There’s frosting, which is okay. And then there’s chocolate frosting, which is really what all frosting should be.
Having a go-to chocolate frosting for your cupcake and birthday cake needs makes life easier, and gives you another reason to look forward to special events. The reason? Licking the spatula. I’ve learned to leverage this reward for getting my daughter to hustle finishing chores she despises. Works every time.
Here’s the recipe I’ve relied on for school cupcakes and birthday surprises for years. Everyone loves it. It’s chocolatey enough to be decadent and sweet enough for kids to embrace unilaterally. It’s such an improvement from canned frosting that you’ll be sold the first time you make it, and it’s easy enough to throw together in about 10 minutes as your cake bakes.
What Is Buttercream?
This is very close to the One-Bowl Chocolate Buttercream recipe from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa tin. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t changed in 40-some years. While my mother did buy cake mix, she never bought ready-to-use frosting, so I learned to cobble this together at a very young age. Since I was neither talented nor precocious, I can assure you it’s simple enough for a kid to make.
Buttercream is simply a frosting made from butter and sugar. This chocolate buttercream recipe uses powdered sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, milk, vanilla, and a little salt (optional and quite popular with many adults) for a frosting recipe that requires no cooking. You don’t even need an electric mixer, but it does speed up the process.
The main adjustments I made to the Hershey’s recipe are the method, ensuring the frosting comes together free of lumps. I’ve also experimented with ingredient swaps. Turns out you can use any kind of milk, from skim to whole. I used to make this with heavy cream at one of my restaurant jobs. The more fat in the milk, the richer the frosting, but even skim milk gives a tasty result.
As for cocoa? Read on.
The Best Cocoa Powder To Use
First thing: You want to use unsweetened cocoa powder, which is 100 percent cocoa, and not hot cocoa mix, which is mostly sugar.
Next thing: Natural cocoa powder or Dutch-process? Either will work. Dutch-process is darker, mellower, and some people feel it’s richer. My personal preference is natural cocoa powder, which is a bit lighter in color and has a brighter flavor. Dutch-process cocoa is treated with alkaline salts to lower its acidity, and it often has a slightly salty finish. When I cook with it, I omit or lower the salt in a recipe.
Make It Vegan
This recipe works for a vegan chocolate frosting, too. Simply swap a good-quality plant butter for the dairy butter, and your favorite plain non-dairy milk for the regular milk. If you eschew conventional sugar (or are cooking for a vegan who does), be sure to use organic powdered sugar, too.
You can refrigerate the finished buttercream in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Let it come to room temperature and beat thoroughly before frosting cakes or cupcakes.
Freeze Your Leftovers
A good buttercream recipe always has a little leftover. This is because you never want to run out in the middle of frosting a cake or cupcakes. Likely you’ll have a generous dab that didn’t get used on the cake.
You can freeze it in an airtight container for up to 6 months. It’ll also stay good in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
But what I like to do is take graham crackers and sandwich them with a thick layer of chocolate buttercream in the middle. Then I freeze them in a plastic container and snack on the straight from the freezer. The graham crackers soften in the freezer, making them like decadent ice cream sandwiches. They’ll stay good for about a week; after that, they taste a little freezer-y.
Chocolate Cakes to Frost With Joy
- One-Bowl Chocolate Cake
- Chocolate Mayonnaise Sheet Cake
- Super Easy, Super Moist Chocolate Cupcakes
- Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Cupcakes
- Chocolate Mint Cupcakes
Cream the butter:
In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth. You can do this with a hand mixer, a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a sturdy wooden spoon.
Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder:
Add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and optional pinch of salt, and beat them into the creamed butter (use low speed if you’re using an electric mixer, then increase the speed to medium). The mixture will be stiff. Scrape the sides of the bowl down a few times with a rubber spatula.
Beat in the milk and vanilla:
Add the vanilla to the milk. Then gradually beat the milk-vanilla mixture into the buttercream (if you’re using an eclectic mixer, do this with the mixer running on low speed).
Scrape down the bowl, then beat again until the color is a bit lightened and the buttercream is very smooth. If it’s too stiff, beat in a little more milk. If it’s too thin, beat in a little more powdered sugar until you reach the consistency you want.
Use or store:
Your buttercream is now ready to use. Once it’s on a cake, it’s fine to keep it at cool room temperature for a few days. If your kitchen is hot, you may want to refrigerate it.
Refrigerate the buttercream in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Let come to room temperature and beat thoroughly before frosting cakes or cupcakes. You may also freeze the buttercream in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
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