How to Frost and Decorate Cupcakes

Whether you're a seasoned cupcake-decorating pro or a complete rookie when it comes to frosting cupcakes, we've got decorating tips to help you make beautiful treats. Follow our simple step-by-step guide for whipping up delicious cupcake frosting, plus creative decorating and icing techniques.

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Step 1: Cupcake Frosting Guide

Perfect swirls of cupcake frosting and a variety of fun and delicious garnishes top these adorable desserts. Cupcake Recipes

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 Frosting: For a quick and easy cupcake frosting, choose butter frosting. The simple mixture of butter, powdered sugar, and milk is great piped on cupcakes and cakes.
    See Butter Frosting recipe

  • Ganache: An equally easy cupcake frosting, ganache is a mixture of whipping cream and melted chocolate. Dip cupcakes in warm ganache for a silky-smooth glaze, or cool the ganache to a spreading consistency and use it as frosting.
    See Ganache recipe

  • Buttercream Frosting: Buttercream is a classic cupcake frosting made with sugar, butter, and eggs or egg whites. Less sweet than a butter frosting, buttercream has a silky-smooth texture. It spreads easily and pipes beautifully.
    See Buttercream Frosting recipe

  • Creamy White Frosting: Creamy white frosting is another popular option. Similar to a butter frosting but made with vegetable shortening instead of butter, this ultra-white frosting is easily tinted to take on brilliant hues. Shortening makes the frosting fluffy and easy to spread and pipe. Replace the milk in your white frosting recipe with almond milk or soy milk for an easy vegan frosting recipe.
    See Creamy White Frosting recipe

  • Powdered Sugar Icing: Powdered sugar icing is a thin mixture of powdered sugar and milk or other liquid. Cupcakes can be dipped in the icing, or you can use it as a drizzle. Alter the consistency of this simple glaze by adding more powdered sugar for a thick frosting and more milk for a thin frosting.
    See Powdered Sugar Icing recipe

  • Cream Cheese Frosting: Cream cheese frosting is best known as the topping for carrot cake and red velvet cake, but it can also be used for frosting spice, apple, and chocolate cakes. The tangy, creamy frosting spreads easily and can be swirled into peaks. (Note: Be sure to store cupcakes topped with this frosting in the refrigerator.)
    See Cream Cheese Frosting recipe

  • Canned Purchased Frosting: Short on time? Canned frostings are an easy alternative to homemade frostings, and they're available in creamy and whipped varieties and many flavors. Whipped frosting is fluffy and easy to spread and swirl. Creamy-style frosting can be warmed and used as a glaze or coating. Both kinds of frosting can be tinted and piped.
    How to Make Cupcakes
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Step 2: Tips for Adding Color and/or Flavor to Cupcake Frosting

We used maraschino cherry juice to give this cupcake frosting a subtle pink color and almond extract for flavor. Get the Recipe

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.

  • Add Color to Cupcake Frosting
    Before adding color to your frosting, you may want to divide the frosting into two or more portions so you can leave one portion untinted and tint the remaining portions with paste, gel, or liquid food coloring, all of which you can find in grocery stores or specialty baking stores.
  • How to Use Food Coloring
    Paste and gel food colorings are very concentrated, so use a small amount. Twirl a toothpick in the coloring and then in the frosting and mix well, adding more food coloring, a little at a time, until you obtain the desired color. Liquid food colorings are more diluted than paste, so the frosting will be less vivid. Simply stir in drops of coloring until you achieve the desired hue.
  • Add Flavor to Cupcake Frosting
    The baking aisle of your grocery store offers an assortment of extracts to enhance your cupcake frosting flavor. In addition to vanilla and almond, look for other frosting flavors such as peppermint, rum, raspberry, banana, and cherry. Or add a splash of liqueur to the frosting. For citrus frostings, add finely shredded lemon, lime, or orange peel, and replace the milk with lemon, lime, or orange juice.

Step 3: Cupcake Frosting Techniques

It's easy to create a swirled cupcake frosting effect. We used a pastry bag fitted with a round tip to give these chocolate cupcakes a professional look. How to Make Frosting

There are several options for frosting cupcakes, depending on the look you'd like.

  • Simple Cupcake Frosting: 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.
  • Dipped Cupcake Frosting: 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.
  • Swirled Cupcake Frosting: 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.
  • Piped Cupcake Frosting: To pipe designs on cupcakes, 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.
    How to Decorate Cupcakes with Piped Frosting

Step 4: Ideas for Decorating Frosted Cupcakes

A simple pineapple-and-coconut topping makes an elegant and easy cupcake decoration. Hummingbird Cupcakes Recipe

After frosting the cupcakes, add sprinkles, candy, fresh fruit, or other garnishes. Here are some cupcake-decorating ides to try:

  • Nonpareils, or tiny crunchy balls made from sugar, are available in mixed or single colors. Use them as simple toppers or to create elaborate designs.
  • Decorating sugars, sometimes called sanding sugars, have a coarser grain than granulated sugar and are available in many colors. Sparkling sugar has an elongated grain and has been treated to give extra shimmer. In a pinch, you can color plain granulated or coarse sugar with liquid food coloring.
  • Edible glitter and edible food-color spray add shimmer or color to frosted cupcakes.
  • Jimmies are tiny cylindrical decorations. Look for them in single or mixed colors.
  • Confetti refers to the flat decorations made from sugar and available in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes.
  • Arrange tiny candies, such as miniature candy-coated chocolate pieces, chocolate-covered raisins, and small jelly beans, in decorative patterns to make borders,
  • Cut fruit rolls and fruit leathers with scissors or small hors d'oeuvre cutters into all kinds of shapes. You can also cut them into thin strips to tie into knots or bows or twist into shapes.
  • Use thin strips of licorice as borders or outlines, or braid or knot them.
  • Gumdrops and jellied candies come in beautiful jewel-like colors. Use them as simple toppers, or roll them flat and cut into desired shapes.
  • Taffy-type candies can also be rolled flat, but they're easier to work with if softened for 1 to 3 seconds in the microwave.
  • Large candies, such as peppermint sticks and other flavored stick candies or lollipops, add height to cupcakes and serve as accent pieces or to hold up tiny messages, signs, or other decorative elements.

Check crafts stores, specialty food stores, and mail-order sources for other cupcake sprinkles such as tiny candy-coated chocolate spheres or glistening jewel-like confections.

More Cupcake Recipes and Tips

Sticking an edible cookie straw into the cupcake frosting puts the perfect finishing touch on these coffee-inspired treats. Mochaccino Cupcakes Recipe

Get Creative Cupcake Ideas!

Decadent Chocolate Cupcake Recipes

Our Best Cupcake Recipes

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