If we’re being honest, American buttercream leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s often cloyingly sweet and sugary with a discernible grittiness from the powdered sugar.
Compared to the ultra smooth silkiness of Swiss Meringue Buttercream, American buttercream usually just pales in comparison.
But it’s SO much easier to make than Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB).
Although nothing will quite measure up to SMB besides the real thing… I think I’ve discovered the next best option.
It’s an American-style buttercream that uses one simple technique and two secret ingredients to get that rich, smooth, creamy, velvety, silky texture and strong chocolate flavor we all love in SMB without nearly as much work.
Add a small amount of cooled (but not chilled) chocolate ganache to the buttercream. This magic combo of heavy cream + melted chocolate lends intense fudgy richness to the American buttercream texture and a huge dose of chocolate flavor.
Honestly, the most challenging part of this recipe will probably be locating these two more speciality ingredients. But once you do, you’re going to want to stock up.
I get into the “hows” and “whys” of this in the pink box below. But first I have to give credit to Stella Parks for her genius that is this buttercream recipe.
If you follow me on Instagram stories, you’ll know I had already fallen in love with high fat cocoa powder in cake & brownie baking. But using it in buttercream? AMAZING. Read below to find out why.
Secrets to the BEST Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Why you should add chocolate ganache to your buttercream:
In some of my chocolate buttercream recipes, I simply add cocoa powder. In others, I’ll also add some melted chocolate.
But thanks to Stella Parks, I now know the best way to get chocolate flavor AND fudgy texture is by adding in ganache!
A small amount, just enough to pack a punch without making the buttercream too dense.
There are two keys to adding ganache to your buttercream.
1. Avoid using chocolate chips.
You want to chop up your favorite brand of semisweet baking chocolate here. Chocolate chips have emulsifiers and stabilizers that maintain that chip shape even after exposed to heat, so they simply don’t melt down as smooth and creamy.
2. The ganache needs to be at just the right temperature before adding to the frosting.
What’s the right temp? Room temp, about 75°F. It should be thick but still somewhat pourable. Too hot and it’ll melt the butter. Too cold and it’ll harden.
The best powdered sugar for buttercream is ORGANIC
Okay, stick with me here.
Organic powdered sugar is made with tapioca starch to prevent caking. Conventional powdered sugar is made with cornstarch to prevent caking.
Tapioca starch is not only sweeter than cornstarch but it dissolves better into buttercream. Less chalky gritness. So organic powdered sugar is perfect for any instance you want the sugar to dissolve smoothly (which means it would be awful for using as a decorative garnish).
Whatever you do, DON’T SKIP SIFTING!
Especially if using organic powdered sugar, which gets ultra clumpy.
Where to buy organic powdered sugar?
Trader Joe’s sells it under its own name. The brand Wholesome is the other most widely available option here in the states. Use their store locator to find where they stock near you.
Do I HAVE to use organic powdered sugar?
Of course not, you can do whatever you want! But it’s these little things that add up to take your baking from good to WOW. If you’re using conventional powdered sugar, just make sure it’s finely ground 10x (not 6x which is for decorating).
HIGH FAT Dutch Process Cocoa is MAGIC!
Most cocoa powder you find at the grocery store is starchy. For a fun test, the next time you’re at the store turn all the cocoa powder containers around to compare their nutrition facts. You’ll see the amount of fat will vary by brand. High fat cocoa powder has between 22-24% fat, whereas most grocery store brands have half that amount. This means they’re literally more drying. If you ever have a problem with dry chocolate cake, cupcakes, or brownies, take a peek at your cocoa powder fat percentage.
Why Dutch process? Because its acidity has been neutralized and tends to be of high quality since it’s a more expensive speciality product. This matters that much more when it’s going into a raw preparation like buttercream.
Where to buy high fat Dutch process cocoa?
Now I know you’re probably thinking just finding Dutch process cocoa is challenging enough. Here are some options for getting your hands on this magical cocoa:
Penzey’s Spice Shop
King Arthur Flour
Be sure your butter is at the right temperature!
When making any kind of American buttercream, you want to be sure your butter is at a COOL room temperature. It should not be so warm that it looks and feels oily and greasy because guess what… that’s exactly how the buttercream will turn out. Which also makes it more difficult to work with on cakes & cupcakes.
Why does my buttercream taste like BUTTER?
Well… because there’s a ton of butter in it haha! It’s in the name after all. But if you notice this in an unpleasant way, try switching brands of butter.
Also, always use unsalted butter in buttercream. Not only does this allow you to control the amount of salt, but unsalted is generally fresher because salt acts as a preservative in salted butter, giving it a longer shelf life.
Use your mixer CORRECTLY
The image on left shows barely beaten frosting and image on right shows frosting beaten for several minutes. The longer you beat your buttercream, the more air you’ll whip into it and the lighter and smoother it’ll be.
For my mixer, the total beating time is about 5 minutes. That doesn’t include stopping to scrape down the sides sides and bottom of the bowl and your paddle attachment. The exact timing will depend on your mixer. You’re looking more for visual indicators. The final buttercream should be lighter in color than when you started. It should look and taste smooth and creamy and be easy to spread.
How to store buttercream
Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let come to room temperature and re-whip in the stand mixer until light and fluffy again. Add a tablespoon or 2 of powdered sugar if it needs to thicken.