French Chocolate Buttercream

by May 15, 2015

When I want chocolate cake, nothing else will do. I’ll wait for it, in fact, I’ve been waiting for six days for this one. The craving hit last Sunday, but there was no chocolate cake, nor ingredients with which to make chocolate cake. I fixed both of those issues this week.


The star of this baking session was the frosting, but isn’t that usually the case? French Buttercream was what I wanted to play with, and it more than compensated for the cake part of the experiment, which was average at best. (This double chocolate cake remains my favorite for deep-dark, moist, and very chocolatey.  A lighter version is Birthday Cake:  Chocolate.)  Thanks to Alice Medrich and Meg Ray for their respective frosting recipes (Alice’s Chocolate Buttercream Frosting in The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook, and Meg’s French Buttercream from her lovely book, Miette.)


French Chocolate Buttercream

makes a generous 3 cups; enough to frost a layer cake (6, 8 or 9 inches) or 24 cupcakes

(recipe adapted from originals by Alice Medrich and Meg Ray)


  • 10 oz. bittersweet chocolate chopped
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter (2 sticks) room temperature


  1. Melt chocolate in stainless steel bowl set over simmering water. Remove bowl from water and set aside to cool.

  2. Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, whisk egg yolks until they thicken and turn very light yellow. Toss in the pinch of salt. You can't over-mix, so just let the mixer run on medium while you do the next step.

  3. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and set on the stovetop over medium heat. Bring to boil and cook, without stirring, until sugar is dissolved and temperature reaches soft-ball stage on a candy thermometer (225°–230°F at 5000 ft. elevation, 235°–240°F sea level).

  4. Turn mixer speed to low and drizzle the boiling sugar syrup into the egg yolks, then increase to medium, and beat until cooled to room temperature.

  5. Now it's time to add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, while keeping the mixer on medium speed and beating after each addition until it is absorbed into the yolks.  Adding the butter and mixing to a beautifully creamy frosting will take several minutes.  Don't panic if it looks curdled as you add the butter, just keep mixing and it will be fine in time.  

  6. Drizzle in the cooled, melted chocolate and beat 30 seconds. Now you're ready to frost!


Amy’s Kitchen Coach Tips

  • Coffee Buttercream:  Actually, this tip is from Meg Ray of Miette.  Before beginning the buttercream, using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat butter with 1 ½  tablespoons of instant espresso powder until well combined, 2 – 3 minutes.
  • There are recipes out there that make it a point to heat the egg yolks in a recipe like this to 160 degrees F.  They do that to ensure than any potential bacteria is killed, essentially pasteurizing the eggs.  I use farm fresh eggs, so I don’t worry about eating a “raw-ish” yolk now and then.  (The hot sugar syrup does some degree of cooking of the egg yolks, but I have not stopped to take the temperature.)  If you’re pregnant or baking for people with immune systems that may not be top-notch, take the extra care to pasteurize the eggs in the following way:  bring a skillet with an inch or two of water to a simmer on the stove.  At step #4, after you drizzle in the sugar syrup and beat a minute, take your mixing bowl and hold it over the skillet (you’ve basically constructed a “double-boiler” or bain-marie) and whisk until the temperature reaches 160 degrees F.  Once there, put the bowl back on your mixer and continue beating on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and cooled to room temperature.  (See Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Buttercream Frosting in the Baker’s Dozen Cookbook for the full OCD, including the tip to wash your mixing beater.)
  • Water boils at a lower temperature at altitude, so you need to adjust all your “soft-ball”, “hard-ball” stages for sugar syrups and candy making:  High Altitude Candy Making tips
  • If not eating same day, store frosted cake in refrigerator; bring to room temperature for an hour before serving.
  • Don’t throw out leftover buttercream. Put it in a ziplock freezer bag, date it with a Sharpie, and freeze it. To bring it back to life, ideally thaw the bag overnight in the refrigerator. If you’re in a rush, you can microwave on defrost power (usually 30%) until it is slightly softened. Put the thawed buttercream in your stand mixer with the whisk attachment and turn it on. If it is still too cold to revive itself, you can either set the mixing bowl over a pan of hot water until about one quarter of the buttercream is melted, or you can remove one quarter of the total amount, melt it in the microwave, then drizzle it into the more firm buttercream. Beat, beat, beat. It’s a play between butter that’s too cold and too soft. Relax and you will restore the frozen lump of buttercream to its original consistency in no time. If you get things too runny, place the bowl in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and beat again.

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