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. Very useful tips. I’ve been practicing so hopefully I can get it down! Thanks.

  2. I’ve been following your blog for some time now and you always have fantastic recipes! I’d love to try my hand at decorating cupcakes for a change! (I have more practice with cakes). Thanks for the chance to win :)

  3. super score!

  4. Looks like a great little kit! I love your cupcake recipes and I’d love to be able to make them look all pretty.

  5. Great post. Very helpful info! Also, I wasn’t aware of Bake it Pretty. You’re right…there sight is amazing and I could spend a million bucks there (if I had a million).



  6. awesome post!

  7. I have always wondered about the tips they use! Great giveaway. I could get lost at Bake It Pretty!


  9. Great post! I tried frosting on a plate, like you mentioned, and it’s the best way to learn! I love your video. I definitely need to buy some more tips to have a big of variation; like you, I mostly use the star tip.

  10. I love this give away! My 22 yr old granddaughter just finished 2nd in our local Iron Cupcake Challenge. She was so disappointed. If I won these goodies for her, she’d kick cupcake butt for sure!

  11. I love your demonstration and the ideas for practice. My usual method is to slap the frosting on with a flat knife, so this gives me a better idea of how to frost those gorgeous bakery style cupcakes.

  12. Oh my… I am quite addicted to Bake it Pretty. Thanks for all the wonderful advice. I’m making a *ton* of cupcakes for a baby shower so this really helps.

  13. Hi Lindsay! What an exciting post! I love your blog and I wish I made cupcakes as often as you do.


  14. My daughters always want their cakes decorated – but I don’t have the goods, maybe now I will…..

  15. what a great giveaway!~~i never decorate my cupcakes, because i just don’t know how~~this would be great!!

  16. Thanks for such a great breakdown. I think your cupcakes are always gorgeous!

  17. I need this set, it will change my life! Well it will at least change my cupcake making/decorating which would be just wonderful.

  18. great tips, thanks. i just made raspberry filled vanilla cupcakes this weekend with chocolate frosting, they didn’t look as pretty as i wanted but tasted great. still need to hone my decorating skills :)

  19. I had such a cupcake DISASTER this weekend – flat cupcakes are possibly the most disappointing thing ever. Thankfully, they were still delicious :-)

  20. What a great post and giveaway! I always think your cupcakes look lovely (not to mention delicious!). I am relatively new to your blog, found it by accident and SO so happy that I did!

  21. I so want to make beautiful cupcakes! Thanks for the video lesson!

  22. Lindsay, is there anything you can’t do? Wow, you certainly ice a cupcake perfectly! I’d love to learn how to do that too! Please enter me. Thanks. Still a follower of your blog since the beginning.

  23. How pretty! I agree with the round tip making poopy frosting, although it seems to work better with cream cheese. I never use it for chocolate though!

    I’m lazy so I’ve resorted to disposable piping bags…

    I love the little flower formers that you mention, I bought some in australia for super cheap and I’m hoping to get lots more when I go back in march!!

  24. Hi Lindsay! Thanks for the opportunity to win a set of your favorite cupcake making tools! Though I can’t guarentee they’d make my cupcakes look like yours (that’s impossible), I’m sure they’d be a HUGE help! I’m more than appreciative of your awesome tips and WONDERFUL recipes and photos! Much love for Love and Olive Oil!

  25. I never thought to use a giant tip when decorating icing – I just tend to use my really big star tip and make tons of extra icing because that’s about how much it seems to take…. I bet a bigger tip would alleviate that problem. Mmmmm… cupcakes

  26. And I tweeted about it!

    :-) Fingers Crossed!

  27. You make the most incredible looking cupcakes out there, its lovely to see how you do it! The giveaway looks fantastic! Posted you on FB (I swear) but can not seem to link it right :(

  28. I am so glad you did this post! I always think your cupcakes look amazing! I really hope I win this giveaway and then get to make mounds of buttercream icing! YUM!

  29. Tweet!


    kristacular27 AT gmail DOT com

  30. Oooohh. I so need to practice on a plate! Never thought about it, because by the time I have icing laying around, I already have cupcakes to decorate! But I will have to do that for my wedding cupcakes in June!


    kristacular27 AT gmail DOT com

  31. Thanks for the tips! I’ll be checking this bookmark for months to come. I didn’t realize how important the tip size was when I was randomly picking them from a bin at the cooking store. I’m gonna have to go get some crowns now. Excellent video, too.

  32. WooHoo! I am new to your blog, but love it already! I am preparing to try out the vanilla cake with tiramisu buttercream and ganache, I’m making a wedding cake for friends and this is one recipe we’ll consider!

  33. i am currently using my grandmother’s tip set which attach to a hard plastic syringe like holder— thus creating a difficult frosting experience… would LOVVVEEEE this frosting set!! thanks for the advice on making swirls!!

  34. I only have the big round one – and it always comes out looking like poo, too!

  35. I love your blog! Fun ideas always!

  36. Oh man! Thanks for the demo! Cupcake decoration is definitely a point of intimidation for me. I’ve not been so successful in the past. I’ll have to give it another go!

  37. I’m so glad you posted this! Your cupcakes always look so beautiful!

  38. Ps I just tweeted!

  39. Hi Im retweeting this! Great post and nice swirling! I always just spatula mine on smooth and then do star tip decorations on top! I’ll definitely be trying a more traditional swirl next time. :-)

  40. Tweeted about the giveaway! I don’t have many followers but hopefully it’ll send some more foodie-readers your way; you deserve em!

  41. Great giveaway… considering I’ve only recently understood how amazing buttercream really is…

  42. Thanks for sharing your cupcake tips!!! I have always used the spread-with-a-knife method and they always look so “homemade” :) I look forward to trying the tips!

  43. I’ve made your cookie dough cupcakes a couple of times, but the chocolate chips always get stuck in my icing tips. I would love to have this kit to try with the same stuff you use!

  44. Oh god, now I’m going to spend all my money at Bake it Pretty. Oh wow. I adore cupcakes.

  45. What a fun give away!
    Posted your link on my blog:

    Thanks for such a great food blog!

  46. oh my gosh, i found your blog a couple of weeks ago and have been slowly reading through it trying to decide what to make first. All of your cupcakes sound so good! I haven’t been able to decide!

  47. Thnk you for giving all these goodies away! I love making cupcakes!

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