How to Decorate Cupcakes

Blank cupcakes ready for decoration.

Thinking about how to decorate cupcakes and coming up with new, innovative designs is one of the most thrilling parts of cake decorating. Cupcakes have become a huge trend through the years, but they have definite staying power due to their small packages, universal appeal, and near-endless decorating potential. Almost every cake recipe can be adapted to make cupcakes instead, so there's no need to serve plain vanilla or chocolate if you'd really like something more interesting.

Cupcakes are fantastic vehicles for frosting because they work well with almost any consistency of icing, and you can make several small bowls of frosting for a single batch of cupcakes and decorate each cake in a slightly different way. Cake decorators who have an abundance of design ideas and may have trouble picking just one for a cake will always be satisfied with cupcakes, since each tiny cake can hold an individual design and still look good with the rest of the batch.

Frosting Cupcakes

When you're considering how to decorate cupcakes, it's not always easy to choose what kind of icing you'd like. Buttercream frosting is the most popular, but you may want to experiment with lots of different icing types to learn more about how each works.

Buttercream

Most people feel that buttercream is the best tasting cake frosting. Homemade buttercream often tastes better than store-bought, but if you're pressed for time, it's easy to start with cans of ready-made buttercream and tint or flavor them to your preference.

Buttercream is also the easiest frosting to make and apply. Whipping up a batch of buttercream can take as little as 10 minutes, and if you care more about the taste of your cupcakes than how they look, you can simply slather on the frosting with a flat spatula or a regular butter knife. For a fancier technique, pipe on buttercream with a pastry bag and tip. You can use different frosting tips to make flowers, leaves, rosettes, and other decorations.

Fondant

Fondant, sometimes called sugar paste, is a lot of fun to work with, and its stiffer consistency allows bakers to use it for intricate decorations. Fondant is similar to modeling clay in texture and feel. It's a very forgiving frosting in that if you roll it out and make a mistake with cutting or shaping, you can simply re-roll it and start over. You can also melt and pour fondant on cupcakes.Fondant does have several drawbacks. Most people don't find it as tasty as buttercream, and the texture is stiff and gummy rather than creamy and light. Fondant hardens with time, which can make its texture and taste even less appealing. It's often applied with a "glue" of buttercream frosting, so it can be time-consuming to make and use both fondant and buttercream.

Ganache

Ganache is a thin frosting of melted chocolate, often combined with butter or cream. When it cools to room temperature, the ganache thickens and stays firm on the cupcake. You can work with ganache in its liquid form before it cools and thickens by scooping it into a pastry bag or a Ziploc bag and drizzling it over plain cooled cupcakes. Alternately, you can wait until the ganache cools slightly, scoop it into a pastry bag, and pipe it out more thickly with a star tip or another patterned tip. Ganache is a very rich, flavorful frosting, so most decorators apply it only sparingly.

A cupcake decorated with frosting

More Tips for How to Decorate Cupcakes

  • Try creating your own cupcake toppers with toothpicks or craft sticks and hand-decorated paper designs. Stick the toppers into finished, frosted cupcakes.
  • Use dragées, hard candies, or other small treats to form shapes and designs on your cupcakes.
  • Place fresh flowers, gum paste flowers, or fondant flowers on cupcakes decorated with white buttercream frosting.
  • Skim through design ideas online or in books for full-sized cakes and modify those you like most for use on cupcakes.
  • Present cupcakes in a cupcake stand with a larger cake on top.
How to Decorate Cupcakes