Rich and creamy, this old fashioned chocolate buttercream frosting never goes out of style. With only five ingredients, it’s so easy to make, too!

Chocolate buttercream frosting on a mixer beater.

You’ll love this wonderful chocolate frosting! How can you go wrong with cocoa powder, butter, and powdered sugar? Whipped into fluffy delightfulness, homemade buttercream frosting will turn any cake into a confectioners’ delight. I love to top this homemade banana cake with chocolate buttercream.

My grandma made a 9 x 13 cake every Saturday with homemade chocolate buttercream frosting. After church, my family, all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, stopped by for a cup of coffee, a piece of cake, and loud conversation. It was amazing, no matter how many people stopped in, my grandma always seemed to have enough room and enough cake for everyone. Such a great memory!

Make a cake (no one will know if you used a cake mix!) and top it with easy chocolatey homemade frosting. Brew a pot of coffee, and invite a few people over. Expect lots of admiration, maybe even a hug or two. For sure, you’ll get smiles :) Make some memories!

About this frosting

Once again, homemade wins out! You only need one bowl and five ingredients to create this magic. The complete printable recipe can be found at the end of this post.

Close up of chocolate frosting with swirls.

What you need

  • Cocoa Powder: A full cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (baking cocoa) adds so much dark chocolate flavor to this buttercream frosting. You won’t have to mess around with melted chocolate. Use natural or Dutch process cocoa powder, such as Hershey’s Cocoa or Ghirardelli’s.
  • Butter: Butter is the only option for buttercream frosting. Don’t substitute margarine or shortening. Choose unsalted butter if you have it, but salted will also work.
  • Confectioners’ Sugar (Powdered Sugar): Essential to most uncooked frostings, powdered sugar is the backbone of this buttercream. Granulated sugar would make your frosting very gritty.
  • Flavoring: A teaspoon of pure vanilla extract rounds out the chocolate flavor. Whether you’re a mocha fan or not, adding a teaspoon of espresso powder will add depth to the flavor.
  • Milk: Substitute cream or half-and-half if you like a richer frosting.
Overhead view of ingredients needed: powdered sugar, cocoa powder, butter, milk, espresso powder, vanilla.

How to make it

You’ll need a large bowl and an electric mixer. You can stir this frosting up by hand but be prepared to use a lot of muscle power.

Whisk or sift the cocoa powder to remove any hard lumps. Blend together the cocoa powder and butter until smooth.

Cocoa powder in a glass mixing bowl.

Add sugar, flavoring, and milk. Beat on low speed until combined, then beat on high speed for about two minutes or until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Chocolate frosting in a bowl with a spatula.

Desired consistency of the frosting depends on how you’re going to use it. Keep it on the stiff side if you want to pipe it, using a decorator’s tip. If you’re spreading it on a cake, a little softer consistency is preferable.

Here’s all you need to remember: Add confectioners’ sugar to make the frosting stiffer; add more milk (a little at a time!) to make the frosting softer. And always make sure your cake is completely cooled.

Spread or pipe the frosting on a cake or cupcakes. Decorate with sprinkles if you like but do it right away or they’ll roll right off! Yup, I know that from experience.

Slice of chocolate cake on a white plate.


Does chocolate buttercream frosting need to be refrigerated?

If your cake is frosted with buttercream frosting, it can be kept safely on the counter for a couple of days if your kitchen is cool and the cake is wrapped well. If your kitchen is warm, or if you want to keep the frosted cake longer, refrigerate or freeze it.

Can you overmix buttercream?

Really, I don’t think you can. I’ve heard that you may get air bubbles but I’ve never experienced that at all. Really, this is a very easy frosting to make!

Why is my buttercream not fluffy?

If your buttercream seems curdled or separated, it could be because not all the ingredients were at room temperature. If the butter is too cold, you won’t have a smooth frosting.
If your frosting seems too thin, add more powdered sugar until it’s the right consistency. On the other hand, if the frosting seems too dry or even powdery, add more milk, a teaspoon at a time.

Frosting in a glass mixing bowl.

How to make this frosting your own

  • Instead of vanilla extract, try other flavoring extracts like maple, rum, bourbon, or brandy.
  • Stir in 1 teaspoon cinnamon for a Mexican hot chocolate flavor (if you love that flavor combination, check out our Mexican chocolate shortbread cookies or flourless Mexican chocolate cake. Add a pinch of cayenne if you like.
  • If you like a lighter chocolate frosting, use less cocoa powder.
  • For richer frosting, use two sticks of butter instead of one. You may need more powdered sugar.

Make Ahead and Storage

Frosting can be made ahead and stored one week in the fridge or three months in the freezer. Put it into an airtight container.

To use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator if it’s frozen. If frosting has deflated a bit, use your mixer to whip it again briefly until it has resumed its fluffy lovable state of being.

Leftover Love

Make too much frosting? Don’t want to make another cake? While you can always spread frosting on graham crackers for a quick snack (yum!), leftover buttercream frosting can be made into cookies. Try this easy recipe, Leftover Buttercream Cookies, by Manu’s Menu. The frosting is mixed with flour, an egg, and baking soda to make easy cookies. I can’t wait to try them!

Frosting on a wooden handled white spatula.

More cake toppers

Dress your cake up with one of these luscious toppers. Try:

Close up of chocolate buttercream frosting, swirled to show texture.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Yield: 2 1/2 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Rich and creamy, this old fashioned chocolate buttercream frosting never goes out of style. With only five ingredients, it's so easy to make, too!


  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon espresso powder


  1. Add cocoa to large bowl and whisk to remove lumps (or sift). Add butter and beat until combined.
  2. Add sugar, vanilla, milk, and espresso powder, if using. Beat on low speed until combined; beat on high speed about 2 minutes until fluffy and smooth.
  3. If consistency of frosting is too thin, gradually add more sugar. If the frosting is too thick, add milk a teaspoon at a time until frosting is desired consistency.
  4. Makes enough to frost and fill a 2-layer cake, or to frost 24 cupcakes. Make a half batch for 9 x 13-inch cake unless you like a lot of frosting!


  • Frosting can be made ahead and stored one week in the fridge or three months in the freezer. Put it into an airtight container.
  • To use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator if it's frozen. If frosting has deflated a bit, use your mixer to whip it again briefly.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 10 servings Serving Size: 4 tablespoons
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 217Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 12mgCarbohydrates: 49gFiber: 2gSugar: 43gProtein: 2g sometimes provides nutritional information, but these figures should be considered estimates, as they are not calculated by a registered dietitian. Please consult a medical professional for any specific nutrition, diet, or allergy advice.

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