Ice a Cupcake

Do you like a lot of icing on your cupcake, or just a little? Everyone seems to have a different philosophy about the best ratio of icing to cake, but we can all agree that a cupcake isn't complete without this sweet, sugary topping. Read on to learn a basic method for icing a cupcake, how to to make an icing swirl, and ideas for decorating your treats.



  1. Choose a cupcake and icing combination. Most cupcakes taste good with any kind of icing, but there are classic flavor combinations that just seem to work well together. Consider these options when you're planning what kind of cupcakes to make:
    • Yellow cupcakes with chocolate icing: This is the ultimate birthday cupcake combination.
    • Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing: The sweet icing balances the deep chocolate taste.
    • Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing is another party favorite.
    • Carrot cake or spice cake are also usually paired with cream cheese icing.
  2. Make a batch of cupcakes. Depending on your level of knowledge, you can make them from a cookbook recipe or from a box mix.
  3. Let the cupcakes cool when they are finished baking. If you try to ice cupcakes while they are still warm, the icing will get runny and won't look as neat.
  4. Get the icing ready. Make your icing from scratch using your favorite recipe, or if you're using store-bought icing, use a spoon to stir it up.
  5. Take your cupcakes out of the tray. Place them on a flat surface so you'll have room to ice them.
    • If you want to serve your cupcakes in their wrappers, leave them on. You can also opt to remove the wrappers at this stage and serve the cupcakes without them.
    • If you decide to remove the wrappers, be careful not to tear off chunks of the cupcakes.
  6. Load a butter knife or offset spatula with icing. Gently slide it over the cupcake's surface. Create a layer of icing that covers the entire surface of the cupcake. Add as much icing as you like.
    • Different icing textures will have different end results. Store-bought icing is usually slightly gooey and easy to spread. Homemade icing can be stiffer. When you're spreading it around, be careful not to pull up crumbs from the cake.
    • You can purchase different icing colors from the grocery store if you'd like to write on the cupcakes or make colorful designs. This may include your initials, age, favorite color, or favorite team.
  7. Add decorations. Use sprinkles or other sugar decorations to add a final touch to your cupcakes.
  8. Store the cupcakes. Place the cupcakes in an airtight storage container. If you won't be eating them for a few days, put them in the refrigerator. This will prevent the icing from getting too soft.


  1. Buy a piping bag and a large icing tip. Piping bags are used to pipe icing onto cakes in a controlled fashion through a pointed tip. The design of the tip results in smooth, ridged, or star-shaped icing. When you're ready to ice cupcakes, assemble the piping bag and tip by screwing the tip onto the bag according to the instructions.
    • Check out the selection of piping bags and icing tips at your local grocery store or specialty baking store.
    • Larger icing tips result in a better final look for icing swirls. Smaller tips are used for writing or making small decorations.
    • Make your own piping bag by cutting a small hole at the bottom of a plastic sandwich bag. You'll be able to attach an icing tip to your homemade bag.
  2. Make a batch of cupcakes and allow them to cool. Set the cupcakes on a tray to prepare them to be iced.
  3. Make the icing. Icing swirls look better when they're made with stiffer icing that can hold its shape. Since most store-bought icing is a little on the gooey side, you're better off making your own.
    • Use the following basic recipe to make classic buttercream icing, which is perfect for icing swirls. Simply beat the following ingredients together, adding a little more milk if the end result seems too stiff. You can swap out the vanilla for another flavoring and add a few drops of food coloring if you want:
      • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
      • 4 cups powdered sugar
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      • 3 Tablespoons milk
  4. Fill the piping bag with icing. It's easier to control the piping when the bag is at least halfway full. Use a small spatula to scoop icing into the bag. Twist the bottom so icing won't squirt out while you work.
  5. Practice piping some icing through the icing tip onto a plate. Holding the twisted bottom of the bag with one hand and guiding the icing tip with the other, put pressure on the bag and pipe in a circular motion. Make sure the icing flows smoothly through the tip and that you're able to control the amount of icing that comes through.
    • If the icing doesn't seem to be flowing smoothly, check to make sure the tip is screwed on correctly.
    • Make practice swirls until you've got the hang of how to pipe icing.
  6. Pipe swirls onto the cupcakes. Position the icing bag tip over the center of the cupcake. Pipe a high 'cone'. Now, using a small amount of pressure and starting from the outside edge of the cupcake, pipe towards the center in a spiral. Go up the sides of the 'cone'. When you reach the top of the 'cone', stop squeezing the bag and pull up slowly to make a nice point.
    • If you don't like the result the first time, just scrape off the icing, put it back in the bag and try again. Make sure not to scrape off any cupcake crumbs.


  1. Spell out the birthday boy or girl's name. Make a batch of cupcakes with white icing, and use a different colored icing to pipe the person's name on them, with one letter on each cupcake. Arrange the cupcakes in order and use them as the centerpiece at a birthday party.
  2. Make ice cream cupcakes. For a fun summer treat, skip the traditional icing and use ice cream instead. Let the ice cream soften in the container for a few minutes, then use a knife to spread it onto the cupcakes, just like you would for icing. Serve immediately.
  3. Make butterfly cupcakes. Use pretzel halves and chocolate candies to create miniature butterflies on cupcakes. After you've baked and iced the cupcakes, use a line of candies to make the butterfly's body, then stick two pretzel "wings" on either side.
  4. Make cupcake flags. Draw hearts, flowers or other designs on pieces of thick paper, then cut them out and tape them to the top section of toothpicks. Stick them in the cupcakes to serve as festive "flags."
  5. Try other decorating techniques! Experiment with different tips and icing stiffness! Try techniques such as roses, borders, swirls, loops, and flowers.


  • If you want to make roses or other complicated designs (even a good swirl), you will need to make your own icing.
  • Make sure that if you use store bought icing, you give a nice stir before using.
  • If you don't want to make an icing of your own or struggle with it, Betty Crocker's vanilla or chocolate icing would be perfect, just don't put it in the fridge if you are going to make your cupcakes the same day or a day later.
  • If you don't have a piping bag on hand, use a sandwich or Ziploc bag and a tip.
  • Keep cupcakes at room temperature or colder. If you let them sit in heat, the icing will melt and will turn into a liquid.

Things You'll Need

  • Cupcakes
  • Icing
  • Butter knife
  • Sprinkles and colorful icing
  • Piping bag and large icing tip (for icing swirl)
  • Buttercream frosting ingredients:
    • Butter
    • Powdered sugar
    • Vanilla
    • Milk

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Sources and Citations

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