With this simple technique, your cupcakes will look as good as they taste.
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Once bake sale season rolls around, you’ll want to have a few all-star cupcake recipes in your arsenal; and if you’re going through all the trouble of baking your cupcakes from scratch, it’s only proper that they look as good as they taste. We’re here to help you learn how to frost your cupcakes like a seasoned professional. With these quick and easy frosting techniques, some of the other mothers may accuse you of picking your cupcakes up from the local bakery—but you can proudly say that the recipe is all your own.

Cheerwine Cherry Cupcakes with Cherry-Swirl Frosting
Credit: Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

To start, pick an icing that will complement your cupcakes; a homemade buttercream simply always trumps the pre-made, canned stuff. Caramel Frosting is supremely versatile—pairing beautifully with either vanilla or chocolate—while fruity Strawberry Frosting brings a dose of refreshment in the summer months. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your frostings—elevating plain vanilla or chocolate cupcakes with a fun flavored frosting is a sure-fire way to jazz up boxed mix.

When it comes to frosting cupcakes, there are two primary techniques you can use: Icing cupcakes with a piping bag or with a spatula. Both have pros and cons, but a piping bag will yield the clean, fluffy towers of frosting that you’d find in a bakery display case. Simply smearing and swirling icing on with a spatula is a good technique to keep in your back pocket if you’re baking in a pinch and don’t have piping bags handy, but frosting with piping bags can be just as quick and easy.

How to Frost Cupcakes

To achieve a really professional-looking result, use a piping bag to frost your cupcakes. 16-inch pastry bags are the ideal size to hold all that buttercream (and you can even find them on Amazon). If you don’t have piping bags handy, fill a Ziploc bag with icing and snip one of the corners. It may not be as neat, but it gets the job done.

  1. Set up your piping bag. First, select the tip you want to use, which will determine the shape and silhouette of the piped frosting. A large open star tip (like Wilton #2110) will result in ridged icing, and a large round tip (like Wilton #2A) will create a smooth, pillowy tower. Snip the end of the piping bag and set your chosen tip in.
  2. Fill your piping bag. To fill your piping bag, place the bag inside a cup or mason jar and fold the top around the rim of the cup. This will help keep the piping bag in place while you load it with icing. For a pretty two-toned swirl, like in our Cheerwine Cherry Cupcakes, combine two frosting colors into one piping bag. Once you’ve filled the bag, push the icing down towards the tip of the bag and squeeze out any air bubbles; twist right above the fill line so frosting doesn’t escape out of the top of the bag.
  3. Frost the cupcakes. To get a tall tower of frosting, apply light pressure on the pastry bag and pipe on top of the cupcake in a consecutive circular motion, moving towards the center with each layer of frosting. This will create a nice pyramid of icing that gives your cupcake volume.
  4. Garnish. Finish your cupcake off with sprinkles, jimmies, edible glitter, or any other decorative elements to suit the occasion.

WATCH: How To Pipe Frosting Petals

Now that you know how to frost cupcakes like a pro, take on a bigger challenge like frosting a layer cake. Don’t worry, we have tips for that, too.