Basics of Cupcake Icing: Tips & Tricks

I’ve made a lot of cupcakes in the last few years. When I first got in to baking, I was icing each cupcake by hand, using a flat metal spatula. It got to the point where I dreaded icing the dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of cupcakes cooling on my counter-top. Thankfully, the boyfriend started pushing me to go the easier route of using decorating bags. When I finally conceded and invested in new tools, my life was forever changed…

I’ve posted the basic instructions for icing cupcakes with big, swirly tops a few times on the blog, referencing back to older cupcake recipes. But, with all the times I post about cupcakes, I knew I wanted to put together a post specific to just decorating cupcakes. I finally got down to putting all of this together and realized that I have way more than 1 post worth…

So today, I’m starting with the basics: preparing and filing decorator bags, dyeing icing, and icing cupcakes two ways (the big, swirly, pretty top and a basic rose top). Check back over the next few weeks as I assemble more tips and tricks! Happy decorating! 🙂

Click below for tips and tricks for icing cupcakes! Have a question? Feel free to ask in the comments below. And thanks for reading! 🙂

Cupcake Icing Tips & Tricks

There are a few basic tools you are going to need:

  • Decorating bags – You can use either reusable or disposable. I use disposable because they are easier to use without needing to clean bags in between use. Decorating bags come in several sizes, although I’ve found that the 12-inch bags are the easiest to handle and most versatile.
  • Icing tips – Each icing tip will produce a different result. Wilton’s tips are the easiest to find and come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but feel free to use any brand!
  • Couplers – Icing tips can be used with or without couplers. Couplers are used along with decorating bags and icing tips to allow you to use different tips with the same bag. For basic cupcake icing, you won’t likely need couplers, and none of the techniques below require them.
  • Icing Colors – Icing colors are used to dye icing. Gel colors are best for dying icing because liquid dyes will thin out the icing. They come in a variety of colors and varieties. I typically use the gel colors made by Wilton because they are the easiest to find in stores.

How to fill a decorating bag

1. Mark the bag – Place the icing tip in the bag, narrow end first. Using a pen, mark the bag about half-way along the metal tip.

2. Cut the bag – Remove the icing tip from the bag and cut the end of the bag off.

3. Fill the bag – Place the icing tip bag in the bag, narrow end first. Fold over the top of the bag to form a cuff. Place the bag in a tall glass and fill approximately 2/3-way full with icing. Note: do not overfill the bag, or excess icing will squeeze out of the top of the bag.

4. Close the bag – Close the bag by unfolding the cuff and twisting the bag closed. This pushes the icing down in to the bag.

5. Burp the bag – Remove any air trapped in the decorating bag by squeezing some of the icing out of the tip in to a bowl.

Dyeing icing

1. Begin with white icing for the majority of colors. If you want to dye dark brown or black icing, it is easiest to start with chocolate icing.

2. Use a knife or toothpick to add a pea-sized amount of dye to your icing.

3. Stir the dye in to the icing until fully blended.

4. If you want a darker color, add more dye. Note: always use a new knife or toothpick each time you add color to avoid getting icing in the dye. Icing colors will intensify or darken in buttercream icing about 1-2 hours after mixing.

5. One thing to note is to always mix enough icing color to cover all of your cupcakes (or your entire cake). It is difficult to duplicate an exact shade of any color, so dye all of your icing at once in order to keep color consistent on all of your cupcakes.

Icing a cupcake – Swirl top

1. Choose your icing tip – Cupcakes are typically frosted with the larger versions of the closed star (1M), open star (8B), drop flower (1G), and round (1A). My favorite is the 1M tip, so it’s what I use most often. 

2. Fill your decorating bag with icing. 

3. Holding the tip approximately 1/4″ above cupcake top, pipe a spiral of icing, beginning at the outer edge and working inward.

4. Continue spiral in to the center of the cupcake.

5. Stop pressure on the bag and pull the tip straight up and away.

Icing a cupcake – Rose top

1. Choose your icing tip – For the rose, use either the closed star (1M) or drop flower (1G) tip.

2. Fill your decorating bag with icing. 

3. Holding the tip approximately 1/4″ above cupcake top, pipe a tight spiral of icing, beginning at the center of the cupcake and working outwards.

4. Layer the rose outward from the center.

5. Stop pressure on the bag and pull the tip straight out and away.

Enjoy! 😀


26 thoughts on “Basics of Cupcake Icing: Tips & Tricks

  1. I’ve always wanted to do the rose icing. I’ll try it now, and well if I have to keep practicing, we’ll still enjoy the results until i get it right. 🙂

  2. This is great. I use the rose icing for most of the cupcakes I make, it looks sooo pretty but so easy to do. Your step-by-step photos are great too. I will follow and pass this on to friends.

    • The best tip I was given when learning to ice. If it goes wrong, just turn the cupcakes upside down (over a bowl) and shake it once, hard. The icing pops straight off and leaves the cake top clean enough to try again.

  3. Great tips! I am the worst at decorating cakes and cupcakes, but with your tutorial, I think I will give it a try. I can’t wait to see the rest of the posts!

  4. Pingback: Bunny Cupcakes | Pie With Sparkles

  5. Pingback: Basics of Cupcake Icing: More Icing Tips | Pie With Sparkles

  6. Thank you!

    I am planning my daughter’s first birthday party and I want to make pretty cupcakes! your tutorials have made me feel more at ease…I can do this!!!!

    Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and knowledge!!!!

  7. hello, I’m from Brazil and I can not get coverage with the recipes I’ve tried them melt, can you pass me the recipe you use? Thank you!

  8. I have one of those plastic icing things where there’s a button for my thumb to press for the icing to dispense. My kit came with a handful of tips, but whenever I (try to) decorate, the icing shape looks really small. Are you using extra large tips?

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