Who doesn’t like cupcakes?
The personal mini cakes have everything a full sized cake does but it is all just for you. It opens up the possibilities for flavor combinations that are exactly what you want. Dark forest cake and raspberry icing, light fluffy white cake with a chocolate ganache, pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, the possibilities are endless.
While the cake texture and flavor is essential to the overall pleasure of the eating experience, ‘frosting’ is the “decorative final touch that elevates them into mini masterpieces.”
There are a few constants to frosting or icing your cupcakes.
First, cool your cupcakes thoroughly before attempting to add anything to the top – unless drizzling, but we will get to that later. If the cake is warm, it could compromise the topping, melting it and ruining the effect.
Second, the amount of frosting, icing, ganache, etc. that you will need to top your cupcakes depends entirely on how many you need and what method you are using. For example, if you are using a piping bag you will need twice as much as you would if you were using any other method.
Third, not all methods can be used with all types of toppings. What is that, you did not know there were options? The truth is, you probably know of at least two different types of topping but you don’t know it … frosting and icing.
Frosting, Icing, & Ganache … Oh My!
Most people go through life thinking that frosting and icing are the same thing – and not thinking about Ganache at all – and that is fine. It really will not do any harm. However, just for the sake of factual correctness, they are not the same at all.
Frosting is generally thick and fluffy in texture. It sits high on the cupcake and can be used for many different designs or methods.
Icing, on the other hand, is a thin glaze similar to ganache but thicker in consistency. Think of icing as the step between frosting and ganache.
As for ganache, it is a very thin glaze made out of chocolate and cream. It is very specific and used in only one method, dipping, which we will discuss later.
Homemade vs Store Bought
Any cook or baker will tell you that homemade is always best. However, that word, “best,” is a relative word. It depends on your personal needs and thus, there can be no universal application.
Homemade frosting is generally the best option. It is often healthier, as it does not contain processed ingredients. It is also often reported to be more flavorful but again, that is a subjective determination.
Store bought frosting has advantages for anyone who is busy … so, everyone. It is convenient, cheap, and easy to use with no prep. Best of all, the clean-up involves only what you used to put the frosting on the cupcake, which means it could be as simple as a butter knife.
A busy businessperson may not have time to make homemade buttercream to frost their daughter’s cupcakes for school, so they could use store bought. Then again, they might make the time and go with homemade.
A dedicated homemaker may choose to make their butterscotch frosting from scratch when making an after dinner treat for their family. Of course, they may choose to use store bought to free up more time for doing crafts with the children or whatever.
It truly is an individualized decision. Therefore, there is no winner in the homemade verses store bought debate this time, no definitive answer either way.
However, there is still the question of how to frost the cupcakes…
Beyond the Butter Knife
So, what are some easy ways to ice or frost cupcakes? Almost everyone has memories of their mother, father, or other parental figure frosting cupcakes with a butter knife. This is called ‘spreading’ and it is the most basic of all techniques for frosting a cupcake.
1 – Spreading
One of the quickest and easiest ways to frost cupcakes, spreading does not require any special tools or skill. However, there are ways to step beyond the ordinary in which you can use tools other than that handy butter knife.
For instance, you can use a three-tablespoon cookie or ice cream scoop to apply a large dollop of frosting to the top of your cupcake. Using an offset spatula – or a butter knife if you must, carefully smooth the frosting to create a dome effect. Angle the spatula and spread in a circular motion to maintain height.
This effect is also achievable with a piping bag but why bother when this method works just as well and is much easier and faster.
You can also use that same cookie scoop to apply a dollop of whipped cream, divinity frosting, or light fluffy meringue. Apply it to the top of your cupcake and let it sit to give it height and texture.
There are other ways to get your cupcakes topped that are just as – or nearly as – easy as spreading.
2 – Dipping
As we said earlier, dipping is the only method in which ganache is used. However, it is not exclusive to ganache. You can dip your cupcakes into frosting, icing, or anything else you choose to top your cupcakes with … think peanut butter on dark chocolate.
However, if you are dipping with ganache, make sure that it is warm but not hot when you dip.
Dipping is as simple as holding the cupcake upside down by the base and literally dipping it into the ganache or what have you. When pulling the cupcake out twist your wrist slightly to coax the excess topping to fall away and, with thicker toppings, give it an artistic swirled look.
3 – Drizzling
This is the easiest method to top a cupcake and an unexpected one that will be sure to get people talking.
As mentioned earlier, this is the only method that can be used when your cupcakes are still warm. That is due, in part, to the fact that your icing will be warm when you apply it to the cupcakes.
Simply make a thin frosting that can be easily drizzled over the tops of your cupcakes. Carefully use a tablespoon to cover each cupcake with however much you want to. The effect will be similar to glazing but not nearly as neat and ordered.
4 – Piping
While still relatively simple – with a little practice – piping is the most difficult method on this list.
For this basic piping technique, keep it simple. Grab a 16-inch piping bag and a large round tip. Fill the bag with the frosting of your choice.
Position the bag directly over your cupcake and squeeze from the top with an even pressure. Make a circle of frosting on your cupcake. When the first circle is nearly complete, begin creating smaller circles atop the others.
After a couple of circles, finish in the middle and press down a little bit. Stop squeezing and then move the bag away. You will have what looks like a soft serve ice cream atop your cupcake.
Don’t have a piping bag and tip? Learn how to apply frosting without them.
Wrapping It Up
It doesn’t have to be a hassle to have wonderfully frosted – or glazed as the case may be – cupcakes. These techniques are all relatively simple and will have your cupcakes looking and tasting spectacular!
Next up: cake decorating! Learn what tools you need and how to use them.