Creamy, fluffy homemade chocolate frosting is perfect for cupcakes, layer cakes or brownies. Made with cocoa powder so there are no fancy ingredients.
**This recipe was originally posted July 2017, and updated May 21, 2020 with updated recipe tips & photos**
I’ve used this chocolate buttercream recipe so many times. It’s not too sweet but has a rich chocolate flavor and a thick, creamy texture. It pipes beautifully onto cupcakes and is thick enough to support a layer cake. It’s the kind of frosting I’ll happily eat with a spoon, and I have zero guilt admitting that.
This is an American buttercream recipe – meaning that it’s simply made by beating together the butter, sugar and flavorings, as opposed to making a meringue from egg whites and sugar like you would in a Swiss buttercream recipe. Sometimes people will refer to American-style frosting as icing, but technically speaking, icing is thin and glossy whereas frosting is thick, creamy and fluffy.
For the Ingredients
This recipe uses nothing fancy. You’ll need:
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter.
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 3-4 cups powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3-4 tablespoons milk or cream. Either works – I prefer milk for frosting with a knife, and cream (whipping cream, heavy cream or half and half work) if I’m using a piping bag.
I always prefer butter over shortening in frosting because it provides more flavor and doesn’t leave that gross, greasy feeling in your mouth (like you often get with grocery store cupcakes). Salted butter works too, but make sure to leave the salt out of the recipe.
For the cocoa powder, you can use natural or Dutch-processed depending on how rich of a chocolate flavor you’d like. Dutch-process cocoa is sometimes called dark, or specialty dark and provides a richer flavor and (you guessed it) a darker color. I sometimes use ¾ cup cocoa powder when I want a really rich flavor, or ⅓ cup cocoa powder for more of a milk chocolate flavor. But ½ cup is kind of my standard. You can see the difference between natural and Dutch-process cocoa below.
You can also add a touch (½ – 1 teaspoon) of instant espresso powder to help cut the sweetness, but that’s totally optional.
How Much Frosting Does this Make?
This recipe makes enough to frost:
- 24 cupcakes, with a thin layer
- 12-18 cupcakes piped high with a piping bag
- one 9×13 inch pan of brownies or sheet cake (just the top)
- half the recipe to frost the top only of an 8×8 or 9×9 inch pan of brownies or cake
- double the recipe (or make 2 batches) for an 8×8 or 9×9 inch layer cake
Tips for Making Chocolate Buttercream
- Make sure your butter is softened, but not melty before getting started. If you gently press your finger into the butter it should leave an indent, but your finger shouldn’t sink in.
- Sift the cocoa powder & powdered sugar to avoid lumps. Cocoa is notoriously lumpy, and no one wants that in their frosting.
- At the very end, turn the mixer up to high speed for 15 seconds for extra fluffy frosting
- Make sure your kitchen isn’t too hot – otherwise, the frosting can melt. In the summer, I typically turn on the air conditioning to avoid the frosting getting too thin.
- Frosting can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container at room temperature (up to 1 day if your kitchen is cool), or in the fridge. Then when you’re ready to frost your cake/cupcakes – take the frosting out of the fridge about 30-60 minutes prior and let it sit and room temperature to soften. If it’s still too firm, beat it again with your stand mixer to soften it up.
- Frosted cakes and cupcakes can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for 2-3 days. The large amount of sugar stabilizes the frosting.
This chocolate buttercream frosting is my go-to recipe, and if you’re looking for the perfect chocolate icing – then this my friend is for you!
And if you’re looking for some tasty treats to put this chocolate frosting on, may I recommend:
- 1 cup unsalted butter* softened
- 3-4 cups powdered sugar sifted
- ½ cup cocoa powder* sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3-5 tablespoons milk or cream*
- In a large bowl, beat the butter until fluffy and no lumps remain.
- Turn the mixer to low and beat in 2 cups of the powdered sugar. Once combined, beat on medium-high for 15 seconds.
- With the mixer on low speed, carefully beat in the sifted cocoa powder, vanilla, and salt.
- Then beat in the rest of the powdered sugar about ½ cup at a time, alternating with 1-2 tablespoons of milk/whipping cream until the desired consistency and sweetness is reached. If the frosting is too thick, add in a little extra milk/cream. If it's too thin, add in a little more powdered sugar.
- Once everything is combined, beat on medium-high speed for 15 seconds.
- Butter should be softened, but not melted. If you gently press your finger into the butter it should make a slight indent. Salted butter is ok. But if using salted butter, remove the salt from the recipe.
- Feel free to use natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder. Use ¾ cup cocoa powder for an extra rich chocolate flavor.
- 2%, whole milk, half-and-half cream, whipping cream or heavy cream work well. I typically use milk for brownies or cakes and cream for cupcakes when I want extra thick frosting.
- Recipe makes enough for:
- 12-18 cupcakes using a piping bag
- 24 cupcakes with a thin layer using a knife
- the top of a 9x13 inch pan of brownies or sheet cake
- half for an 8x8 or 9x9 inch pan of brownies
- double the recipe (if you have a very, very large bowl) or make 2 batches for an 8- or 9-inch layer cake.
- Store frosting in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (or until the expiry date of the milk/cream). Let it sit at room temperature before using. Beat with an electric mixer to soften if needed. Frosted cakes and cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.
- Nutrition information is based on the frosting divided equally between 18 cupcakes, not including the cupcake. It is meant as an estimate only.