Sometimes the biggest ingredient in a recipe isn’t an ingredient at all: It’s TIME. Certain flavors just need time to develop and if you try to rush them then you might as well not do them at all.

For recipes like breads, I find this easy because it’s mostly just waiting. There’s usually a set period of time where the bread is rising and I can just forget about it and do something else.

But, then there’s this category of recipes that require just a tiny bit of attention (you can’t forget about them), but mostly they require patience. This recipe is clearly in that category. It’s not hard – not at all – but you do have to make sure you don’t rush it.

As with many things, the time you spend is well worth it. The finished spread is savory, packed with umami flavors, and maybe my new favorite bagel spread. Plus, you can’t find it in stores. If you want it (and you do want it) you have to make it!

Caramelized Onion Cream Cheese

4.50 from 6 votes
Author: Nick Evans
Servings: 6 Servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
This spread takes some time to make right, but is totally worth it and is really easy. Schmear it on toasted bagels!


  • 1 large sweet yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, soft
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Bagels, for serving
  • Scallions


  • Slice onions and add to a large skillet over low heat with butter. Season onions with a pinch of salt and let cook for 10 minutes until they start to brown slightly.
  • Continue to cook onions for the next 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are shriveled and starting to turn very brown. It’s okay if the onions are un-even at this point.
  • Add sugar and water to the skillet and stir to combine. Onions should turn an even, dark tan color. Cook until water is evaporated and then turn off heat.
  • Let onions cool and then stir into cream cheese along with Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, cayenne powder and a pinch of salt. Stir together well.
  • Serve spread over toasted bagels with fresh scallions! Store extra spread in the fridge for 7-10 days in an airtight container.


Serving: 4tbsp. | Calories: 85kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 15mg | Sodium: 280mg | Potassium: 145mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 155IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 141mg | Iron: 0.2mg
Course: Breakfast & Brunch, Side Dishes

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Caramelized Onion Cream Cheese

Onions and Time

I find the process of making caramelized onions to be meditative, but I can see how some people hate it. It takes a solid 45-60 minutes to do right. There are no shortcuts that I know of that produce great results.

Start with a big yellow onion and slice it in half and then into slices. You don’t want to make the slices too thin or they will just disintegrate in the pan.

Caramelized Onion Cream Cheese
The start of something beautiful.

In a large pan, melt some butter over LOW heat. Add the onions and try to spread them out over the surface of the pan. A sprinkle of salt is a good way to start the process here.

Starting caramelized onions.
Get it goin’.

After about 20 minutes the onions should start to take on some color and soften. If you tasted one now (go for it), you’ll notice that they are starting to lose some of their astringent flavor and become sweeter.

Stir them occasionally, but you shouldn’t need to stir constantly if your heat is low.

Caramelized onions.
Slow and steady.

Keep an eye on these, but they don’t need constant maintenance. Do some kitchen chores while they do their thing. I cleaned out my fridge from top to bottom while these cooked!

Assuming you have your temperature right, it should take close to 45 minutes to get to this stage where most of the onions have taken on some good tan colors. Some might be a bit darker and some lighter. That’s okay.

Caramelized onion cooking.
Getting there…

Finishing the Onions – THE TRICK

Because of the way these cook, the onions are a bit uneven at this point. We want to try to even them out and also finish the caramelizing process.

So, sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over the onions and then add about 1/4 cup of water. The water will hiss and even out the caramelized notes from the onions. Continue to cook until the water is completely evaporated and you’ll be left with these beautiful, perfect onions.

Caramelized onion cream cheese.
Important step alert!

The Cream Cheese Spread

The rest of this deal is pretty straightforward. Add some soft cream cheese to a bowl with the other ingredients.

Cream cheese mix.
Just a few flavors.

Mash it all up well and then fold in the onions last. These will smell so savory and delicious.

Caramelized onion cream cheese.
All together now.

Smear this stuff on toasted bagels. It’s incredible.

I added some fresh scallions for a little color and crunch. Also I like the idea of new onions and old onions combined on one bagel. That’s some philosophical cooking right there.

If you want some other cream cheese spread ideas, I’ve made a veggie version and a roasted jalapeno version in the past. I think this one is my favorite though!

Caramelized Onion Cream Cheese: This recipe takes some time, but it's completely easy and pretty hands off. The result is a decadent and rich cream cheese spread that's good on any number of things, but mostly BAGELS. Read the post for my Caramelized Onion tips and tricks! |
Caramelized Onion Cream Cheese: This recipe takes some time, but it's completely easy and pretty hands off. The result is a decadent and rich cream cheese spread that's good on any number of things, but mostly BAGELS. Read the post for my Caramelized Onion tips and tricks! |