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. I ‘retweeted’ about this giveaway and will surely put it on my facebook as well!
    Thanks So much for the opportunity to Enter your contest!!

  2. Favoriting this post as my cupcake decorating 101 :) Thanks for sharing ;)

  3. Wow! What a great giveaway. I love Bake It Pretty too, if only it were closer, I’d go broke shopping :)

  4. Hi. I also posted the giveaway on twitter!

  5. Hi! I also posted the giveaway on twitter! Thanks! Kelly

  6. Thank you for all of the icing tips. I love the video of you icing the cupcakes. It really gives me a great idea of how it is done. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  7. My friend would love this so much, thanks for the giveaway!

  8. eeeek! i hope i win! thank you for this post!!!

  9. That looks like a great kit…I think I may need that!! Thanks for the giveaway…

  10. Spreading the word here:

    Thanks for the video, I gotta make cupcakes now!

  11. I’ll be honest to say that I’ve never used a pastry bag. =X But I’d JUMP at the chance to own a bag & tips and perfect the skill of piping!

  12. Thanks for introducing me to Bake it Pretty, what a goldmine! What a great giveaway :)

  13. Oh wow….great website! (And fantastic tips about icing!)
    They will certainly go a long way in my cupcake decorating education!

    Terrific giveaway too! Thanks!

  14. Thanks for this! I may have to spend my next paycheque at that site. Excellent!

  15. Yay giveaway! :D and yummy fooood!

  16. i want pretty cupcakes. and, you’re right about Bake it Pretty, totally obsessed. the endless choices of sprinkles are addicting!!

  17. This post is great! I was wondering how all of your cupcakes look so pretty. Now I can attempt to make mine look good as well.

    Posting about your post on my food blog

  18. Count me in! :D

  19. Thanks so much for all your great recipes! Especially love looking at your gorgeous cupcakes!

  20. Cupcaaaaakes!

  21. Thanks for the great cupcake tips!

  22. Thanks for the cupcake tips! They’re very helpful, and having the right tools definitely makes a difference :)

  23. Your cupcakes look delicious. I’d love to get some of these tools and practice decorating my own!

  24. I’ve only just started trying to make pretty cupcakes – it honestly never occurred to me to practice piping on a chopping board or similar. Thanks for the tip!

  25. Oh I need it!!!!!!

  26. Thanks for sharing your creativity and talent!

  27. Nothing beats cupcakes. I’d love one of these!

  28. Found you with and I love your recipes!

    I just took my first cake decorating short course, working with buttercream and I am hooked. This would be such a fun kit to add to my small box of supplies.

  29. Posted on facebook, too :)

    “One of my lovely friends introduced me to this blog (which is awesome!) and I’m now sharing it with you! Right now they are doing a sweet giveaway of a cupcake icing kit… check it out, Foodie Friends!”

  30. This is precisely what I need. So badly.

  31. Thanks for posting this I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this.

  32. I love this! I’m a stay at home Mommy and my little one is finally old enough to eat yummy creations- I’m so excited!

  33. I agree with all the above. Great “tips”! I MUST get that blossom set from Global Sugar Art. That cupcake kit from Bake It Pretty looks awesome and I know just the newbie cupcake-er I’d give it to if I won. So pick me pick me pick me!! Thanks for the fabulous giveaway :)

  34. I’ve used tons of cupcake recipes from your blog – they’re always a big hit! Thanks a lot for sharing everything!

  35. this would be perfect for my cupcake endevours!

  36. Lovely write-up and such a sweet giveaway! :)
    Bake It Pretty is one of my faves.

  37. woaah, i really need help icing cupcakes.

  38. I love Bake it Pretty too! Love your recipes and sweet of you to post the how to-sweet of Amanda to offer her product!

  39. your cupcakes are beautiful! also i’m jealous of your tool collection :).

  40. You’ve convinced me to graduate to a fancy pastry bag instead of just piling a ton of frosting into a plastic Ziploc bag and cutting off the corner :)
    p.s. those cupcake wrappers are the cutest!

  41. What a juicy giveaway! Love all the items and am really enjoying your site! Off to send a Love and Olive Oil Giveaway tweet. :-)

  42. I love your site! I have tried quite a few recipes from here, and they’re all great!

  43. What a wonderful post–really! I read the whole thing making little raised eyebrows and “hmm!!” noises. :-D Thanks!

  44. Ooh I’d love to have the tools to make pretty cupcakes! Thanks for the giveaway!

  45. I love how pretty your cupcakes always are! I wish I could do something nearly as nice :)

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