chocolate frosting comparison

Let me put this right out there: Chocolate frosting isn’t my favorite thing. Chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, chocolate pie, yes. Vanilla frosting, cream cheese frosting, lemon frosting, yes. Chocolate ganache, that richest of chocolate glazes, yes. But frosting, not so much, and so this comparison was by request. And curiosity – is there a chocolate frosting out there for the likes of me?

My theory is that I haven’t found the perfect chocolate frosting because I like chocolate things to be very very chocolately. A hint of chocolately is just a tease. And with frosting, you’re playing a balancing act between squeezing in as much chocolate flavor as possible while maintaining a light, fluffy texture.

I compared Cooks Illustrated’s Creamy Chocolate Frosting (CI), Ina Garten’s Chocolate Frosting associated with her recipe for Beatty’s Chocolate Cake (BC), and Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Frosting (MS). Other than the addition of some sort of chocolate and some sort of sugar, they have little in common. Well, that and butter. Lots and lots of butter.  I used the same bittersweet chocolate for all of the recipes. We tasted the frostings plain.

CI (wider star tip) – This recipe is a swiss meringue buttercream, in which warmed egg whites and sugar are beaten together until fluffy, then soft butter is slowly whipped in. Melted bittersweet chocolate and vanilla extract are added at the end. The ratio of chocolate to sugar and butter in this recipe is 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate to 0.4 ounces granulated sugar and 2.0 tablespoons butter.

MS (round star tip) – This recipe is a mixture of butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, cocoa, sour cream, and bittersweet chocolate. For every 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate, there is 0.8 ounces powdered sugar and 1.6 tablespoons of dairy fat (from various sources).  Plus 1.5 teaspoons of cocoa powder.  My ratio system doesn’t work so well for this recipe.

BC (finer star tip) – This frosting includes butter, an egg yolk, vanilla, powdered sugar, coffee and bittersweet chocolate. There is 0.8 ounces powdered sugar and 2.7 tablespoons butter for every 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate.

CI –This frosting was smooth and light with no graininess.  With the least amount of sugar and a high ratio of chocolate to butter, I was expecting this to deliver the rich chocolate flavor I was hoping for, but it tasted as light as it felt.  Maybe all that air from whipping the egg whites to a meringue diluted the flavor?

MS – This frosting was creamy and mousse-like, although a bit grainy. It was by far Dave’s favorite, and it was mine as well.  (The magic word is mousse-like.)

BC – This frosting was thinner and a little grainy. Similar to Ina Garten’s popular brownie recipe, I thought the coffee flavor was overpowering.  It would make a great mocha icing, but for a classic chocolate frosting, the coffee powder should be eliminated or at least reduced to a pinch.

(Cooks Illustrated, Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa, Martha Stewart)

It comes as no surprise to me that the recipe that includes cream cheese is my favorite. It does surprise me that Dave would feel that way, as he generally isn’t as much of a fan of cream cheese. Perhaps it’s because Martha Stewart’s recipe had the least fat per chocolate in it, although it does have plenty of other goodies in there.  Or perhaps that extra sprinkling of cocoa bumped up the chocolate flavor more than I expected. Whatever the reason, this rich creamy frosting was chocolately enough to overlook the slightly grainy texture.

Already, just hearing about this comparison, new chocolate frosting recipes are being recommended, so this isn’t the end of this story. But at least it’s a beginning.

(Cooks Illustrated, Martha Stewart, Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa)

One year ago: Jalapeno-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
Two years ago: Pot Roast
Three years ago: Vanilla Frosting comparison

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Frosting
(from Martha Stewart via Annie Eats)

14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
9 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (12 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream

1. Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Set aside to cool until just barely warm.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Gradually mix in the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Beat in the melted and cooled chocolate and then the sour cream. Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Frost cupcakes immediately.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Creamy Chocolate Frosting
(from Cooks Illustrated)

⅓ cup (2⅓ ounces) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoon pieces
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to 85-100 degrees
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine the sugar, egg whites, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set over a small saucepan of simmering water, and, whisking constantly, cook until the mixture is slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150 degrees on an instant read thermometer, 2-4 minutes.

2. Fit bowl to stand mixer, and with the whisk attachment, beat at medium speed, until mixture is the consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1-3 minutes. Add butter 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. The frosting may look curdled halfway through, but it will smooth out eventually.

3. Once all the butter has been added, pour in the cooled chocolate and vanilla. Mix until well combined. Increase speed to medium-high and until light and fluffy, another 30 seconds to a minute. Frost cupcakes.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Buttercream
(from Ina Garten)

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups (5 ounces) sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

1. Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.


  1. I love and appreciate your comparisons! Whenever I am looking for something new and need to know which of something is the best, I head straight here!

  2. Nice comparison. I feel you on the CI buttercream’s lack of chocolate flavor. Whenever I do a swiss meringue chocolate buttercream I use some melted chocolate AND some unsweetened cocoa to really bring out the chocolate flavor.

  3. Great comparison, Bridget! The Martha recipe is by far our favorite as well – so rich and delicious!

  4. Laura says:

    Bridget, I’ve been waiting for this post! 🙂 The recipes are quite different from the standard butter, powdered sugar, cocoa/melted chocolate frostings I’ve seen most frequently. (MS is the closest, but I’ve never seen sour cream and cream cheese used togerther.) I wonder how a basic recipe would stack up against these? Especally one that included both melted chocolate and cocoa because I agree that cocoa could amp up the chocolate flavor on a frosting.

  5. Thank you so much for this! I loved your yellow cake comparison and I’m really happy to see this one!

  6. Sceen says:

    I love you for doing all these comparisons; I’m not really in a position where I can afford to keep buying ingredients and testing recipes out myself, so knowing that the money I do spend on materials is definitely going towards making something good is a nice feeling.

    Also, I think the comparison tag is missing on this post?

  7. bridget says:

    Sceen – Thanks! Considering how much work goes into each of these comparison posts, I always get a certain satisfaction from selecting that category!

  8. Cream cheese? I made cream cheese frosting for the first time a couple of days ago, and it’s amaaaaazing. I didn’t know that it would work with chocolate, too!

  9. I think I leave the same comment on each of your comparison posts – you rock!! The MS recipe even looks the most chocolatey, I definitely need to try it.

  10. I’m so appreciative of all the comparisons you do! They save me a lot of hemming and hawing!

  11. Wendy says:

    I LOVE your comparison posts. I have a spreadsheet of all the comparisons I want to do myself and I’ve already crossed a few off the list. I’ve made chocolate swiss meringue buttercream and I agree it isn’t chocolatey enough. I’ve also made Martha’s rich chocolate frosting in her Cupcakes book and I thought that was a lot of work and it was just too rich. But I LOVE the Cooks Illustrated foolproof chocolate frosting and it’s a cinch to make. I’d love to see your opinion of that. It’s super easy and super chocolately without being too rich.

  12. I’ve been dying to see your results for this comparison! I’m so glad you like the MS recipe as much as I do. Up until I tried that, I really didn’t have a chocolate frosting that I loved but now I definitely do.

  13. Do you think that one frosting hs better decorating potential than another? Easier to work with, held shape, etc?

  14. Love this. Sounds like I would like the MS one too. I am not huge on chocolate icing in the same way you are.

  15. bridget says:

    Branny – It’s a good question, but they all seemed easy to work with and they all held their shape until the next afternoon when the last cupcake was eaten (by me).

  16. Awesome comparison! I stumbled it. 😀

  17. Great comparison is making me hungry for any one of those chocolate frostings!

  18. I’ve recently found my new favorite go to chocolate frosting!!
    I found it at Joy the Baker, its a little different but fantastic. So smooth, creamy and full of chocolate flavor if you use the best cocoa powder (I used Guittard Cocoa Rouge) and the best part is that it doesn’t taste or feel overly sweet.

  19. so what would it take to become a taste-tester in your kitchen? your experiments rock. 🙂

  20. I haven’t tried the MS frosting yet, but Hubby and I both enjoy Ina’s. I do agree it’s a bit coffee-y. Guess I need to make the MS recipe some time soon.

  21. Nice comparison! I’m definitely going to try the MS one because I love cream cheese.

    By far, my favorite frosting EVER is this one from Our Best Bites. It seems strange (with the flour and cooking it first) but it is melt-in-your-mouth amazing. I literally eat it with by the spoonful!

  22. OTA Mom says:

    I’m so glad you’re doing these comparisons, no one else out there I’ve seen is and it is great time-saving info for us readers. And I KNEW my girl Martha would prevail! 🙂

  23. I love your comparison posts, Bridget. all those frostings look delicious, I think I’m going to have to try them all for my own comparison 😉

  24. Great comparison. Thank you for sharing it with the community. All the frostings look delicious

  25. Just found this while looking for an opinion on Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting! Love the comparisons and appreciate your great photos and the time you took to do this. I’m going to try it right now.