Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate butter cream frosting on cupcakes in purple cupcake holders

The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 15 mins
Servings: 6 cups
Yield: 6 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
831 Calories
52g Fat
91g Carbs
4g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 831
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 52g 67%
Saturated Fat 32g 158%
Cholesterol 137mg 46%
Sodium 64mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 91g 33%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 81g
Protein 4g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 23mg 2%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 30mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This is our ultimate chocolate frosting. It's delivers just the right amount of chocolate punch without being too rich. Nothing celebrates a birthday, Mother's or Father's Day, Valentine's Day, or really, any occasion, better than a homemade cake. But you don't always need a reason—sometimes it's nice to just have something sweet, you know?

We whip up butter until it's light and airy, then add a splash of milk to get that smooth consistency. If you have heavy cream on hand, you can substitute it for the milk to create an even creamier taste. A dash of vanilla and salt round out the sweetness to keep everything balanced. You can use either natural unsweetened cocoa powder or Dutch-processed depending on your preference; Dutch-processed will give a milder, less punchy flavor with a darker color.

This recipe is enough to frost a two-layer 8- or 9-inch cake, a 9-x 13-inch sheet cake, or about 48 cupcakes.

1:45

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"This is an easy, straightforward buttercream recipe. It's perfectly creamy, soft, and rich. You can use this recipe for cakes or cupcakes. I recommend using high-quality cocoa powder as it affects the taste. My favorite part is that you can easily keep the leftover for up to a few months in the freezer." —Tara Omidvar

Chocolate Buttercream/tester image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder

  • 1/3 cup milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream, more as needed

  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, more as needed

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    chocolate buttercream frosting ingredients gathered in bowls

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or with an electric hand mixer, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes.

    butter and sugar blended in a bowl with an electric mixer off to the side

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  3. Add the cocoa powder and beat on medium-low speed until mostly combined. Add the milk or cream and continue to beat until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the bowl occasionally.

    chocolate butter cream frosting blended in bowl with electric mixer off to the side

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  4. Add 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar at a time, beating on medium speed, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until all of the sugar is combined before adding the next cup.

    chocolate butter cream frosting blended in a bowl with electric mixer off to the side

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  5. Add the salt and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until combined. If frosting seems too stiff, add 1 tablespoon milk or cream at a time until desired consistency is achieved.

    (If you are working in a cooler kitchen, cream can make the buttercream too stiff, so opt for milk to loosen it up enough to pipe or spread.)

    finished chocolate buttercream frosting whipped up in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  6. Taste and add any additional salt or vanilla, if desired. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

    chocolate buttercream frosting in a storage container

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

Recipe Tips

As simple as this recipe is, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure this buttercream recipe is successful.

  • Make sure the butter is at room temperature before beating it and that it is smooth and creamy before adding the sugar.
  • Natural cocoa powder will create a softer brown hue to the buttercream, whereas Dutch-processed will create a dark color. Dutch-processed is a great option if you are looking to create a black or simply darker buttercream.
  • If you want to add color to the buttercream frosting, gel-based food coloring is the best option. Liquid food coloring is not as concentrated and can change the consistency of the frosting.
  • If you would like a less-sweet buttercream, you can tone it down somewhat by adding more butter to the mixture or adding some cream cheese or shortening.

Recipe Variations

You can always vary the flavor of your buttercream with different extracts or flavorings, or you might try one of these variations:

  • Chocolate: Add 8 ounces of melted unsweetened chocolate to the buttercream mixture.
  • Chocolate-Covered Strawberry: Add 1/2 cup of strained puréed fresh or thawed frozen strawberries.
  • Mocha: Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 2 teaspoons espresso powder.
  • Peppermint Patty: Add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract and, if desired, 3/4 cup of crushed candy canes or peppermint candies.
  • Pumpkin Spice: Add 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 3/4 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice.
  • Nutella: Add 1 cup of Nutella to the butter; beat until smooth and creamy, and proceed with the recipe.
  • Irish Cream: Replace 1 tablespoon of cream with Irish cream liqueur.
  • Citrus: Replace 2 tablespoons of the cream with fresh orange juice and add 2 teaspoons of finely grated citrus zest like cara cara, blood orange, or even lemon.
  • Cream Cheese: Add 12 ounces of softened cream cheese to the butter and beat as directed. Reduce the vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons and add 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.


How to Store

  • The buttercream should be stored in the refrigerator in a well-sealed container for about one week. Make sure to bring the frosting to room temperature and re-whip it before using it.
  • For longer storage, you can freeze the frosting in a zip-top bag or airtight container for up to three months. To use, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, bring to room temperature, and whip again to a fluffy consistency.

What is the difference between buttercream frosting and icing?

While the terms "frosting" and "icing" are often used interchangeably, icing is generally thinner and shinier than frosting and can be thinned enough to use as a glaze. Frosting is usually thick and fluffy and can be spread or piped.

Why is my buttercream gritty?

If the butter is cold, the confectioners' sugar might not blend in as well, leaving the frosting grainy. Also, some confectioners' sugars—particularly organic sugars—don't include cornstarch, an anti-caking agent that helps keep the sugar soft and free-flowing. Always sift the confectioners' sugar to ensure a smooth and creamy frosting.