NOTot so long ago, I had the misfortune of discovering some wildly out-of-date cream cheese festering at the back of my fridge. I would rather burn down my fridge than ever put myself in that position again. Luckily, I don’t need to. Cream cheese is one of those magic ingredients that can lift almost any dish, so it’s easy to use up. Some recipes here call for a full tub, others just a spoonful.
Honey-and-ginger cheesecake with streusel topping
The first and most obvious thing to do with cream cheese is to make a cheesecake, but you already knew this. I’m going to suggest Tamal Ray’s honey and ginger cheesecake with streusel topping; a Basque-inspired wonder that is almost as much creme brulee as cheesecake. It uses a ton of cream cheese, so it probably isn’t strictly a leftovers recipe, but it is spectacular nonetheless.
Stuffed french toast
Using half the amount of cream cheese (but still quite a lot), is Michael Zee’s recipe for stuffed french toast, which is decadent to the point of absurdity. Imagine a sandwich, filled with a mixture of cream cheese, strawberries, rosewater and jam, that is soaked in milk then fried in butter. This is the sort of breakfast you would make no more than once a decade, because the human body can only withstand so much opulence.
Strawberry shortcake cookies
Reducing the amount yet again, Lauren Miyashiro’s recipe for strawberry shortcake cookies calls for just a few tablespoons of cream cheese. The scantness is because these are filled cookies: the cookie dough is carefully folded around a dollop of sweetened, lemony cream cheese. It is much more of a faff than making regular cookies, but the result is magnificently fluffy. Plus, you will get to use up your old cream cheese, which is the reason we’re here, remember?
Salmon and cream cheese tart
Moving on to savory dishes, Nigel Slater’s 2020 recipe for salmon and cream cheese tart is a thing of wonder, like a quiche from the gods. Spiked with dill, it’s the sort of tart that has an irresistible wobble when it comes out of the oven, and is bound to impress anyone who tries it.
Creamy lentil curry
I only looked at the official Philadelphia recipe website in the hope that it would throw up a godawful, who-would-eat-this concoction. Sadly, though, it only contains rigorously solid recipes. The best of them is its creamy lentil curry. This is perfect leftover territory, requiring just three tablespoons of cream cheese, and it will be on the table in 20 minutes. It has the potential to become a weeknight staple.
Prawn and cream cheese pasties
Clearly, the best thing about cream cheese is its ability to turn into culinary catnip when heated enough. Yotam Ottolenghi’s prawn and cream cheese pasties make full use of this quality. Mixed with prawns, chilli and tomato, the cream cheese in these tiny, deep-fried pasties has a habit of exploding as you bite into them. Heavenly.
If you only want to use minimal ingredients and less effort, you can achieve roughly the same effect as Ottolenghi’s pasties with Alvin Zhou’s jalapeño poppers. Get a chilli pepper, fill it with cream cheese, wrap it in bacon, and bake. You will soon be in a red-hot, molten wonderland.
Obatzda is a German dish made with soft cheese, cream cheese and wheat beer. Just a Little Bite’s recipe is perhaps a little thicker than most, but it’s still basically just an assembly job rather than a full kitchen expedition. Plus, its consistency allows it to be used as a sandwich spread just as easily as a pretzel dip.
Before we wrap up, here is an exercise in contrasts. If you’ve just got a bit of cream cheese to use up, and you’re at a loss for lunch ideas, chuck a spoonful into some scrambled eggs. It works absolute wonders, making the eggs fluffier and creamier, while the temperature will help to prevent them from overcooking, so you won’t have to labor through a miserable rubbery meal. Greatist has a handy walkthrough, but it’s all pretty much self-explanatory.
Savory cheese-filled croquembouche
Finally, the most elaborate, labour-intensive cream cheese recipe on Earth. That’s right, it’s Molly Baz’s cheese-filled croquembouche. Forty-eight savory profiteroles, delicately filled with a mixture of herby cream cheese, ricotta and parsley, glued into a vertigo-inducing tower with pepper-flavored caramel. You will probably never, ever make this, but it is unarguably a thing of wonder.