Completely average, completely delicious chocolate frosting?
October 26, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Frost my cupcakes! Please suggest your best recipe for an excellent middle-of-the-road chocolate frosting-- not too dark, not too heavy, not too fragile, not too sugary.

I bake pretty frequently, but for years my mental file of satisficing recipe standbys has had a big old gap where "good basic chocolate frosting" should go. I've found great fudgy frostings, lovely pillowy whipped-creamy frostings, but no standouts corresponding to the completely average frosting you'd use on a yellow birthday cake or cupcakes. Even the chocolate-frosting recipes from my usual go-to sources, Cook's Illustrated and Smitten Kitchen, were disappointments in this area (CI: used corn syrup, sickening slimy mouthfeel; SK: real-chocolate buttercream, far too aggressively sugary).

It seems as though everything I've seen leans either to the ultra-sweet buttercream end, or to the dark-chocolate glaze/fudge/ganache side. I'm looking for a frosting that's relatively light, smooth and spreadable, with a medium rather than dark/bitter chocolatiness, but where the primary flavor note is still chocolate (plus maybe a little butter/salt/umami) rather than sugar or cream.

It's entirely possible, I guess, that there might be some nonstandard ingredients needed to achieve this (gelatin? lard? eggs? boiled cocoa powder?), but I don't really understand enough about frosting science to suss out what those might be. Nonetheless, if I can get a semi-passable (definitely not great) version of what I'm looking for in a $1 can of Dunkin Hines at the grocery store, I've got to believe that there's an excellent homemade version out there somewhere. So there you go, Metafilter! What am I missing?

(also, thanks to the awesome advice here last year, I'm aware that some of the sugar"edge" in uncooked buttercreams is due to the cornstarch in standard confectioner's sugar-- but straight-up powdered sugar is unfortunately not sourceable where I live, so not a tweak I'm able to make)
posted by Bardolph to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
How about a cream-cheese icing flavored with cocoa?

Icing (makes enough for an extra big double layer cake)
1/2 pound Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
2 sticks Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 pound Powdered Sugar, Sifted
1 teaspoon Vanilla
pinch salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder

You can adjust the sugar to your liking, the cream cheese will help it set up. Use extra good cocoa powder. If this is a horrible idea to you, I'd recommend searching for "icings" rather than "frostings" for a middle-of-the-road texture. Obligatory picture of a cake.
posted by Katine at 10:06 AM on October 26, 2012

I like this one. It can be adjusted with several tweaks, as it's mostly resilient ingredients. As the recipe card shows, it's great with yellow cake (that's my fave cake/frosting pair, too).

I think that using 1/2 & 1/2 instead of milk might be interesting, and I know at least one famous chocolate frosting actually has a bit of liquid caramel beat in.
posted by batmonkey at 10:10 AM on October 26, 2012

Best answer: I like this one -- very smooth, very spreadable, and not too sweet. Nicole of Baking Bites is really great.
posted by hmo at 10:15 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Make a ganache with a milk chocolate that tastes good to you. It works just as well as dark chocolate for ganache. Ganache is so easy: just boil cream in a heavy saucepan, take it off the heat, and stir in the chopped chocolate. It's much tastier than frosting made with cocoa. The quality of the results depends on the quality of the chocolate. Just make sure it's a chocolate you like to eat straight.
posted by Ery at 10:39 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you might be looking for a chocolate variation on seven-minute frosting, maybe like this. It uses egg whites and involves a little cooking. I made some once, a long time ago, and I've always meant to try again. I remember it being really good.

Re: buttercream: The frosting made in my house growing up was a buttercream with just a tablespoon or two of milk; this might also give a better result than what you've been finding. The recipe was on a bag of confectioners' sugar (I think it was: 1 bag sugar, 1 stick butter, tsp of vanilla, pinch salt, plus the milk). It was pretty sweet, but not like grocery store frosting.

To any of these, I recommend adding/substituting almond extract. Such a wonderful flavor.
posted by amtho at 10:42 AM on October 26, 2012

Someone says it in that thread you linked, but the best way I know how to make chocolate frosting is to take chocolate ganache, let it cool, and whip it with the whisk attachment on your mixer.

I know you said previous attempts are too dark-chocolatey. Have you tried the ganache method with a lighter chocolate? If you're not interested in doing it with milk chocolate, use like a 55% dark chocolate.

On preview: What Ery says is true, use the best tasting chocolate you can find.
posted by royalsong at 10:43 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Alton Brown's Chocolate Frosting (for his Devil's Food Cake) is chocolately but lightweight and spreadable because it's whipped in the bowl. It incorporates a small amount of mayo (which is made of oil, eggs, and air) to make it more spreadable, and basically works as a fusion of buttercream, ganache, and more air. The color lightens up as the volume increases, but in my experience, the flavor stands up.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:00 AM on October 26, 2012

Have you tried the sour cream frosting off of Smitten Kitchen? It's definitely not a super sweet buttercream or a ganache, but it has great flavour.
posted by quaking fajita at 11:28 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want the Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting from Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting recipe. It is chocolately and tangy and delicious.
posted by coppermoss at 11:28 AM on October 26, 2012

From the James Beard Cookbook: Helen Evans Brown's Amazing Frosting, which is delicious, simple, yet sophisticated. I've made it for years.
posted by Elsie at 12:54 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might try Swiss buttercream. It's not as sweet or buttery as regular buttercream, and has a wonderful spreadable texture. It uses regular sugar instead of confectioners sugar, so it doesn't have that weird taste. I will never make another frosting. It's a little fiddly, and there will probably be a point where you think you've ruined it, but it is worth the effort and anxiety! Try this recipe.
posted by apricot at 3:42 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

FYI - for xxxx sugar without cornstarch, you can "powder" granulated sugar in a blender.
posted by she's not there at 6:22 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a specific recipe, but I love love love chocolate frosting with a little coffee flavor.
Dissolving a little freeze-dried coffee works well for this.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:40 PM on October 26, 2012

Here is my own:

1 cup soft butter (not heated)
3 tlbs heavy cream
3/4 cup cocoa (I use 50/50 blend of Valrhona and Frys as the mix of the much darker Valrhona really cuts the sugar flavour but all dutch processed cocoa is too much for me)
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups icing sugar
Pinch salt

The trick I have found is to beat all but the salt together at a medium high speed for about 5 min more after all the ingredients have come together. All the whipping really changes the texture. Add the salt at the end.
To adjust texture add powdered sugar 1 tlbs at a time if its too soft or add more cream 1/2 tsp at a time until you are happy with how it spreads.

This also makes a great white buttercream by skipping the cocoa (obvs) and using 4 cups icing sugar.
posted by saradarlin at 9:03 PM on October 26, 2012

FWIW, please, world, don't put coffee flavoring in my chocolate frosting. Please.
posted by amtho at 5:58 PM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really don't like coffee flavor either, but even I put some small amounts of instant coffee in some of my most chocolaty applications-- it amplifies bitter chocolate very well.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:46 PM on October 27, 2012

Did you see this Cooks Illustrated buttercream recipe? It's called Easy Chocolate Buttercream or somesuch.

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cups confectioners' sugar
pinch table salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

In standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add confectioners' sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds, then reduce speed to low and gradually beat in chocolate. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice.
posted by Addlepated at 9:24 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sunburnt, you're not alone. Two different grocery stores do it in my area. It makes me so mad.

Please, people who want to don't have a problem finding coffee-tainted chocolate frosting. But what you're seeking, OP, deserves to just be itself. Please just stick to chocolate, with the texture and balance to which you've alluded. You're right that it's rare. Good, simple things, really are rare. I think that's because they only seem simple when they're done; a great batch of just chocolate frosting is a thing of effort and beauty.
posted by amtho at 7:03 PM on October 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone! I ended up making the Baking Bites milk chocolate sour cream frosting linked above, with a few tiny tweaks-- (+1/4 cup extra melted semi-sweet chocolate for darker flavor and stiffer texture, + 4T butter to cut the sourness, + enough confectioner's sugar to make up for the extra butter, + 1/4t almond extract instead of vanilla, as amtho suggested). As tweaked, it turned out to be almost exactly what I was looking for-- nice and rich, not too sugary, and soft and spreadable even a day or two later. Over the coming months, though, I'll try out some of the other intriguing suggestions and update accordingly. Thanks again!
posted by Bardolph at 9:24 AM on November 1, 2012

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