Cupcakes have been around since the 1700s and they have been tantalizing our taste buds ever since. Cupcakes are small cakes commonly baked in lined cups. They are the perfect handheld dessert, and one of the most popular dessert options among children.
While the cake portion of the cupcake is essential to its identity, the topping of a cupcake is just as important. Frosting is the most typical and easiest way to ice your cupcake.
When you’re in the mood to bake cupcakes but you don’t have any icing on hand, there are several other options to top your delicious confections.
1 – Sprinkles
Most people believe that you can’t have sprinkles on a cupcake without frosting, but that simply isn’t the case. When you have sprinkles but no frosting, apply the sprinkles to the cupcakes once they are out of the oven. This will melt some of the sugar in the sprinkles, cementing them to the cupcake.
Flat, circular sprinkles will easily meld to the top of your cupcake, making a fun topping that won’t slip off.
2 – Powdered Sugar
Powdered sugar is extremely finely milled sugar. It has many uses in baking and is an ingredient in frosting. Every recipe for buttercream frosting entails combining butter and powdered sugar.
This seems simple enough, but sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy to make your own icing.
In those instances, you can frost your cupcakes with just powdered sugar. You’ll need to sift the powdered sugar before applying it to the cupcakes. Measure out one quarter of a cup of powdered sugar. Pass the sugar through a sifter once.
To dress the cupcakes, pass the powdered sugar through the sifter again as you hover the sifter over the cupcakes. You may need to move back and forth or side to side to ensure that each cupcake is equally dusted.
If you sprinkle the powdered sugar over the cupcakes while they’re still warm, the sugar will begin to melt into the cake. If you prefer the powdered finish, wait until the cupcakes are cooled.
3 – Chocolate Candies
When you want to skip the frosting and dive straight into sweets, top your cupcakes with chocolate candies. There are pure chocolate sprinkles that are meant to sit on top of your cupcake and be enjoyed. Chocolate chips are also great to put on top of cupcakes.
Chocolate candies with hard shells are also a fun topping for cupcakes. They provide a crunchy element and switch up the texture of the cupcakes.
4 – Meringue
Meringue isn’t just for pies. This mixture of well-beaten egg whites and sugar is baked until crisp. Meringue is a perfect topping for cupcakes, especially lemon cupcakes.
To make meringue suitable as frosting, you’ll need to whip six egg whites with one cup of sugar in a heat-safe bowl over hot water.
As you whip, the sugar will dissolve and the eggs will begin to stiffen. They won’t form stiff peaks at this point just yet, but whipping the eggs over a low heat will cook the eggs slightly, making them suitable for consumption.
Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the bowl from heat. Now, you must add one teaspoon of cream of tartar. Continue beating the mixture until stiff peaks form, approximately ten minutes. You can spoon or pipe the meringue onto the tops of your cupcakes.
Since the eggs are tempered, you can go ahead and eat the cupcakes with the fluffy mixture on top.
If you’re looking for a more traditional meringue, torch the meringues with a handheld torch, or broil the cupcakes for three to four minutes in the oven. You should not broil the meringue if your cupcakes are in paper cupcake liners.
These thin liners are not meant to be subjected to extremely high heat and they could burn.
5 – Whipped Cream
Whipped cream is the perfect topping for sundaes, so why not use it in other desserts? The most convenient way to frost your cupcakes with whipped cream is to use the canned version.
Canned whipped cream is pressurized and uses nitrous oxide to shoot the cream out of the can.
Canned whipped creams also come in chocolate, making a perfect addition to chocolate cupcakes. If you don’t have canned whipped cream, the stuff in the tub is just as great. In fact, with non-canned whipped cream, you have even more versatility for flavoring options.
To create flavored whipped cream, add whatever herbs and spices you’d like to the whipped cream and fold it in. You can also add fresh fruit or fruit purees.
When your cupcakes are for a themed occasion, you can also add food coloring to the whipped cream. By combining different ratios of primary color food coloring, you can make almost any color your heart desires.
Keep in mind that whipped cream does melt under heat, so it should not be applied to cupcakes that are warm unless you want them to be a runny mess.
To ensure that your whipped cream icing stays put, you can chill the cupcakes after frosting or you can create dollops of icing on parchment paper and freeze them prior to placing them on top of your cupcake.
6 – Glaze
Glazes are often used to decorate Bundt cakes because the thin topping provides a sweet layer without hiding the impressive and interesting shape of the cake. To make a basic glaze, combine powdered sugar and milk. Whisk the mixture until a viscous liquid forms.
Your glaze is now ready to use to drizzle and pour over your cupcakes. If you want more flavor, you can jazz up your glaze. Syrups and extracts can be added to the glaze to liven up the flavor; just remember that you may have to add more sugar to restore the correct consistency to your glaze.
Citrus zest and juice are also great ways to add flavor to your glaze.
7 – Ganache
If you’re all out of chocolate frosting, fear not. You can make a perfect chocolate topping for your cupcakes by whipping up a ganache.
There are only two ingredients in a chocolate ganache: heavy cream and chocolate. Combine equal amounts of each ingredient over low heat until they are thoroughly combined.
You can use semi sweet chocolate, dark chocolate, or white chocolate. Once the ganache is melted, it’s ready to use. Pour your warm ganache over your cupcakes to coat them. Allow your cupcakes to cool and your ganache to harden before enjoying your cupcakes.
Leftover ganache can be stored in the fridge and will keep until the expiration date of the cream used within. This leftover ganache can be enjoyed by itself or piped into treats to create chocolate filling.
8 – Marshmallow Cream
Marshmallow cream is melted-down marshmallows that create a fluffy spread. This delightfully sweet spread can be used to ice cupcakes in lieu of frosting. You may find that you like marshmallow cream more than you like frosting!
Marshmallow cream is just as convenient as frosting in a can, but it has more versatility than icing. It can be folded into cold desserts, applied to the tops of warm desserts, or even spread on a piece of bread and enjoyed alone.
9 – Fruit
You’re looking for a fresh way to top your cupcakes. Frosting sounds too sweet, and adds a lot of calories on its own. You can top your cupcakes with fresh fruit instead.
For strawberry cupcakes, slice fresh strawberries into thin slivers and arrange on top of your cupcakes. Orange cupcakes can have small pieces of orange on top to continue the flavor profile and freshen up the dessert.
The fruit doesn’t have to be fresh off the vine to be a delicious topping for your cupcake. You can cook down your own fresh or frozen fruit to make a compote.
Compotes are relatively easy to make. Place your fruit into a saucepan and add your desired amount of sugar. Cook the sugared fruit over low heat until the fruit breaks down and begins to thicken.
Allow the mixture to cool and thicken further. Then spoon it over your cupcakes when they’re ready to be topped.
You don’t even have to cook your own fruit mixture to make a topping for your cupcakes. You can use already prepared jellies and jams. Nearly everyone has a jar of jelly in their fridge. You can utilize jelly as a topping for cupcakes by spreading it over the top of your cakes.
White and yellow cake bases leave your flavor profile open, making it easy to use whatever jelly you like. Marmalade jelly, strawberry preserves, raspberry jam and more can be used to frost your cupcakes.
Lemon curd is also a fantastic way to utilize fruit to top your cupcakes. It’s sweet yet bright in flavor, and you can buy it in jars ready to use.
You don’t need frosting to have cupcakes. You can use virtually anything to top your cupcake. Even more options than the ones you’ve just learned about include hazelnut spread, cookie dough, and even edible flowers.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.