Chocolate Buttercream: Melted Chocolate vs. Cocoa Powder

cocoa powder

We make a lot of chocolate buttercream in our kitchen–A LOT. And we usually make it by melting down some chocolate chips for color and flavor. But we know of a few recipes that call for cocoa powder in their buttercream and that got us thinking. What are some of the differences between melted chocolate vs cocoa powder in this kind of frosting? Is it really better to add the extra step of melting down the chocolate? Or do things work out just fine by substituting in the cocoa powder? How do they compare? To find out, we went back to the test kitchen.

Made With Melted Chocolate

For this quick test we whipped up a batch of the best chocolate buttercream based on this recipe from one of our instructors, Cake by Courtney. For her chocolate buttercream you heat the chocolate chips and the heavy cream until the chips are fully melted. Then you mix the butter for two minutes, add the melted chocolate and mix for another minute, and slowly add the powdered sugar before finishing off with the vanilla and pinch of salt. The result is a smooth and light looking frosting with a deliciously sweet flavor.

Made With Cocoa Powder

When we mixed up the second batch, we had to make a few adjustments to the directions to incorporate the Extra Brute cocoa powder. So first we creamed the butter and added the heavy cream, vanilla, and salt. Then we should have sifted the cocoa and sugar together before adding it to the mixer. But we accidentally added all of the cocoa and then, when we realized we kinda forgot the powdered sugar, we quickly mixed that in too. The combination was a little too thick (which we knew it would be), so we added in a little more heavy cream to make the consistency as close to the other buttercream as we could get. Then we were finally ready for testing!

The Results

The first thing we noticed was the obvious difference in coloring. The melted chocolate buttercream was so much lighter. It looked smooth and whippy and the air bubbles would smooth out when we handbeat it with the spatula. It spread on the cake with very little effort and piped just as well. The interesting thing was the buttercream with the melted chocolate had a slightly gritty mouthfeel, so when we did the blind taste-test we were convinced that was the one with the cocoa powder in it and were shocked when we were wrong. It had a sweeter, softer flavor when matched side by side.

The buttercream made with the cocoa powder had a much darker and more luxurious color. It also smelled divine while it was whipping up in the mixer! Visibly, the texture wasn’t as smooth, and it was almost impossible to try and stir or spread out the bubbles with a spatula. It piped ok, but definitely wasn’t the prettiest presentation we had ever seen. But the taste was so good, because we chose to make this frosting with the Extra Brute cocoa powder. And the most surprising thing was the mouthfeel. The buttercream made with the cocoa powder looked a little grainy, but actually had a smoother and softer mouthfeel than the one made with melted chocolate. 

All in all, both were good. But we ultimately decided that the cocoa powder buttercream would make an excellent filling on a cake and the melted chocolate buttercream was ideal for the finish work. What do you think? Ready to have your cake and eat it too?

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