The first step of decorating a cupcake is deciding which frosting to use. To get started, check out our list of popular cupcake frostings, plus get recipes and tips for using each one.
Butter and white frostings can be flavored to complement the cupcakes and tinted to match your party theme. Follow these tips for flavoring and coloring cupcake frosting.
If you want to avoid artificial dyes, make your own natural food coloring for frosting instead! Blend together fruits and vegetables (yes, vegetables!), then mix the juice with buttercream frosting to create pretty colors for decorating. Use strawberries to make pink, blackberries and blueberries for purple, mango and carrot juice for yellow, and peach slices and spinach to make green. You can also use freeze-dried berries for even more vibrant colors.
There are several options for frosting cupcakes, depending on the look you'd like.
Piped Cupcake Frosting: If you want to learn how to frost cupcakes and pipe designs on cupcakes with a piping bag, you need a pastry bag and pastry tips. If you're just beginning and wondering which tips to buy, the following make a good starter set: round tips for lines, dots, writing, filling, and frosting cupcakes; open-star tips for star-shape decorations; closed-star tips for rosettes; basket-weave tips for lattices and ribbonlike lines and borders; and grass tips for grass, fur, and other textured looks.
Piped Frosting Hack: If you don't have a pastry bag, you can create simple piping designs by scooping your frosting into a resealable plastic bag and cutting off one corner. Then, frost as you would with any pastry bag. This effect will look very similar to the round tip in a pastry frosting set.
Unless directed otherwise, frost the cupcakes as soon as you have mixed the frosting. Frosting will set up if allowed to stand, making it difficult to spread. Canned frosting should be at room temperature and stirred before using. To frost, scoop a large dollop of the frosting and place it on top of a cupcake. With an offset metal spatula, spread the frosting in a thick layer in one direction, smoothing it with the spatula. Use the tip of the spatula to create a swirl in the frosting, and flip the tip of the spatula to make a peak.
For a different look, dip the tops of cupcakes in powdered sugar icing, ganache, or warmed frosting. Hold the cupcake by the paper bottom, and dip the top in the frosting. The frosting sets up into a shiny coating, and it can be tinted any color you wish.
To create the professional-looking swirl you see at bakeshops, use a plastic bag with the corner snipped off or a pastry bag fitted with a large star or round tip. Push the frosting toward the hole in the bag, squeezing out any air pockets. Pipe the frosting on the cupcake in concentric circles, one on top of the other, to obtain the desired height. To finish with a peak, release pressure on the frosting and pull up the tip of the bag.
After frosting the cupcakes, add sprinkles, candy, fresh fruit, or other garnishes. Here are some cupcake-decorating ides to try:
Check crafts supply stores, specialty food stores, and mail-order sources for other cupcake sprinkles such as tiny candy-coated chocolate spheres or glistening jewel-like confections.