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Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

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Chocolate buttercream is the perfect topping to so many cakes, cupcakes and cookies. This recipe is great for piping, isn’t too sweet and you can adjust the level of chocolate to your liking.

swirl of super chocolaty darker in color chocolate buttercream frosting.

Making chocolate buttercream is a snap to do and it is so much better than what you can get in those tubs from the store.  The best part is how customizable it is. 

You can make it lightly chocolate, almost like a mouse. Or you can make it super chocolaty.  Plus using cocoa powder really helps keep the frosting from getting too sweet. I’ll show you some variations so you can make your best frosting!

It is funny how history has a way of repeating itself! Especially in my life, I guess I am not that creative after all.

lighter chocolate buttercream on mixer paddle.

If something really works, I gravitate towards it. So when my family was throwing a hootenanny and celebrating my grandma’s 84th birthday I knew I had to make a cake.

Originally I was going to bring a cake called a hootenanny cake.  It seemed appropriate for the party and was something a bit different than I normally make.

But after baking it, I was not impressed with the results.  I couldn’t bring myself to present it at the party, I have a reputation to uphold and subpar baked goods just aren’t going to cut it!

slice of chocolate sheet cake with fluffy chocolate buttercream on top

So in a last minute pinch, I scrambled.  Luckily I had a guitar cake pan in the basement, so I know I could still pull something off that would fit the theme.  

But what kind of cake? Of course my absolute go to cake, the devilishly good chocolate cake.  It has never failed me yet and is so easy to put together.   

Of course a couple of tones of chocolate buttercream on top would help give the guitar it’s look.  So I pulled up this recipe and went to work. 

Adjusting the Chocolate Flavor With Cocoa Powder

I made a double batch, taking out about 3/4 of a cup of buttercream before I added the cocoa powder for the strings and lettering.  Then I added some cocoa powder for the lighter parts of the guitar.     

Once that part was done I added more cocoa powder for the darker parts.  That is what I love about this recipe, you can make it as dark and chocolaty as you would like.

The bitter cocoa powder also helps cut the super sweet powdered sugar. So you are easily able to make frosting as stiff as you’d like without it being tooth achingly sweet.    

In fact, if you go really dark you may want to taste it and make sure it is sweet enough.  You can always add a bit more powdered sugar and a splash of milk until you get it just right. 

Piped swirl of lighter colored chocolate buttercream frosting.

It seems that the devilishly good chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream combo is a favorite birthday cake combo for me, as the first time I posted this recipe it was the same combo for Little Dude’s birthday party a few years back.

Hand holding mixer paddle filled with dark chocolate buttercream ready to be used on a cake.

How do you store buttercream?

Buttercream can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Or freeze it for up to 3 months. Bring chilled buttercream to room temperature and give it a quick stir before using it.

More Great Chocolate Frosting Recipes

If you would like a little bit of tang in your frosting, try making chocolate cream cheese icing. It is not a good choice for piping, but is great for spreading over a cake.

For sweetened condensed milk fans, you can make chocolate condensed milk buttercream. Or maybe try making brownie batter buttercream.

If you are a frosting fanatic like me, check out my Frosting 101. It goes through the different types of frosting and links to all sorts of delicious recipes!

swirl of super chocolaty darker in color chocolate buttercream frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Servings: 18 Servings
Author: Carlee
Chocolate buttercream is the perfect topping to so many cakes, cupcakes and cookies. This recipe is great for piping, isn’t too sweet and you can adjust the level of chocolate to your liking!
5 from 13 ratings
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes


  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder*
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons milk plus more as necessary


  • Cream butter until smooth and fluffy.
    1 cup butter
  • Add remaining ingredients and beat until completely combined.  Start with 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and work your way up until you have it where you want it. 
    4 cups powdered sugar, ¼ cup cocoa powder*, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 Tablespoons milk
  • Adjust the final consistency with a bit more milk or powdered sugar as needed.
  • Frost your cake or cupcakes right away or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • To use from the refrigerator, bring to room temperature and then beat for a minute or two or until fluffy again before using.


*For more dark chocolate color, use dark chocolate or dutched cocoa powder. For the guitar cake I used about 1/4 cup of regular cocoa powder for the lighter color and then added 1/4 of dark cocoa powder for the darker color.
This recipe makes about 4 cups of frosting, or enough to frost 12-18 cupcakes or 1 9×13″ cake. For layer cakes, extra large swirls of frosting or to have extra for piping boarders etc, you may want to make 1 1/2 or 2 batches.


Serving: 1ServingCalories: 192kcalCarbohydrates: 25gFat: 10gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 27mgSodium: 83mgSugar: 24g

Nutritional Disclaimer

“Cooking With Carlee” is not a dietitian or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories and other nutritional values can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.

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Recipe Rating

Julie @ Back To My Southern Roots

Saturday 6th of July 2019

Such a great recipe, Carlee! Forget the cake, I'll just take the frosting!


Friday 19th of July 2019

Me too, every time! <3

Big Rigs 'n Lil' Cookies

Sunday 26th of February 2017

I haven't been over to see what you have going on that's new, but wanted you to know I was here sorting through your frosting recipes deciding what my husband will get on his birthday cake tomorrow! Only one place to look for frosting recipes.... Cooking with Carlee!


Tuesday 28th of February 2017

Thank you!! I hope you found a perfect one!


Monday 30th of May 2016

I could lick that beater! LOL But, seriously! I used to decorate cakes for a living, but I found that I was coming down in the middle of the night for spoonfuls of buttercream icing. I am seriously weak when it comes to great frosting! I would eat it til I was sick. This looks like one of those recipes that I would absolutely love, I'm saving it for the next cake I make, it must have this icing!


Monday 30th of May 2016

I would totally do the same thing... I can't be trusted with things like frosting in the fridge. What might start as just a little taste could quickly spiral out of control!


Saturday 28th of May 2016

Thank you! He really is a sweet little guy!

Jean |

Saturday 28th of May 2016

Cute treasure chest, Carlee! I used to make cute theme cakes. Then I got lazy. Now all my cakes are round or rectangular and assembled in the usual way. :D


Saturday 28th of May 2016

I'm not artistic at all, so I do better with round and rectangular myself. But it was fun to try something new and nobody seemed to mind that it wasn't Rembrant quality work ;-)