Love and Olive Oil

Cupcake Tips & Tools

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.

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  1. Love the blog and thanks for the giveaway!!!

  2. Love your recipes and story’s. Thanks for doing this!

  3. Makes me want to mix up some frosting and play! Thanks for inspiration.

  4. I love cupcakes! Especially red velvet. Thanks for the giveaway!

  5. So pretty! I love the idea to use the scoop. My cupcakes never end up even.

  6. ooh. ooh. ooh. awesome. awesome. awesome.

  7. haha! I just made cupcakes and had an icing disaster… I should have looked at this first… they still are delicious though… two won’t hurt, right? :)

  8. This kit looks like so much fun! It makes me want to bake cupcakes immediately. Thanks for posting this.

  9. I’m one of those icing from the jar, spread on with a knife kind of people so this kit may just be the solution to my cupcake melancholy.

  10. Thanks so much for the great advice. My cupcakes are tasty, but not often very pretty. I think a piping bag, piping tips and a pile of buttercream are in my near future, whether I win or not! Thanks agin for the tips!

  11. I love cupcakes, and I so need to learn to frost better.

  12. What a fun post! Since I moved into my own place, I’ve been sadly lacking in the tools to decorate cupcakes, so I’d lovelovelove to win that kit!

  13. I love cupcakes!

  14. Those look like nice tools that will help make awesome cupcakes!

  15. I love Bake it Pretty too!

  16. gah i love cupcakes! This kit would help me make mine not so elementary!

  17. Fantastic giveaway, I need the tools, my cupcakes look pretty shameful albeit still edible.


  18. I LOVE cupcakes and would use this SO much! (I’m trying to improve my decorating skills :D) In fact, I’m pretty sure that I looked at buying it then saw that they had sold out! I LOVE you blog btw… keep up the good work!

  19. I usually just frost them with a knife, and they’re still delicious, but if I had the right tools I would definitely make some exciting looking cupcakes. Thanks for the great website!

  20. I am so in the mood to make cupcakes now!! YUMMM :D

  21. We love cupcakes! I love all your cupcake recipes. The Chai ones are to die for!

  22. oh sweet!

  23. Love the site and amazing cupcake recipes! I want to see more cookie recipes cos I’m sure they’re just as amazing! Thanks for the giveaway.

  24. Wow, this post was kind of a wake up call for me ;) …I have a feeling I’ve just been using a piping tip that’s too small!! The cupcake kit sounds awesome, and I definitely plan on making a vat of buttercream soon for practice!

  25. I have a very similar technique and it’s nice to see someone else using it so I know I”m not totally goofing it up. Would love to be entered for the giveaway!

  26. Fantastic giveaway! It’s great to see all your favorite tools for making beautiful cupcakes. :)

  27. I just made cupcakes tonight, and although they taste good, they aren’t that pretty! Love your blog and am going to make the pear, prosciutto and goat cheese pizza tommorow!

  28. Just found your blog! Love it! I’m looking forward to exploring it further!
    I’d love to win the kit as I have to make wedding cupcakes for my friend’s wedding in the fall!

  29. I haven’t had too much experience with cupcakes, but I would love! to get started!!!

  30. I’m an amateur baker who’s been inspired by this blog! Having an icing kit of my own would just be the icing on the cake, so to speak ;]

  31. I love your blog! And I’m still speechless at the guts you had to make all of the cupcakes for your wedding!

  32. I have just stumbled upon your website, and i can’t get enough, I love it! your cupcakes have inspired me to try and make my own cupcakes pretty :)

  33. I’ve always loved the pictures of your cupcakes and I would love to start making some!

  34. Love making cupcakes, but it’s time for me to step up the decoration of these treats. Gum paste and fondants are the next frontier to conquer. Thanks for the post.

  35. Your site is one of my favs. Thanks for the tips on decorating cuppycakes! <3

  36. Love the frosting video! I can never get mine too look that pretty

  37. cupcakes are all the rage in nyc, but yours look amazing!! I want all your frosting goodies so i can imitate away!

  38. I totally love this, as I have recently started making cupcakes, only although I have the baking down pat, the icing is another story! Thanks for the tips!

  39. How exciting! I am planning to start a cake decorating class soon and this would be such a help!
    Do you have another post on how to get your cupcakes perfectly flat for decorating ease?

  40. Also I deff tweeted about this!

    I would love a cupcake icing kit. Check out @loveandoliveoil ‘s blog to see the entry So awesome!!!
    2 minutes ago from Chrowety

  41. Ah we made cupcakes just last night! I would love and adore a icing kit. Love your blog as always =D

  42. I don’t know how to do a link to my tweet, but I can cut and paste, so here it is:

    ddh77 Decorating Cupcakes Tips & Tools from the Cupcake Queen @loveandoliveoil Plus “Bake It Pretty” Giveaway

    I actually tweeted before I read in your post that I could get an extra chance. Thanks.

  43. Hi, Lindsay! A wonderful post and a great giveaway! If I won it would be very difficult to decide whether to keep the cupcake icing kit or give it to my daughter, who is a huge cupcake fanatic. Thanks for a chance at winning.

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