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How to decorate cupcakes, ideas and tips

Thursday 17th March 2016

Cupcakes were invented in the early 19th century, so called because they were cooked in miniature tins, like cups. Since then their popularity has not diminished. The diminutive cakes are much loved for several reasons: they are easy to make, they make delicious snacks, and they are a great deal of fun to decorate. In the office or at home, there are few occasions that aren’t enhanced by the presence of cupcakes. In this article we will explore:

Top cupcake tips

Frosting your cupcakes

Decorating your cupcakes

The 10 most popular cupcakes

Top cupcake tips

Although baking cupcakes is simple, the better made the cupcake, the better it will look when it comes to decorating it. These tips will help you to turn out top cupcakes every time.

Simple vanilla cupcakes

  • Use the best ingredients you can afford.

That means free-range eggs, fair-trade cocoa, and pure vanilla extract rather than essence – or maybe vanilla, fresh from the pod.

  • Work at room temperature.

Soft butter is easier to work with than butter straight from the fridge. Also milk and eggs combine better when they’re not too chilly.

  • Be kind to your ingredients

Techniques like folding ensure the air bubbles in the sponge are dealt with gently so you don’t end up with floury caverns and tunnels in your cake. Go easy on your mixture and don’t beat it senseless.

  • Be militant with your measurements

Use a scoop to ensure each cupcake case has the exact same amount of mixture. Fill each case about 2/3 of the way up to allow room for them to rise. You’ll be pleased with the uniformity of the resulting bakes.

  • The heat is on

Always pre-heat your oven and ensure it is the required temperature before the cakes go in. You increase the chances of turning out perfectly cooked cakes each time if you get the temperature right early on.

  • Go for the middle

Put your tray of cakes on the middle shelf of the oven for even temperature distribution. It allows the warm air to flow evenly over your cakes.

  • Be patient

Although it’s incredibly tempting, resist the urge to open the oven to check on your cakes’ progress – especially early on in the baking; this is when the gluten magic happens. You can afford a peek 2/3 of the way into the cooking time. Any sooner and you risk your cakes sinking in the middle.

  • Rack them up

A minute or two in the baking tray is sufficient before you transfer them to a wire rack. Leave them to settle on the cooling rack until they’ve completely cooled before decorating them.

  • Storage is key

There’s no joy in a dry cupcake, so keeping them in an airtight container locks in the moisture. You can also pop them in the freezer until they’re needed. Plastic wrap and a freezer bag are best in terms of using your storage space well, particularly if you’re catering for a number of people. You can simply defrost a cupcake as and when you want.

  • Keep them moist

Frosting acts to seal in the moisture, so it’s especially useful to frost them if you are making them for a display where they’ll be exposed to the air for longer than normal.

Frosting your cupcakes

Whether you opt for a traditional buttercream, a chocolate buttercream or something super-sweet like a fudge frosting, there are all sorts of ways to ice your cakes. Piping needs to be the perfect consistency, so experiment with quantities until you get the one you’re after. Consistency will vary depending on what flavouring you add, for example, flavouring with a liquor will make the mixture more fluid, so add a little icing sugar at a time. Here are 5 top frosting tips to help you achieve the finish you want:

  1. Find a suitably sized piping bag. You’ll only want to fill it halfway as any higher and things will get messy.
  2. Gently add the frosting to the bag. Make it easy for yourself by rolling the bag down and filling it bit by bit.
  3. Choose the icing tip you want for the frosting you’re after – smooth or contoured. Different tips will create a different tightness to your swirl.
  4. Once you’ve filled the bag about halfway squeeze out any air bubbles before you twist the bag closed.
  5. When you are ready to frost your cakes begin at the outer edge and work your way to the centre and conclude with a neat peak.

Decorating your cupcakes

When it comes to decorating your cupcakes you are limited only by your imagination. Choose fresh fruit to top your cake (only add fruit when you’re ready to eat them to avoid them going mushy), or use sweets, chocolate, candy, sprinkles, or make your own mini cake toppers to give your cupcakes their unique charm. The options are countless and there’s a decoration to suit every occasion.

Cupcakes are incredibly versatile and range from classically simple to novelty, zany designs. Here are some of our favourites.

1. Hamburger cupcakes

These unconventional treats are ideal for children’s parties. A combination of frosting and ready-to-roll icing makes for an exciting filling that will thrill the kids.

2. Ice cream cupcakes

Another kiddie favourite. The trick will be to create the right sized cupcake so you can pop it neatly into your ice cream cone. Topped off with a vanilla frosting and a chocolate flake, these ice cream cupcakes are perfect for beach picnics and barbecues.

3. Nutella cupcakes

Chocolate lovers will go nuts for these tasty treats. The chocolate sponge is finished with a delightful Nutella frosting and decorated with a trio of Maltesers

4. Milkshake cupcakes

The strawberry and vanilla frosting combination, completed with vintage paper straw, is a favourite for festive occasions from the hen-do to the garden party.

5. Sticky toffee cupcakes

Caramel and toffee pieces make these cupcakes the ultimate treat for the sweet-toothed. These sticky toffee cupcakes are seasonal favourite for munching on next to bonfires or enjoying with a nice cup of tea.

Why not browse our recipes to explore more exciting baking and decorating ideas?