Making Classic Frosting

This classic American-style frosting can be made in chocolate or vanilla (or just about any other flavor or color you can imagine). It’s a very handy thing to have in your repertoire for those times when a buttercream simply won’t work. On hot days, for example, a frosting will hold up quite a bit better than a buttercream. Or for a kids’ birthday party (I find that a lot of kids prefer the sweetness of frosting to the richness of buttercream). The recipe is quite simple. For a chocolate frosting you’ll need:

10 ounces (2 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
2 ounces (1/2 cup) cocoa powder
5 ounces (10 tablespoons) soft butter
4 ounces (1/2 cup) heavy cream (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla

First, sift the cocoa and powered sugar together.

Next combine the cream and vanilla.

Put the butter in the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle (beater) and beat it.

Add about a third of the cocoa mixture and start to stir the mixture on medium-low.

Next add about a third of the cream mixture and continue to stir. Keep going like that until everything is combined (mixing the ingredients in stages like this helps keep it from forming lumps). Scrape the bowl as needed.

Before you know it you’ll have a pipe-able frosting. If it’s too thick, add more cream, if too thin, add more sugar. For a vanilla version, swap out the cocoa for more powdered sugar and cut the cream by three tablespoons (cocoa powder is absorbant). Easy, no?

Use this for cupcakes or double the recipe and use for a layer cake. You’ll have some leftover, but heck, who doesn’t like to have a little extra chocolate frosting hanging around?

24 thoughts on “Making Classic Frosting”

  1. I’m with your girls on this. Never having had it before (or so I thought), I made buttercream from one of your recipes a while ago and was bitterly disappointed to find out it’s what we call “mock cream”; used here in New Zealand instead of whipped cream in nasty cheap cream doughnuts. I much prefer what we call butter icing, which is similar to your frosting but with just a wee bit of water instead of your cream and milk.
    Cream doughnuts being these things:

    1. Prefer the icing on cakes I mean – the doughnuts need proper whipped cream with no sugar in.

  2. yummy..choclate frosting is delicious by itself..but, i think, it must be sugar and cocoa to be sifted. Or if it is flour..then how much.

  3. Even though I can’t eat a single ingredient in this recipe, I can’t tell you how fabulous that looks. This is exactly the type of thing my sisters and I would fight over when we were kids–can I lick the beater?

  4. it’s not just kids that prefer frosting Joe! both my wife and I prefer it – there’s just TOO much butter in buttercream for us.

    which is annoying, I made a batch do a Thomas the tank cake for my son’s b’day last year… mrs didn’t like it and bam, it’s gone and replaced by frosting (

    keep up the great work mate!
    Chris from Australia

    1. True enough. What with the rise of leaner baking the last few decades, some folks prefer a frosting that’s less rich. To each their own! Also…nice cake! – J

  5. Hey Joe,
    love this site. thanks for all th great recipes and techiques…
    check the above – did you mean powderd sugar instead of flour being sifted with the cocoa?
    looks really good, but it’s hard to beat your buttercream.

  6. If you remove the cocoa powder from the equation, would that create a “Classic” Vanilla frosting too, or not? 8-| Just curious 😎

  7. Thanks for this! My husband and I have been kind of frustrated by buttercreams up until now. For some reason, it never turns out quite like we expect. I’ll have to try this next time! (And I have the same question as Andrew…is there a base that works for other flavors? Should we just leave the cocoa out?)

    1. Yes, you can leave out the cocoa, make up the difference with more powdered sugar, and you’ll have a vanilla version. But of course you can add pretty much anything you want to flavor it (extracts I mean), and just about any color. It’s versatile stuff.

  8. 2 ounces (1/2 cup) cocoa powder ?

    I was going to try this but isn’t 1/2 c = 4 ounces?

    aargghh what should I do?

    1. Hey Scooter!

      A half cup of water weighs four ounces, that’s absolutely true. Cocoa powder is quite a bit lighter, only two ounces per half cup.

      Let me know how it goes!

      – Joe

  9. Thank you for a great recipe! I enjoy cooking from your recipes and my family enjoys eating them!

    I had one questiosn on the frosting, how well and for how long does this frosting stay good at room temp?

    1. Wonderful, Spurti, thank you very much! On the frosting, I’d say a couple of days at least. All the sugar will keep the butter and especially the cream from going sour.

      – Joe

  10. hi Joe! long time lurker, love your site. I made your version of milles feuilles (sp?) last year. Just wondered. you said this is a pipe-able frosting. Will this works for rosettes and other flowers the kind piped onto waxed paper and then transferred to the cake? thank you!

    1. Hi Marsha!

      Back from vacation. It will work for that, though I’d suggest the American buttercream if sturdiness is an issue. It both pipes and holds better.

      – Joe

  11. What Did I Do Wrong?
    I followed the instructions and my frosting looks like it’s curdled. My heavy cream hasn’t expired and my butter was room temp. I don’t understand. 🙁

    1. Don’t throw it away, Mariela!

      Keep beating it on medium speed for 4-5 minutes since the temperatures may just need to even out. If that doesn’t help try adding a little more powdered sugar to the mixture. Get back to me on it!

      – Joe

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