I often get asked how I decorate my cupcakes. So I figured a post dedicated to the ‘how’ of it all was in order. However, to be honest, I don’t think it is something that can be taught. It’s a matter of practice. Get yourself a plate or silicone mat, and a vat of buttercream, and go at it. Fill your piping bag with frosting, and create swirl after swirl on the plate. When it’s full, simply scrape off the buttercream, refill your bag, and repeat. I’m serious here. You need to figure out for yourself what is comfortable as far as holding the piping bag, and become familiar with the proper pressure and motion you need to use to create that perfect buttercream swirl.

As with many things, the right tools make all the difference. You’re not going to be able to achieve a big and beautiful swirl if your piping tip is too small. No practice can help that.

The Tools for Decorating Cupcakes

A few of my favorite and most useful tools (clockwise from left):

1. Piping bag. I have a few different piping bags, but I use this 14″ professional pastry bag more than any other. It’s just the right size for frosting a dozen cupcakes, and the poly canvas is a great texture to work with (that gets softer each and every time you use it). I have two, one with a larger opening for the jumbo tips, and one with a smaller opening for more dainty decorations. You can choose to use a coupler if you like (keep in mind the jumbo tips require jumbo couplers), though for the larger tips I find it unnecessary and just more to wash (and possibly lose).

2. Piping tips. The right tip makes all the difference. These jumbo tips are perfect for cupcakes. Play around with different shapes and find the one you like best. I personally love the Closed Star Tip, demonstrated below, which I use for just about all of my cupcakes. The large round is also a favorite, especially for mini cupcakes.

3. Spatula. If I could only have one spatula for the rest of my life, this would be it. It’s a half-sized spatula from Le Creuset. The perfect size to make loading your piping bag a breeze. Not to mention it’s turquoise, and that makes me happy.

4. Flower veiner. If you want to make perfect blossoms out of fondant, gumpaste, or marzipan (as seen here or here), these silicone molds are amazing. For larger flowers, I use this Blossom set (pictured – which includes a flower cutter as well), or for smaller buds this Five Petal Press set.

5. Cupcake wrappers. Be warned. Once you see all the adorable cupcake wrappers available at Bake it Pretty, you’ll need to dedicate and entire drawer to them. It’s an obsession I tell you.

6. Sprinkles. Because sprinkles make everything better. There are lots of sprinkles available at Bake it Pretty, including the White Pearlized Jimmies pictured above.

7. Food coloring. Want pretty buttercream? These Americolor gel food colorings will give you beautifully bold colors with just a drop or two.

8. Cupcake scoop. Maybe the best $15 you’ll ever spend. This large scoop from Pampered Chef doles out the perfect (and I mean PERFECT) portion for a standard size cupcake. No more overfilled cups. Also check out the small scoop, which, coincidentally, is the perfect size for mini cupcakes.

Jumbo Closed Star Tip for Frosting Cupcakes

The Closed Star Tip, my personal favorite for frosting cupcakes. I know a lot of the pros use the jumbo round tips, but for the life of me I can never seem to get a round tip to produce anything short of a pile of poop. Sorry, but it’s true. For that reason I stick to my star tip.

How To Frosting Buttercream Cupcake Swirls

Beyond getting ahold of the right tools, you’re on your own. As I mentioned above, practice really does make (almost) perfect. But, to get you started, I thought actually seeing a swirl or two couldn’t hurt. Keep in mind I am self-trained here. This is the technique I picked up after frosting dozens and dozens of cupcakes. You may find your swirls look better when piped differently. You’ll get different results if you start the swirl in the center (more of a rose like effect rather than a towering swirl) instead of the edge. You’ll see different patterns depending on the angle at which you hold the piping bag, the pressure you put on it, and the speed at which you move. So many variables I can’t even begin to describe. Again, it’s just a matter of practicing. It’s not like having dozens of ugly practice cupcakes sitting around is a bad thing, either. :)

My swirls are far from perfect. They are often uneven, too tall, or lopsided. I haven’t yet mastered the ‘end’ or ‘tip’ of the swirl, getting that perfect point to top it all off. As it stands, these cupcakes need a topper like a flower or cherry to disguise the rough break in the buttercream. This has a lot to do with the consistency of the buttercream—meringue buttercreams will usually give you nicer ends than American buttercream. Always a work in progress!

Jumbo Piping Tips for Cupcake Decorating

And now that we’ve discussed tools and techniques, it’s time for a giveaway! As you’ve probably noticed if you clicked any of the links above, I am a huge fan of Bake it Pretty. It’s a bakers paradise, with just about everything you need to make gorgeous cupcakes, candies, and more. Lucky for you folks, Amanda has generously donated one of her very popular Best Ever Cupcake Icing Kits (so popular in fact, that they sold out before I had a chance to write this post prior to Christmas – I’ve been waiting patiently since then for the kits to be restocked). Each kit includes a 14″ professional pastry bag, four jumbo piping tips perfect for buttercream swirls of all shapes and sizes, as well as a tips & instructions card to help you get started.

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

That's My Jam: Winter edition Now Available!

417 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. Thank you so much for all of the wonderful information. I am just getting into the lovely world of cupcakes. It gives me a sense of pride to make something so adorable that is edible and fun to look at. I like to make people ooh and aww : )

    I’m rootin’ for this frosting kit! *wishing, wishing, wishing to not use ziplocks anymore*

    I mentioned this giveaway on my blog here:
    http://cheery-jos.blogspot.com/2010/01/for-love-ofcupcakes.html

  2. thanks for your helpful tips!

  3. I will love too win. Its a great giveaway :-) Thanks for sharing your tips about cupcakes :-)

  4. So happy to see the success that you are having and sharing it with all of us. By the way I remade your Blackberry Almond cupcakes and they didn’t sink and they were scrumptious. Thanks for your help and blog. Wow, love Bake It Pretty, thanks for sharing!

  5. I am still a sweets novice and this would be a big help for sure!

  6. Wow… so many takers for the kit. Count me in as well. Love ur cupcakes and thanks esp. for the video.

  7. Wow, what an awesome giveaway! And a great video. I can’t resist anything cupcake.

  8. Retweeted. (@1rockstarmommy)

  9. Wow thank you for the tools and tips. Must practice just like you said.

  10. Lovely blog! Great ideas. XO

  11. frankly, i had no idea so many utensils were designed for cupcake decorating. i’m amazed and intrigued. :)

  12. I love your blog; you always make the prettiest cupcakes. :)

  13. I cannot wait to make these for Valentine’s Day!

  14. Great tips! Cupcakes are tough until you find what method works for you. I’m definitely going to order those tips.

  15. I love your blog! And I love cupcakes! I make them as often as I can, and the icing kit would be the perfect addition to my toolbox.

  16. Thank you, Lindsay!

  17. love cupcakes….. love giveaways…. love your blog!

  18. This is the first ever food blog I discovered, and visit every day. =o] I’m new to the world of baking, and cupcakes are my favorite to make!

  19. Looks yummy! :D

  20. Thanks for the giveaway!

  21. I would love to win this!

    I think I will go tweet this for a second chance :)

  22. great giveaway! i’d love to improve my frosting skills

  23. I would love to win the giveaway. An icing bag & tips is something that I do not own yet.

  24. This would be a blessing to me, I am just starting to begin my journey into my cupcake biz and I so have a need for all these important tools. U can never know how this would help me since this bad ecomics times have hit my family as well as so many others.
    Thanks so much,
    Stacy

  25. How did I not know about Bake it Pretty?! I’m now completely addicted!

    Your Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes are a big hit at my house! Thanks for the giveaway!!!

  26. i used to work at a bakery during high school and whenever i got the chance to decorate cupcakes, i was raring to go. however, that didn’t get to happen often since i was more in charge of setting up and baking rolls, bread, etc. i’ve recently been getting back into decorating and such, and this would be a huge help. ziploc bags with holes cut in the corner just aren’t cutting it!

    cheers,

    *heather*

  27. I want, I want!

  28. I love cupcakes and have been meaning to buy some proper decorating equipment. Thanks for the recommendations!

  29. I need this so bad! I too have created numerous piles of frosting poop!

  30. Thanks so much for your thorough posting on decorating- I’ll have to get to practicing on my buttercream piping now!

  31. i heart cupcakes. for real.

  32. Love your blog. Have used many of your recipes and tips. Stumbled across your blog when I was searching for gluton free recipes and I’m so glad I did. I love all of your cupcake ideas!!!

  33. Great, great blog! =)

  34. I have cupcakes on tap to bake this week! Love, love, LOVE Bake It Pretty! What a great giveaway!

  35. yum! I love the video!

  36. I have an unhealthy cupcake making obsession and I would love to win this! Thanks for the chance :)

  37. Love that kit! I’ve been eying it for a while!

  38. Cupcakes are my favorite things to bake! I’ve been too scared to try anything fancy in the decorating department but this post makes me want to give it a shot!

  39. I don’t make cupcakes but my daughter does.
    She would love this.

  40. This is an amazing starter kit and or prize. The funny thing is that i was just on the phone yesterday with my mom saying that i need to buy bigger tips for my cupcakes. Good luck to all. Now i will tweet abou this. haha

  41. A girl can never have too many pastry bags in her arsenal.

  42. I love it! I am doing ok on the taste side of baking, but I need some help “baking pretty”!!

  43. I <3 bake it pretty!!!

  44. Thanks for the tips!

  45. What a beautiful set, and giveaway! I always love the way your creations look, and would to have the opportunity to attempt something even half as lovely! thanks for hosting this :)

  46. my daughter is so into baking cupcakes and learning about different ways to frost them, this would be perfect for her

  47. Great timing…I am in the market for a new pastry tip, as my SO just “misplaced” my old favorite one! Love the Bake it Pretty website and you blog is fantastic for inspiration!

  48. This is such a great giveaway!! I love baking for my children and this would be great for making them special cupcakes. Thank you!

  49. I need to try these different tips for decorating my cupcakes!

  50. What a great, fun giveaway!
    I retweeted this info so everyone can learn of this sweet shop:
    https://twitter.com/boltandfrolic

  51. I, too, have become quite a fan of Bake It Pretty! I’m planning on making some snowflake themed cupcakes with the last order I placed. By the way, the star tip is my favorite, too! :)

  52. today is my birthday ! :) i want to your giveaway is my birthday gift :))))

  53. I too, adore Bake it Pretty! I recently purchased the houndstooth cupcake cups (among other delightful things) for a stylish baby shower I’m planning for my best friend.. Superb giveaway! Thank you!

  54. i looove bake it pretty!

  55. Thank you, thank you for pointing me in the direction of Bake It Pretty! What a wonderful site — and what a wonderful post here on Love and Olive Oil!

  56. Funny thing-I have been working on using the star tip on my cupcakes all weekend…trying to get them close to perfect for a baby shower this week! I’m with you on the round tip-can’t get it to work. Maybe one day. Great giveaway!

  57. amazing! i love bake it pretty!
    my icing tips have been bashed about so much (i just moved house) i keep getting the weirdest results! new ones would make my smile the biggest ever!
    dx

  58. What a great tutorial and info for the cupcake lover! I love bake it pretty….they have some very unique items. I also am a huge fan of the oversized tips….and have lost a few to the garbage disposal so I would love to win some more! Thx for the great post and the giveaway opportunity!

  59. Those giant frosting tips are heaven sent – I’ve been coveting them for months!

    PS – here’s my tweet love: http://twitter.com/melissakmurray/status/8198021863

  60. I could practice till I was blue in the face, and never be as good as you!

    Great post! And tell Taylor I said great job on the camera work! I loved the YouTube video. (if it was him that recorded it)

  61. Hi Lindsay! Your cupcakes are always a hit when I make them for any occasion. I posted this giveaway in my Facebook (link above).

  62. I LOVE making cupcakes, and make them enough that my sons first phrase was “I want more cupcake”

  63. I saw that cupcake kit on Bake It Pretty as well and am hoping to buy it soon. I need lots of practice piping; my cupcakes never look pretty! Thanks for the great idea to practice on a mat!

  64. Oh! I want one! Looks awesome!

  65. *sigh* who doesn’t love cupcakes? :)

  66. I remember a time in my life when I did not have a desperate, visceral need for cupcake decorating accessories. Happily, that time is not now.

  67. Also, sharing on FB now!

  68. Oh how I would love to have that kit!! It would make my cupcake frosting so much easier and quicker! Pick me!! :)

  69. THANK YOU!!

    When you posted the Balsamic Raspberry Cupcakes, I just had to try them out. I was really proud of how tasty they turned out (baking is, er, not exactly my forté), and I wanted to make a blog post about it but I was less-than-proud at my sad use-a-butterknife icing technique. Yours looked so pretty, and mind looked sad.
    My brother gave me an icing kit for Christmas so I could make non-poopy cupcakes, and I’ve been dying to use it but I wasn’t sure where to begin. Thanks for posting this tutorial!! I would honestly never have thought to practice on anything but real lifve cupcakes, and I probably would have been disappointed when my first attempts failed, so thanks for all the tips!

  70. Love making cupcakes…one of my favorites for fall is your own pumpkin spice cupcakes with cinammon rum icing, yummy!

  71. This totally works out for me (assuming I am chosen, at least) since Ive been looking for some piping bags and tips. Oh, I hope, I hope!

    Everything else is also fabulous. I love the turquoise spatula. You can never have to much colour~

  72. Thanks for the tips and I hope I win!

  73. I just tried using a piping bag this week for the first time – it wasn’t perfect, but i think it turned out ok, don’t you.
    http://shuttercal.com/calendar/ohgoshem/2010/1/20/
    Loving the tutorial though. If only i had seen it last week, then my housemates wouldn’t have had to eat so many of the reject cakes! hehe.

  74. I too LOVE bakeitpretty. I’ve never found so many cute cupcake wrappers in one place. Especially the greaseproof ones. The fluorescent orange ones even withstand a dark chocolate batter! They really are an addiction.

  75. How pretty! I love those Le Creuset spatulas!

  76. I’d love to have this kit, i’m in the process of figuring out my “signature” cupcake swirl.

  77. I personally think your frosting technique is fab. Great giveaway. I am ready to be a cupcake queen!

  78. oh my what a wonderful gift this would be!!

  79. What a great giveaway. This is my first comment…love your blog!

  80. mmm…cupcakes with pretty icing swirls

  81. this is a wonderful idea.

  82. Gotta love the cupcakes! Thanks for the give-a-way offer!

  83. I LOVE that you have found your go-to recipes for vanilla and chocolate cupcakes and shared them with the world. I’m still searching for mine and definitely plan to test yours out soon!

  84. What a fantastic giveaway! I would LOVE to win this!!
    Cupcakes make everything better!

  85. Mmmm. Cupcakes!

  86. I super heart your blog. In fact, I made 250 cupcakes for a wedding in August and I totally stole your cupcake stand idea from your wedding! It worked out really nicely and all of the cupcakes were gone before 11pm. It was amazing! I would love to try your piping tips. I love how well your cupcakes are always frosted!

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