This frosting uses only black cocoa powder to achieve the deepest and most beautiful black color. It is, by far, the best black buttercream I've ever tasted. To make it, I cook the black cocoa with sugar to create a syrup that is then combined with butter. This creates a creamy frosting with a buttery Oreo flavor that pipes and frosts smoothly onto your cakes.
It’s a type of cocoa powder that’s been alkalized, which gives it a deep black color and smoky, intense flavor.
Here is a summary of unsweetened cocoa powders you may encounter in the baking world:
For the most part, cocoa powders are not interchangeable unless the recipe states specific instructions. See how the pH changes based on the type of cocoa powder? Depending on the other ingredients in your recipe, this can affect the texture, rise, and overall quality of your baking.
For this recipe, you will need black cocoa, which is hard to source, so I buy mine online. You can buy the one I use in my videos (here from Amazon). King Arthur Flour also has excellent baking products, including their black cocoa here.
Black cocoa powder is an alkalized version of natural cocoa, giving it a rich and super black color. (Here is the one I buy.) Alkalization is a process used in chocolate production to change the specific properties of chocolate products, including color, flavor, solubility, and pH. (Alkaline products have a higher pH or are “basic” or “alkaline”) I’m using it specifically for its color, which is a rich black, but this also imparts a slightly bitter flavor to the frosting. You can correct this using cream of tartar, down below.
White granulated sugar is the sweet ingredient for this frosting. I use granulated because we’re going to dissolve the sugar in the water anyways, and it’s easier to use than powdered. The sugar dissolves and melts a little during the heating step, creating a syrup and giving the finished frosting a smooth texture and glossy appearance.
Salt is the flavoring agent for this frosting. I always use unsalted butter so I can customize the flavor at the end. Don’t skip this - salt also helps balance out bitter flavors, and this will help make the frosting taste more like an Oreo.
Water is the liquid ingredient that helps cook the cocoa powder and dissolve the sugar. A portion of the black cocoa powder is made of starches, which break open and swell when placed in hot water, creating a thicker and smoother consistency for the syrup.
Cream of tartar is an acidic powder that is a by-product of wine production. It contains tartaric acid, which can help neutralize the alkaline flavor when using black cocoa powder. I’ve trained myself to taste for alkaline flavors when baking because that’s often a sign of a leavener imbalance, so I’m pretty sensitive to it. If it doesn’t bother you, you can skip this ingredient.
Unsalted butter is the fat source of this frosting, and it mellows the chocolate flavor and adds stability to the finished frosting. Make sure the butter is very cold before adding. This helps equilibrate the temperature of the sauce, which is very hot from cooking. The cold butter brings the temperature down faster and prevents the butter from getting too warm. Heating butter past a certain temp (around 170F) can mess with the proteins, which help pull the frosting together (also called emulsifying) in the end. Don't worry about these details too much, just make sure the butter is frozen in the first step I outline in the recipe, below.
This is a new frosting that I just developed, and testing for stability is definitely on my to-do list. While working with it, I noticed it has a super smooth consistency but definitely a softer texture. It's in between a soft Swiss meringue buttercream and a whipped cream. Because of its composition and butter content, I would treat this chocolate frosting similarly to a whipped cream frosting for now. It’s not as dense and substantial as an Ermine or Italian meringue, but if made correctly, it should be able to stay out at room temp for a couple hours on a cake.
I wouldn’t do anything extreme with it yet, like make a tiered wedding cake or anything, but it will pipe cupcakes and mini cakes just fine. It will also hold up to 3 layers of cake up to 8 inches round, so long as the fillings aren't too heavy.
During the decorating process, at any time you can place this frosting in the fridge to firm up. You can also store a frosted cake in the fridge until about an hour before serving. Frosted mini cakes or cupcakes should be fine out at room temperature because there's no external pressures on the frosting itself.
Step 1: Cut and chill the butter cubes.
Cut the butter into chunks and chill in the freezer. This decreases the hot syrup’s temperature and prevents the butter from getting too melted.
Step 2: Whisk together dry ingredients and water in a pan.
Add the black cocoa powder, sugar, and salt to a pan (2a). Whisk in the water (2b).
Step 3: Cook until syrup reaches 225-230°F (107-110°C).
Whisk and cook the syrup until it reaches a rolling boil (3a) and reaches 225°F (3b). This ensures that most, if not all, of the water has evaporated, leaving behind the thickened cocoa starches and sugar syrup.
Step 4: Taste and adjust for flavor.
Pour the hot syrup into a large mixing bowl (4a). Black cocoa is more alkaline, which can taste bitter. It will depend on the brand of cocoa powder you use and your taste preferences. Whisk in the cream of tartar; it should neutralize or offset the bitter taste (4b).
Step 5: Add cold unsalted butter.
Add the cold unsalted butter (5a) and whisk (5b). This may form a layer of oil on top, but if you keep whisking, it will come together into one glossy smooth syrup (5c).
Step 6: Chill the chocolate mixture
Chill the mixture in the fridge or freezer (swirling every 10 minutes to distribute the cold) until it’s a super thick syrup (like a super thick molasses) and the bowl feels very cold, especially the bottom. This acts like an ice cream machine that chills the frosting as you mix it. You can also chill it solid in the fridge and let it warm up slightly before mixing.
Step 7: Mix until you get a smooth consistency
Mix using the paddle attachment.
The butterfat has to be around 73-78 degrees F for this frosting to come together. If it’s still runny, chill it a little more (7a). If the frosting looks broken, has white dots, or looks lumpy, the frosting is too cold (7b). In that case, keep mixing (sometimes this takes me up to 10 minutes to warm up) until it comes together. Once the mixture is a glossy black, it’s ready to use (7c).
Step 8: Use an immersion blender for super jet glossy black.
Blend the frosting using a handheld immersion blender (8a).
I’ve used an immersion blender for a couple years as a homogenizer for frostings, usually for piping, because it makes the frosting a little denser and glossier. It works well in this case if you need a super shiny, jet-black color (8b). Just be aware that it does create a denser buttercream, which can feel more buttery when you eat it.
I have a more informal "masterclass" type video in my Instagram profile in the highlights. Those are the circles in my profile underneath the link to my website. You'll see a circle that says "Black Frosting". In this video you'll see how and why I use the immersion blender at the very end. Go here to my Instagram profile to watch it.
Also, there is this YouTube video, which is an earlier version of my recipe technique, but with better lighting. Note that it is a little different than the finalized recipe technique listed down below.
*For 3 cups of frosting*
*For 4 1/2 cups of frosting*
*Black cocoa powder is an alkalized version of natural cocoa powder, which in addition to raising the pH, turns the cocoa black. It has a smoky, mellow, and sometimes alkaline flavor reminiscent of Oreo cookies. It’s hard to source in stores, so I buy mine online. (I get it at Amazon, here.)
**If you find that your buttercream is gray, that means that the butter is still too cold or it needs to be emulsified a little more aggressively. There is enough black cocoa powder in this recipe that the frosting should be black if the cocoa powder is dispersed evenly within all the butterfat. There are a couple of things you can do: You can continue to mix, even using the whisk attachment if you want. The whisk used at high speed, along with the butterfat rising in temperature as it tries to reach room temperature will help mix the cocoa syrup into the butter more evenly. Place your hands on the bowl too - your body heat will warm the butter to allow it to emulsify faster. You can also use a hair dryer on a low setting, but be careful because you don't want to liquefy the butterfat, just soften it.
The next best option is to move to an immersion blender. This is a super high-speed way to emulsify things and you should instantly see the frosting turn darker.