Learn how to decorate cupcakes at home with simple ingredients and supplies. Use buttercream icing and pastry tips to frost swirls and pipe flowers.
Today, you are going to learn everything you will ever need to know about cupcake decorating. These techniques are simple and easy and your cupcakes will look just as good as the ones from fancy bakeries. In the video tutorial below, you will see that this is easy enough for beginners. I hope this post is just as helpful as this one on How to Make Filled Cupcakes (Stuffed Cupcakes).
- Frosting- American buttercream frosting is the best choice. It's firm but still easy to pipe and holds its shape really well. Check out my Frosting and Filling Category for more icing recipes. All of them have been tested to ensure they can be used for piping and decorating. If you are short on time, you can use store-bought canned frosting. It's not as firm as I like my icing but you can chill it in the refrigerator for about an hour to make it easier to pipe. They are an excellent for decorating with a spatula though.
- Cupcakes- Two classic choices are Vanilla cupcakes and Chocolate Cupcakes but check out this Cupcakes Category for more delcious recipes.
- Food coloring- You can use liquid food coloring or gel food coloring or even powdered food coloring. I prefer gel food coloring because it's concentrated and thick and does not thin out the icing consistency, which can happen when you are using liquid food coloring.
Cupcake decorating tools
- Piping bags- These can be disposable or reusable. I prefer the disposable plastic ones because it makes clean up easier and you just throw them out. There is no washing necessary. Some people like to use Ziploc bags but I highly recommend piping bags. They are stronger and easier to hold in your hands and piping is much easier with them.
- Coupler- This is a small plastic piece and is useful when you are using smaller pastry tips and it allows you you to change out tips without re-filling the bag.
- Piping tips or pastry tips- They come in various sizes and shapes to create the desired pattern in icing.
- Spatula- This can help you fill the piping bags with icing or you can even use them to decorate in a rustic style.
- Icing bag ties- You can also use simple rubber bands. These are used to tie the end of a filled piping bag so that icing doesn't ooze out and make a mess.
How to Fill a Piping Bag (Pastry Bag)?
- Place your large pastry tip in a piping bag.
- Cut the bottom pointy portion of the bag with scissors. Don't cut off too much. You need to cut off just enough for the pastry tip to come through halfway but the hole should not be so big that the tip falls out of the bag.
- Place the piping bag in a tall drinking glass and fold the opening of the bag around the glass.
- Use a spoon or spatula to add frosting in this bag. Don't over-fill the bag. Only fill about halfway because it's easier to handle.
- Unfold the portion of the bag that was wrapped around the glass. Twist this plastic tightly and secure it with a rubber band. This keeps the icing from oozing out while you are piping.
How to Pipe Cupcakes (Swirl)?
- Hold piping bag at a 90 degree angle in the center of the cupcake.
- Pipe around the center until you complete a full circle.
- Without stopping, move the piping bag slightly inward to create the next circle of frosting.
- Continue piping and moving inward for three full circular rotations. These rotations should keep getting smaller as you go up.
- Finally, pull your piping bag away gently from the top.
Classic Cupcake Swirl- Pastry Tip 1M
This may be the most popular pastry tip out there and I find myself using it the most. It's quick, easy to use and creates the most beautiful design ever.
This one pastry tip can help you achieve that classic icing swirl plus the rose or rosette design. So, two in one designs!
Pastry Tip 4B (Big French Tip)
This is a spin on the classic swirl. It's not as ruffled but still very beautiful.
This pastry tip can also help you achieve a swirl and a unique flower. So, two in one designs here too.
Pastry Tip 1A (Big Round Tip)
I find myself using this tip the least. It creates a swirl that resembles a fluffy cloud. If you are making "hi hat cupcakes," this is the tip to use.
Two Toned Icing Swirls
Fill a piping bag with 2 colors of icings. You can add spoonfuls of each color of icing in the piping bag in an alternating pattern. Tie the end of the piping bag with a rubber band. Then, roll the bag gently in the palms of your hands until the two colors are mixed partially. Don't over-mix. Then, just pipe a swirl on top of your cupcakes. Toss some sprinkles, if you like.
Decorate With Spatula
If you don't want to go through the hassle of filling a piping bag and attaching pastry tips, just use a small offset spatula. Add a generous spoonful of icing on top of the cupcake. Then, use a spatula to create a swirl with a deep indentation in the center that can be filled caramel sauce or chocolate chips or sprinkles.
Rosette or Rose Cupcakes- Pastry Tip 1M
- Hold piping bag at a 90 degree angle in the center of the cupcake.
- Start squeezing your bag while moving your hand clockwise gently in a full continuous circle until the entire top is iced and covered and looks like a buttercream rose.
- I have a separate post where I go into great detail on how to pipe perfect Red Rose Cupcakes. Be sure to check that out too.
How to Frost Cupcakes to Look Like Flowers (Tip 104)?
One way is to use Tip 1M to make a rose. If you want to make a variety of floral designs, I highly recommend using Tip 104. Look at this image below to see all the beautiful cupcakes you cake make. These would be great for Spring and Summer parties.
Piping Flower Cupcakes with Pastry Tips 68, 102, 233, 22, 103, 17, 12, 79
In this image, you can see black arrows which indicate the direction in which your filled piping bag has to move to create the petals of a wide variety of buttercream flowers.
How to decorate cupcakes?
Once your cupcakes have been frosted in a swirl of icing, you can get very creative with decorations. There is a list of ideas below but they are not the only ideas out there. Think outside the box and turn your cupcakes into a work of art that mesmerizes people at parties.
- Sprinkles- There are so many colors, shapes and sizes these days. You can even make Homemade Sprinkles. Check out these Birthday Cupcakes (Pinata Cupcakes) or these Rainbow Cupcakes (With Cake Mix).
- Fresh fruits- Fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries are very popular. Make sure you wash them and pat them dry before topping your frosting. Check out these Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes (Valentine's Day Cupcakes) or these Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes.
- Fondant- You can use pre-made fondant toppers or make your own like I did with these Dinosaur Cupcakes or these Bee Cupcakes (Bumblebee or Honey Bee).
- Candies- The candy aisles are loaded with many different shapes, sizes and colors of candies. Let your imagination run wild and use those candies to make these Easter Chick Cupcakes with yellow gum balls or these Gingerbread Cupcakes, with candy cane shards.
- Cereal- Have you guys seen the variety of cereal these days? Use them as decoration like I used Froot Loops in these Monster Cupcakes.
- Cool arrangement- You can simply arrange iced cupcakes in cool shapes to create something. Check out these Watermelon Cupcakes (Pull Apart Cupcakes)or these Football Cupcakes Cake.
- Chopped nuts- Use finely chopped almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts or you can use pistachios like I did in these Carrot Cupcakes.
- Chocolate molds- There are chocolate molds for any holiday you can imagine. Just fill them with melted chocolate or candy melts and use those pieces as cupcake toppers like I did with these Snowflake Cupcakes.
- Cookies- Oreo cupcakes, Cookie Monster cupcakes
- Ganache- Keep things super simple but still elegant with a drizzle or pour of chocolate ganache, as you can see in these Boston Cream Cupcakes.
- Chocolate chips- Mini chocolate chips are best for decor, as you can see in these Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (With Mint Frosting).
- Multi colored frostings- Don't stick to one color. Use two toned icing or add even more colors like I did in these Galaxy Cupcakes to create a whimsical design.
- Stencils- This is another fun way to take your cupcakes to a new level of beauty. Check out this post on How to Use Stencils (For Cake Decorating).
- Sugar cubes- You can buy pretty ones in different colors or make Homemade Sugar Cubes. To keep them from dissolving into the frosting, I recommend adding them to cupcakes just before serving.
- Edible sprays and glitters- Wilton's Color Mist is excellent and an affordable choice and it works great on icing. You can also add some shine with gold and silver glitter sprays.
- Plastic or paper cupcake toppers- These can be easily found in the baking aisles of most grocery stores. They have a handy toothpick attached to them that can easily be pushed through your frosted cupcake.
- Marshmallows- There are so many cute shapes rather than just plain white and they make lovely toppers plus you get to enjoy an additional treat.
Can I decorate cupcakes the night before?
Yes, I actually recommend this so that you are not rushing on the day of the party. It's one less thing you have to worry about. If you are adding any decorations that can dissolve such as cotton candy, don't add that until just prior to serving. You can still pipe a frosting swirl on cupcakes a day in advance and be prepared.
Room temperature- Keep them in a covered box or cupcake container away from direct heat and moisture.
Refrigerate- If your cupcake has fresh fruits or perishable fillings that can go bad at room temperature, you will need to store in the refrigerator in a covered box or container.
Freeze- This is not recommended because sprinkles and candies don't thaw well and the moisture in the freezer can cause them to dissolve or ruin their color. If your cupcakes just have a swirl of frosting and no other decoration, it's still hard to freeze them properly and they can get freezer burns.
More baking tips and cake decorating tips
- How to Make Naked cake
- How to Make Homemade Cake Flour
- How to Make Red Frosting (Red Velvet)
- How to Make Black Icing (Buttercream Frosting)
How to Decorate Cupcakes
- Bake cupcakes and allow them to cool completely.
- While cupcakes are baking and cooling, prepare the frosting and color it, if you like.
- Attach a pastry tip to a piping bag and fill it with icing halfway.
- Tie the end of the bag with a rubber band.
- To make a buttercream swirl (with pastry tips 1M, 4B or 1A): Hold piping bag at a 90 degree angle in the center of the cupcake. Pipe around the center until you complete a full circle. Without stopping, move the piping bag slightly inward to create the next circle of frosting. Continue piping and moving inward for three full circular rotations. These rotations should keep getting smaller as you go up. Finally, pull your piping bag away gently from the top.
- To make a rose cupcake (with tip 1M): Hold piping bag at a 90 degree angle in the center of the cupcake.Start squeezing your bag while moving your hand clockwise gently in a full continuous circle until the entire top is iced and covered and looks like a buttercream rose.
- Frosting consistency should be soft yet firm. It should not be runny or else your swirls won't hold their shape.
- Make sure your cupcakes have completely cooled to room temperature before you start piping or else the icing will melt and ruin the swirl design.
- Once cupcakes have been frosted, they should be placed away from direct heat to prevent the icing from melting.
- When I first started doing this, I would practice on sheets of wax paper and I highly recommend that. It allows you test out the pressure and angles and motions before you move onto piping a cupcake.
- Use gel food coloring to tint the frosting since liquid coloring can make the icing too thin.
- You need a steady hand for piping and that comes with practice. Practice makes perfect. Don't give up if the swirls don't turn out the way you wanted.