Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

by Alice Currah on April 18, 2011. Updated February 27, 2014

Last year I posted my recipe for Classic Vanilla Buttercream.  It’s the recipe I use for decorating cupcakes and birthday cakes, especially if I know kids will be the ones eating it.  For wedding cakes I like to use a more silkier type frosting that I’ll share with you in the near future. But for everyday cake frosting, the vanilla buttercream is what I use.  From that post, I received many comments and emails requesting a chocolate buttercream frosting which could also be used to frost cakes and for piping decorations.

I often referred readers to my most favorite chocolate frosting I use for glazing, frosting, filling, and piping.  As you can see from the picture above, chocolate ganache is very versatile and best of all it is made with heavy cream and chocolate.  But this frosting is also heavy and very decadent, unless you whip it.  Some people would write me and tell me they didn’t want ganache but wanted  a more true buttercream.  So by popular request I made a batch of American chocolate buttercream over the weekend to share with you.  It is great for frosting cupcakes and cakes.  It can also be used for frosting brownies or cookies.  Like its name suggests, it is more buttery, creamy, and slightly sweeter than ganache. And like ganache, it pipes decorative borders very nicely.

You will need to make sure your butter is soft enough to cream.  Do not be tempted to softened it in the microwave unless you know how NOT to melt the butter.  Melted butter will not work for this frosting.  But if you do use your microwave, I like to place cold sticks in the microwave for 8 seconds.  If it’s still too firm, I will microwave it for 2 more seconds.

Next, you’ll want to cream the butter and then then add sifted sugar and cocoa.

This is my daughter Mimi.  She likes to help me in the kitchen whenever chocolate is involved.  I’ve taught both of my daughters about the baker’s reward philosophy.  If you help me in the kitchen, you also get to lick the spoons.  Oddly enough, they  never seem to want to help me when I’m cooking vegetables. Those stinkers.

Be sure to start your mixer on slow speed after adding the dry ingredients.  Otherwise you will have cocoa and sugar fly everywhere landing on everything within a couple feet of you.  Your frosting will look strange like clumps of clay.  Don’t worry.  Once we add some cream it will transform into beautiful chocolate buttercream.

When deciding on whether or not to use milk or cream, I prefer cream.  It just makes the frosting… well.. more creamier.  Half and half works too.  But if you do use milk, it is better to use whole milk for the added fat content.  I also prefer to use almond extract when making frosting.  It enhances the flavor so nicely and a little bit goes a long way.  But if you only have vanilla, use it!

As you can see by these photos, this frosting pipes really nicely.  The frosting can be refrigerated to use later.  Just make sure it’s in a lidded container.  Allow the frosting to warm up to room temperature on the counter before using.  Happy cake decorating!

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3 cups
A simple recipe for classic chocolate buttercream frosting. Perfect for frosting cakes, cookies, brownies, or cupcakes.
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or ½ pound), softened (but not melted!)
  • 3½ cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
  1. Cream butter for a few minutes in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Turn off the mixer. Sift 3 cups powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.

Here’s a great short video tutorial I did for PBS on how to pipe these beautiful frosting flowers using vanilla buttercream on cupcakes, but you could easily do this with the chocolate one from this page. If you enjoy the video, please like it so I’ll be able to do more!

And here’s another short PBS video tutorial I did on how to make Cookie Monster Cupcakes.

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{ 494 comments… read them below or add one }

Angie September 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Made this today following the exact recipe. What I created has a nice consistency, although fluffier and much lighter in appearance than the pics here – a high gloss mocha color. And it’s bitter. I added more sugar to sweeten it up some but the bitter taste of unsweetened cocoa is primary still. All I can guess is the brand of cocoa powder I used is poor quality. I saved a couple bucks but my frosting is less tasty than the pre-made stuff in a tub. So I actually didn’t save anything, but wasted the other ingredients :(. I used it anyway to frost a yellow cake for a birthday and I hope the tastes together work out. Very disappointed with myself. Word to the wise – your end product is only as good as your ingredients. Use quality!


Pat Repka December 16, 2013 at 8:53 am

There are many sites on line that give you conversion numbers for baking measurements. One also gives numbers for various recipes.


pauline October 2, 2013 at 4:27 am

Could i ask what would the measurements be in grams please really like to try this recipe out as it looks really yummy but dont know if the cup measurements in uk would be ok to use tia x


Pauline Mc Cormick October 4, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Hi does anyone kno what the measurements would b in grams i live in ireland and am ot sure if our cup sizes would work out to be the same measurents i am very eager to try thi recipe especially after reading everyones comments this is the second message ive left no one got back to me i would really appreciate it if anyone can help thankyou


Joanna October 5, 2013 at 8:53 am

Hi Pauline- Just noticed your comment today, as I was coming back to get this recipe again (I absolutely love it!) Here is a website that can help you make the conversion easily –
Hope you’re successful! :)


Amelia October 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I made this to go with banana cupcakes for my cousins 10th birthday. It turned out great, fluffy and light but it still held its shape, though I did have to add more cocoa since it wasn’t chocolaty enough for my liking, I was using cheap cocoa powder though. Warning to others: DO NOT put this in the fridge if you need to use it asap! I made this for 6 cupcakes, so I had loads left over which I put in the fridge for a little while so I could use it for a batch of chocolate cupcakes. I got it out and it was unusable, completely solid and kind of crumbly.


Marcy March 13, 2014 at 10:50 am

Did you try letting it warm to room temperature and then adding additional cream?


Allison May 6, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Most icing does this in the fridge. If you let it get to room temperature and you stir/mix it back up it will be usable again. It just takes time to warm up and it takes mixing to get the contents back together. I deal with this all the time when I’m frosting sugar cookies over a span of a few days at Christmastime.


Lorainne October 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Your A special kind of stupid aren’t ya?

its cause you put it in the fridge which made the icing harden. just let it become room temp and maybe add cream if it is still to hard.

good luck!


Lee-Anne October 12, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Wow, that wasn’t necessary now, was it? Guess your parents never told you that calling people stupid wasn’t a nice thing to do.


Jay Kauffman October 31, 2014 at 8:43 am

Hey Lorraine – your parents forgot to teach you manners didn’t they??? Talk about a special kind if stupid – it’s “you’re” not your.


Marisa October 16, 2013 at 11:15 am

Perfectly delicious. Great recipe!!!


Toya October 17, 2013 at 10:13 pm

I finally got this frosting to be perfect! My problem was *hangs head*…. putting the butter in the microwave to soften a bit (as I did skip straight down to the recipe, lol). This time, I used softened butter that was cool to the touch, as if making swiss meringue buttercream. Yummy, delicious and creamy. I also added more cocoa powder for even more chocolate flavor. Great recipe!


Emily October 27, 2013 at 6:31 pm

This recipe is very delisious and I would deffinetly make it again


debby kelley November 10, 2013 at 9:37 pm

hi – I want to make the frosting just like the one in your picture of the ganache on cupcakes – the third one on the right side that says piped underneath. I want it to be shiny, just like that. can you please explain just how to do that?! thank you.


joie November 16, 2013 at 5:14 am

can u sub milk or cream with water ?

or is it ok to sit out for a long while, even tho u have used milk in it?


Celestina December 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Such a great recipe. I used cream as recommended and It tasted delicious and was extremely fluffy. I will definitely be using it again. Thank you.


Hannah December 11, 2013 at 9:05 pm

This looks amazing, and I can’t wait to try it. The only problem is, I don’t have a sifter. Would it be okay to add the 3.5 c powdered sugar and the cocoa and then just whisk it really well?


Mary Davis May 15, 2014 at 7:31 pm

For those saying they didn’t have a sifter, you can use a wire mesh strainer to sift the sugar. In fact, I prefer using one to a hand sifter.


Mel December 13, 2013 at 7:26 am

First time making this and I put in a tiny bit more almond extract than should of and my icing turned out a lot sweeter than it should of. I would stick with vanilla next time.


Deena Grabowski December 26, 2013 at 4:02 pm

I made this recipe for my very finicky, hard-to-please 84-year-old dad to top a cake for Christmas. His mother (my Nonna) was a sensational cook of the old fashioned southern variety. She was my mentor in the kitchen and I always try to recreate her recipes for my dad because it brings him such joy. This, however, is not always easily achieved and he can be a staunch critic when it comes to baked goods. Nona really raised the bar and is a tough act to follow. However, when my dad tasted this frosting, his eyes lit up and I could see the 8 -year-old boy in him shining through. He said it was the most delicious chocolate frosting he’d ever had. The guests that came to my home for Christmas agreed. I am now married to this chocolate frosting recipe, from this day forward, forsaking all others! Thank you so much!!


Stephen January 4, 2014 at 10:25 am

Hi, I am new to icings and If I may ask, can I use this Chocolate Buttercream Frosting to make Chocolate Roses? Thank you


aaliyah March 3, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Hello Stephen I was looking at the picture of the frosting and I don’t think it is stiff enough to make Chocolate Roses, Maybe if you add a tad more power sure to stiffen it you could possibly make some roses out of this frosting


Lacy January 4, 2014 at 6:16 pm

If I use salted butter could I just omit the tablesalt? Also, how do I sift the sugar? Thanks in advance. I am so excited to try this recipe


Greg June 22, 2014 at 10:46 am

A little late, but: I would stick with the unsalted and add the salt. Different brands of butter use widely varying amounts of salt, so it is really hard to know how much is right. This is one of those “general rules of baking.”
Salted butter “holds” longer than unsalted, so it’s what you keep around to put on veggies and bread, but unsalted is more reliable for baking (but won’t keep as long, so buy fresh or freeze). Hope this helps!


Georgette January 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm

This lovely frosting just turned some tasteless cupcakes (used an off -brand box mix) into a delightful dessert. I’ll never use another chocolate frosting recipe as long as I live. I also encourage everyone to try the almond flavoring. Awesome!


Mrsbrown January 24, 2014 at 3:44 am

Hi there, how far ahead can I make this in advance and how long will the icing last before turning bad(in the fridge or on the cupcakes)? I’ve never added cream in my buttercream before, but I wonder if the cream would make the buttercream spoil quicker? Thank you for your help! Can’t wait to try :)


Marcy March 13, 2014 at 10:53 am

Did you know that cream has a longer shelf life than milk? Well, now you know! ;)


Umme-Ammarah January 24, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Hi,thanks for sharing such a wonderful recipe.i made this for my daughter’s birthday cake.i got rave reviews ,thanks to u.everyone said that the frosting tasted like chocolate smoothie.keep up the good work!


dora January 25, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I loved this recipe though I had to add quite a bit more cream to get the consistency right. I use special dark cocoa powder from Hershey and because of that it was slightly bitter,so I just added both vanilla and almond extracts it was perfect.


Chris January 30, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Thank you so much for this recipe! I’ve made it a couple times and it is a big hit in our family. It is now my go to recipe. I used Hershey special dark too, but love it!
Thanks again!


marina January 31, 2014 at 6:55 am

I tried this one today, and I love it! It was very easy to use and the taste was exquisite. I did use a little less of the amount of sugar listed (almost a cups less!), add some more cacao and a few extra cream spoon. I’ll be using it again as son as I have an opportunity!

If anyone needs, I know a great converter:


Adrienne February 1, 2014 at 5:18 pm

I used this recipe today and it was awesome! I subbed in a little organic coffee extract for part of the vanilla. What an amazing robust flavor! Thanks for a great recipe!


NRS February 1, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Alice, what brand of cocoa powder do you use for this?


Amanda February 3, 2014 at 7:33 pm

I made this tonight for my daughter’s birthday – chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, she said. Ok – ask, and ye shall receive! I’ve never made home made icing before, so I was hoping it was as easy as it sounded. And it really was! My mixer bowl doesn’t have a splash guard, though, and I sprayed sugar/cocoa everywhere even on low. Oops! Mental note for next time, I guess. :)

I really don’t care for icing much, but this was really, really good. Too sweet for me (but most icing is), but the kids loved it. It had an amazing texture and enough oomph to stand up well on the cupcakes without being too heavy.


beck February 8, 2014 at 3:07 pm

why does my frosting never turn out like its supposed to?
I thought it was just my hand mixer, since whenever I used kitchenaids at school the frosting turned out fine, but at home it was always too watery & adding more sugar never did anything…
But I now have a kitchen aid mixer & decided to try making frosting with it today and my frosting looks nothing like it does in this picture? =\ it still tastes fine, but it’s nothing like what the picture looks like…
guess I’m just not aloud to make frosting at home >_<


Sara March 3, 2014 at 11:31 am

I always had the same issue until a few weeks ago. I made buttercream frosting, but left out the milk/cream until the end. Once everything else was mixed, I added cream to get it to the consistency I wanted. It worked out great. Also, I find can gives it a much better texture than milk. But since it spoils so quick, I usually settle for half and half. Good luck :)


mary February 8, 2014 at 11:45 pm

I want to know when you say cream what do you mean? There is whipping cream I use that in quiche. So is that the cream you mean ? Please explain or mention a brand. You can email me to my email address you don’t need reply here on site. Thanks and looking forward to making this delicious looking frosting.


ron February 10, 2014 at 9:17 am

I’m thinking about using rendered bacon fat instead of butter. Has anyone tried this before?


Elise M. February 11, 2014 at 4:12 pm

I haven’t tried that before, but I am sure it would be fine. One thing to think about before you make it is that bacon grease melts at a lower temperature. So if your frosting will be in any kind of heat I would be cautious. Also, which I am sure you know, your frosting will have a bacon flavor.

I hope this helps.


NRS February 15, 2014 at 5:47 pm

I used Droste dutch-processed cocoa in this and we absolutely loved it! Very light and fluffy! Thanks for the recipe!


Mike March 2, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Its a great recipe, and if I realized how easy buttercream frosting was to make, I would never have bought the stuff from the store, and now that I do I won’t be buying anymore.


Karen March 24, 2014 at 7:06 pm

I’m confused with your directions at the bottom. The ingredients list calls for 3.5 C confectioners sugar and .5 C cocoa powder. But the actual directions only have you add 3 C of sugar & cocoa powder… Sooo… Where is the extra cup going??


Carrie April 16, 2014 at 10:53 pm

Early in the directions it says to add 3 cups of sugar and the cocoa to the mixture. So you need to reserve a 1/2 cup of powered sugar for later. Towards the end of the directions, it says “If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.” Hope this helps.


Marina March 27, 2014 at 11:02 am

I have a question, how long does this frosting last without refrigeration? I have 4 hours class, plus a 2 hour for traveling before I can take cake to destiny, and I wanted to know if it would last long enough.
I was thinking on moving it on an air tight container and then frost the cake in the destination.
Thank you very much!


Jennifer March 30, 2014 at 10:42 am

You mentioned in this post that you were going to share a silkier type frosting that you use for decorating wedding cakes. Did you ever post that recipe?


Brenda W April 8, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Thanks for a great recipe! I made it today and it turned out perfectly and tasted delicious! i made mine with kefir instead of milk which gave it a slightly tangy flavor. I think i’ll stick with milk next time, but it’s still very good. If you like tangy, though, use kefir.


Amy April 10, 2014 at 3:53 pm

This was the best chocolate buttercream frosting I’ve made in a long time. I used the whipped cream. Thank you!! Time to get back on the diet. :/


Wendy April 11, 2014 at 11:19 am

This is the best chocolate buttercream ever! I only use your buttercreams for my cakes and cupcakes. So glad I found your recipes.


Simi April 25, 2014 at 7:24 am

Hi there
I have taken down the chocolate ganache recipe. Its my boy’s birthday on Sunday, so I’d like to do some piping and make it all fancy. The cake weight would work out to two squares of .75kg each. I plan to layer them – so I need icing in between, all around glaze and a square frame of piping. So would your basic recipe suffice? or how much more do you think I would need ?
Do drop a note ..I would like to hear from you!


Tina May 31, 2014 at 2:51 am

This is the most delicious icing I’ve ever made! It does, however, come out much lighter than the photos show (or at least mine did). But really, it tastes almost like chocolate soft serve ice cream but is stiff enough to pipe with. Perfect! Thank you :)


Ginni June 10, 2014 at 3:41 pm

OMG!!! This recipe is sooo good!!! I also made your regular icing as well, and I am glad I found your website!!! Thank you, you’ve ruined me on store bought icings, and that’s ok! I will never go back to store bought again!!! :-)


Sadiqa July 11, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Hi! i have a question, confectioners sugar is simple powdered sugar or is it icing sugar?


Laurel September 8, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I’ve been making this recipe for a few years now. It started as cupcakes for my son’s classroom birthday treat but has now become folklore among the teachers. Since I use a Cake Mix Doctor recipe for the cupcakes I’m pretty sure that the frosting is what people remember.


Katrina Schlachter October 11, 2014 at 11:35 am

Just made this icing and it is wonderful – thank-you! Beautiful consistency and delicious flavour. Great chocolate taste without being too sweet. I would highly recommend this recipe!


Alice Currah October 15, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Glad you liked it Katrina. Thanks for stopping by!


Brandi October 24, 2014 at 7:59 pm

This was my first attempt at chocolate buttercream frosting- I make Alice’s vanilla buttercream regularly. Although mine came out much much lighter than the chocolate frosting pictured, the taste was incredible. My 4 kids loved it, and so did the adults. I was in a hurry and did not sift the sugar or cocoa and didn’t have any trouble with lumps. I did use heavy cream and it is SO creamy, but also fluffy. We will never have another tub of store-bought frosting in this house. Thanks Alice!


Alissa Odedra October 27, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Just made this frosting right now… and OMG, tastes freakin amazing! Never going back to another site/recipe. This one is going in the written recipe box. YUM YUM!! I am one happy happy lady…and my husband is going to be one too when he gets home from work. Happy, that is – not a lady… lol ;)


Joy November 11, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I just made this for a sheet cake. I made it almost exactly as written, except I used milk instead of cream. I also used vanilla instead of almond flavoring. As far as the directions…I followed those to a tee minus one and was surprised at the outcome. I’ve never made icing before that was so fluffy and creamy…and I’ve made plenty of buttercream frostings. The minus one was using my microwave to soften my butter. I have a setting for softening butter and watched it closely. Before, I always melted my butter for buttercream recipes. I had no idea it made such a huge difference! This will be my go-to frosting recipe from here on out! Thanks so much!


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