob bean gum. While you can find many low-fat versions in supermarkets, the FDA does stipulate that for the silky, spreadable original, the "minimum milkfat is 33 percent by weight of the cream cheese." It's similar in flavor and consistency to French Neufchâtel and Italian mascarpone, so you can likely substitute it for those cheeses when you're cooking.

Potato Pierogi

Make Martha's Mom's Pierogi

This comforting Polish dumpling is one of Martha's favorite foods. She has been making her mother's Potato Pierogi for years, and one of the secrets is to mix cream cheese into the filling. It adds great body and creaminess alongside the sharp flavor of the cheddar.

creamy lemon chicken with spinach and artichokes
Credit: Marcus Nilsson

Cook Creamy Chicken

Want to prepare a delicious, creamy chicken dish that's still lighter than those that feature heavy cream? In our Creamy Lemon Chicken with Spinach and Artichokes, cream cheese and chicken broth come together to deliver incredible creaminess; this is a one-pan dinner that's one of our test kitchen's most popular recipes. The easy, flavorful sauce is a twist on the (rightfully) popular spinach-and-artichoke dip.

creamy baked ziti
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Bake Up a Better Pasta

Boost the cheesy taste and feel of baked pastas by adding a little cream cheese to the sauce. Our Creamy Baked Ziti features a quick homemade tomato sauce—it simmers for just 30 minutes—that gets cream cheese melted right in for a little extra silkiness and flavor.

date olive goat cheese tart
Credit: Louise Hagger

Spread It in a Savory Tart

Cream cheese is a luscious and affordable way to stretch pricier cheeses; you'll find that it pairs well with almost any other cheese. In our Date, Olive, and Goat Cheese Tart, it's mixed with goat cheese to fill a generously sized puff pastry tart that includes sweet dates, salty olives, and spicy pickled chiles.

Warm Brussels-Sprout Dip
Credit: Lennart Weibull

Create a Creamy Dip

It melts beautifully without breaking, so cream cheese is a natural partner in baked dips. Try our Warm Brussels-Sprout Dip, it's a vegetable-heavy dish that gets lightened up with Greek yogurt while still feeling lush and rich thanks to the cream cheese and Parmesan.

Chocolate Frosting
Credit: Pål Allan

Find Your New Favorite Frosting

Cream cheese whips up nice and fluffy and adds that smooth, melt-in-your mouth quality to frostings. This Chocolate Frosting has a double one-two punch: It uses unsweetened cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate plus rich and tangy cream cheese and crème fraîche. Pure decadence you could eat even without the cake.

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