My black frosting has a smooth, creamy texture and beautiful deep color only using black cocoa. It is, by far, the best black buttercream I've ever tasted. It tastes of chocolatey Oreos and is stable enough for large layer cakes and intricate piping details. And because it contains no food dyes, it doesn’t stain your mouth.
It’s been about a year since I first released my black frosting and this is my second iteration of this frosting. I’ve improved the recipe by making the method easier with no cooking steps or thermometers. I've also calibrated this recipe to include some ingredient variations based on some requests you all have made, as well as outlined three methods to make this frosting.
Heavy cream serves a couple of purposes in this frosting. It has a high-fat content (around 36%), and these fat globules contain valuable emulsifiers (with a general scientific name of “phospholipids”). When exposed to heat and mixing, these emulsifiers are released and can emulsify or hold together water and fat-based ingredients stably in our buttercream. This is awesome as it allows a higher proportion of water-based ingredients, so the resulting buttercream is not so buttery and greasy on the palate. Heavy cream also contains a good amount of water, which helps dissolve the sugar so the frosting isn’t sandy or gritty.
Boiling hot water is mixed with the heavy cream to help disintegrate the fat globules I mentioned earlier, and also helps dissolve the powdered sugar.
Black cocoa powder is the primary color ingredient. This variation of cocoa powder is super alkalized, which is a chemical process that changes the color, pH, flavor, and solubility of natural (light brown) cocoa. It’s got a very unique flavor and is what is used in Oreo cookies. I've got links to the types I've used under the video tutorial, located below.
Dutch-processed cocoa powder is used in conjunction with black cocoa to give a depth of chocolate flavor. Dutch-process is also alkalized natural cocoa, but not to the extent that black is. This type of cocoa is often described as mellow and less astringent. My favorite brand of Dutch-processed cocoa is Droste (I buy it 3 packs here on Amazon), as it has the most beautiful chocolate flavor and good ratio of fat in the powder.
Milk powder is used to bulk up the water-sugar syrup in this frosting. You can use either non-fat (skim) milk, whole milk, or buttermilk powders with this recipe. There is a bit of a gradient of which works best, though. Sweet cream buttermilk has emulsifiers, so will create the tightest and thickest emulsion. Whole milk is next because of the extra fat, and non-fat milk has the least firm emulsion. Don’t be worried, though - skim milk powder still works excellently as a stabilizer and creates a silky smooth frosting capable of holding up cake layers and smoothing large layer cakes. It’s what I used in the photograph at the beginning of this post on the blackberry-topped cake. I know some bakers don't have access to buttermilk powder, so this recipe was built using skim milk powder. The other powders are really just extra, but great if you have it.
Vanilla extract adds flavor, and it may seem like I’m telling you to add too much to this recipe, but I promise the amount is correct. It will make the frosting taste like ground-up Oreos, since the white cookie filling is usually vanilla-flavored.
Unsalted butter is the primary source of fat in this recipe. The fats serve as emulsifiers, along with those included in the heavy cream. The butter also has a tiny bit of water contained within, and that’s going to help dissolve the sugar. I always use unsalted butter in my frosting recipes as salted butter can be overly salty, particularly in a recipe such as this one where lots of butter is being used.
Powdered sugar is the sweetener for this buttercream. It’s a finely granulated sugar with some cornstarch added to prevent caking. I like using powdered sugar in this recipe because it dissolves more readily during the mixing process, creating both a sugar syrup and emulsion simultaneously. Be sure to use high-quality sugar, since I’m finding that generic brands often use a different formulation of cornstarch that can make your final frosting feel a bit grainy.
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 present in black cocoa powder. Alkaline foods are rarer than acidic ones. The aftertaste of baking soda, the flavor of century eggs, or the wash on the outside of a German pretzel are all alkaline tasting. If you don’t have access to cream of tartar, you can use either apple cider vinegar or powdered citric acid. Just substitute for the exact amount given in my recipe and increase as your tastes require.
Salt is a flavor enhancer and should be used in all buttercream recipes, especially since I don’t use salted butter. Salt balances sweetness and will give the final frosting a more balanced well-rounded taste. I use fine salt in my buttercream recipes as it dissolves more readily.
Ah yes, the most common question when it comes to black frosting. This frosting uses only black cocoa powder and no food dye. So if you like eating Oreo cookies, it's the same thing. Yeah, maybe you'll get some crumbs from the cookies between your teeth, but it typically doesn't "stain" like frostings with food dye.
Gel food coloring is comprised of water-based super concentrated color pigment. If the baker doesn't homogenize the food dye thoroughly, what you get are patches of super-concentrated droplets unevenly distributed in the frosting. The frosting is primarily fat-based (butter) and so it may not look like there's dye but it's hiding everywhere.
Once the frosting hits your mouth (your saliva is water-based), and the butterfat melts, the water-based food dye is quickly disbursed everywhere and dyes everything black in your mouth.
I will have step-by-step photographs coming soon, but in the meantime, I suggest watching my video down below to see how the frosting is made.
04:31 How to make the black cocoa syrup
06:00 Method 1: Stand mixer + Immersion blender
08:00 Method 2: Food processor
12:00 Method 3: Hand mixer + Microwave or Immersion blender
14:20 Troubleshooting a runny buttercream
If you’re interested in the black cocoas I’ve tested in this video, here are the brands (links are to Amazon):
Cacao Barry Noir Intense is currently available to pastry professionals through restaurant suppliers.
You can store this frosting in the fridge for a few weeks. The best way to defrost is to allow it to come to room temperature and then use the paddle attachment to smooth it out.
If for some reason the frosting looks lumpy or curdled, use the whisk attachment and let it go a medium speed until it comes back together. This may take a while, perhaps up to 10 minutes, depending on the quantity of frosting you have. At this point, the frosting may be gray, and that’s because the syrup needs to be more evenly distributed.
You may also need to use the immersion blender again to regain the texture and color that you need.
Over the past year, I’ve experimented and improved upon the Sugarologie method, which is based on making a sugar syrup that is then emulsified into butter. Since releasing my Sweet Cream Frosting, which includes some new discoveries, I’ve been slowly working through my frostings to include all these techniques.
Generally, this new method is a bit easier and more straightforward than my previous one in that it bypasses the sugar syrup cooking step.
Well, this one here is much easier and accessible to beginner bakers. The tradeoff is that there is a slight granularity (graininess), and when I mean slight, it really is just the tiniest bit. I can tell because I've made both recipes dozens of times and can tell the difference between the two. This recipe here will get you 99% there in terms of a black frosting that is smooth and delicious.
The other frosting is very creamy smooth, but, it is the hardest recipe on my site. I suggest trying that one if you're very comfortable with with Swiss meringue or Italian meringue buttercreams. If you’re interested in trying that one, I have it here.
You can perfectly replicate all my cake and frosting recipes using gram measurements. Weighing is the most accurate way to bake and I use it exclusively.
For American bakers who prefer it, I have converted grams to estimated volumes (cups, teaspoons, etc.). These are not as accurate and may have awkward proportions.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups (great for testing)
Yield: 3 cups
Yield: 4 1/2 cups
Note: Do not exceed more than half the capacity of your processor. It’s better to be a little under, so I typically don’t make more than 5 cups at a time in my 11-cup processor. I just do it in batches if necessary since I can make frosting this way very quickly.
Also, if this is your first time using the food processor to make frosting, use only the “pulse” function if you have it. This will prevent overmixing. Open the top frequently to check the consistency and scrape. After you’re familiar with the power of your processor, you don’t have to check as often.
Note: If you can, use sweet cream buttermilk powder to get a tighter emulsion. The nonfat and whole milk powders definitely work as well, but it will be slightly looser.
*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.)
**You can use either nonfat, whole, or buttermilk powder in this recipe. I’ve calibrated this recipe so that all will work great. In terms of emulsifying powder buttermilk powder is the best and yields the thickest frosting, with whole coming in second because of a little extra fat, and nonfat comes in last, yet still gives a silky smooth stable black frosting.
***Cream of tartar is an acidic powder that is used to offset the alkalinity of the black cocoa powder. If you can’t find it, you can sub apple cider vinegar or powdered citric acid. Just use the same volume amount and add more if you prefer a less alkaline taste.