Can Cream Cheese Be A Quick Replacement For Mascarpone?

Mascarpone cheese is an Italian spreadable cream cheese with a rich, sweet, and silky flavor. It is likely most well-known as one of the main ingredients in tiramisu, but it works well in a number of other desserts and even some savory dishes. It can be dolloped on top of a molten lava cake, stuffed into the filling of ravioli, or even folded into soft scrambled eggs.

Mascarpone cheese is widely available in the cheese sections at many grocery stores, but it is not exactly an ingredient that the average household keeps at the ready. American cream cheese, on the other hand, is likely sitting in your fridge right now, which begs the question: Can cream cheese be a quick replacement for mascarpone?

The answer is yes ... with caution. You can use cream cheese as a substitute for mascarpone, but your recipe's final result will likely have some flavor and texture differences.

Differences between mascarpone and cream cheese

When comparing mascarpone and cream cheese, there are a few notable differences. One is the fat content. Usually, mascarpone contains 60 to 75 percent milk fat, while cream cheese contains 30 to 40 percent. This is because cream cheese is made using whole milk as a base, and mascarpone is made using heavy cream as a base. 

The two types of cream cheese also differ in flavor and texture. Mascarpone tastes richer and sweeter than cream cheese due to its fat content. Comparatively, American cream cheese has a brighter, tangier taste since it is more acidic. As for the texture, cream cheese and mascarpone cheese are visibly similar, but mascarpone has a loose, velvety texture, while cream cheese is more firm. Despite their differences, mascarpone and American cream cheese are both soft, spreadable cheeses that can be used interchangeably in a pinch in both sweet and savory recipes.

Substituting for mascarpone

If you do find yourself requiring a substitute for mascarpone, there are ways to make cream cheese more closely resemble mascarpone's flavor and texture. One technique is to combine cream cheese with heavy cream — about ¼ cup of cream for every 8 ounces of cream cheese. Use a mixer to ensure the texture is right, and add a little bit of powdered sugar if needed for sweetness. You could also combine equal parts cream cheese and sour cream. 

Another good alternative for mascarpone is French crème fraîche. Crème fraîche has a similar creamy, rich consistency to mascarpone but a lower fat content. However, chances are if you don't have mascarpone on hand, you likely don't have crème fraîche either.

One hack that works well when substituting for mascarpone is changing up the recipe. If you're making tiramisu and only have cream cheese available, search for a recipe that specifically calls for cream cheese. The recipe creator likely already accounted for the differences in flavor in texture and made up for them with other ingredients.