My niece recently celebrated her fourth birthday by meticulously scraping off every last bit of chocolate buttercream frosting from her slice without ever taking one bite of the cake. She is already showing wisdom beyond her years, because I think we’ve all thought at one point or another that cake is really just a vehicle for enjoying the frosting.
After watching her devour her birthday buttercream, I set out to find the best possible method for whipping up the perfect chocolate frosting. When there are only a few ingredients in a recipe, every single choice affects the outcome. I tested everything from typical unsweetened cocoa powder to the high-end Dutch-processed version. I made batches using generic American butter and versions with the higher butterfat European-style varieties. I even tried a recipe with a blend of butter and shortening for stability, and an option with eggs for richness. After side by side comparisons, there was a clear winner.
Opting for the more luxurious ingredients resulted in a superior outcome. I loved this version made with European-style butter. With at least 82 percent butterfat in the longer-churned European variety, the result had a decadent, velvety mouthfeel that was superior to the frosting made with watered-down American butter at only 80 percent butterfat. I also found that Dutch-processed cocoa powder brought a bolder and more complex chocolate flavor and darker hue to the frosting. This buttercream is thinned out slightly to the perfect spreadable consistency with a little bit of milk, and a couple of teaspoons of pure vanilla extract round out the flavor profile.
This recipe for chocolate buttercream is the perfect amount to frost a two-layer cake. Or to simply lick from a spoon, as the case may be.
- Prep time 10 minutes
- makes 4 cups
3 1/2 cups
Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder
cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
whole milk, at room temperature
pure vanilla extract
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder by hand. Add the butter and half of the milk.
- Using the paddle attachment, beat on low to start mixing, being careful not to allow the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder to escape from the bowl.
- Once moistened, add the remaining milk and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- If prepared in advance, this frosting will keep at least a week in an airtight container in the refrigerator. In this case, allow it to come to room temperature before spreading.