How to decorate cupcakes

This post is part of my Cooking 101 Series. For more cupcake tutorials, be sure to also check out Cupcakes 101: Baking, Cupcakes 102: Frosting, and how to decorate cupcakes Cupcakes 104: Storing and Freezing Cupcakes! 

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It’s the final installment of my three-part series on cupcakes! Are you excited? I’m excited.

Cupcakes 103: 14 Ways to Decorate Cupcakes Like a ProPictured: Butterscotch Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

We baked great cupcakes in Cupcakes 101, learned frosting techniques in Cupcakes 102, and now we’re on to the main event – the decorations!

Decorating cupcakes is SO SUPER FUN, and the decoration will determine the level of “oohs” and “aahs” you get when people first see your cupcakes. The cake itself will wow them as soon as they take a bite, but it’s whatever creation you’ve placed on top that will initially grab their attention.

I chose not to include any decorations involving fondant, gum paste, or modeling chocolate, because those techniques can be complicated and time-consuming. Also, most home cooks don’t have those techniques in their repertoires.

My goal with this list was to offer quick, easy-to-make cupcake toppers that will wow a crowd without sucking up all of your free time.

Here are 14 of my favorite ways to top a cupcake with a “wow” factor!

14 Ways to Decorate Cupcakes Like a ProPictured: Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (Download these printable cupcakes cupcake tags for free here!)

1. CANDY

Candy is a quick and simple topping, but it still gives your cupcakes some character. Here, I’ve sliced mini reese’s cups in half and placed them at an angle.

Other great candy toppers include M&Ms, Jelly Beans, or pieces of larger chocolate bars.

14 Ways to Decorate Cupcakes Like a Pro

Pictured: Chocolate Greek Yogurt Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream 

2. FLAGS AND PRINTED TAGS

Tags are my new favorite way to top a cupcake! They’re cute and easy. Customize your own tags for a special event, or download the tags I created for these photos (for FREE!) by clicking here: Life As A Strawberry Cupcake Flags Printable.

Simply cut around the tag shapes, tape them to some colorful toothpicks, and pop them onto your cupcakes for a whimsical and artsy feel.

14 Ways to Decorate Cupcakes Like a Pro

Pictured: Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream (Download these free printable cupcake tags for free here!)

3. CHOCOLATE “DRAWINGS”

cupcakes-104Melt some chocolate (I love using bittersweet or white chocolate chips for this!) over a double boiler and put it in a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (you could also use a ziploc bag and cut a small piece off one corner). Make sure the chocolate is still warm!

Pipe your designs or drawings directly on to a piece of wax paper, then let the chocolate set.

If you’d like, add some sprinkles to the melted chocolate after you’ve drawn your design for a fun effect! I used this white chocolate in the photos below. I like to let my chocolate “drawings” cool on the counter for a few hours, but if you’re in a hurry, pop it in the fridge for half an hour or so!

When chocolate has hardened, gently peel your designs off of the wax paper and push them into your cupcake’s frosting.

14 Ways to Top a Cupcake Like a Pro

Pictured: Chocolate Greek Yogurt Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

PS – Do you have a drawing you’d like to recreate in chocolate?

Just lay a piece of wax paper directly over the image and trace it with your melted chocolate.

If you’d like to create a curved chocolate piece, like the butterfly below, trace the figure in chocolate and fold the waxed paper into the spine of a book while it dries.

14 Ways to Decorate Cupcakes Like a Pro

Pictured: Chocolate Greek Yogurt Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream 

4. FRESH FRUIT

Fresh fruit is such a lovely way to top a cupcake. To slice a strawberry like you see in the photos here, lay it on a cutting board and slice several thin slices ALMOST all the way to the stem. Don’t slice all the way to the stem or the berry won’t hold together.

When you’ve sliced the berry, pull the pieces out in a sideways fan and place directly on the cupcake. Use any fruit you’d like – berries of any kind are always a hit in my house. I love using fruit that’s a component in the cupcake recipe, too: if you’re making applesauce cupcakes, garnish with a slice of apple. Making lemon-y cupcakes? Garnish with a slice of citrus!

14 Ways to Decorate Cupcakes Like a Pro

Pictured: Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

A word of caution with any fruit (berries especially), though: don’t put it on top of a cupcake until you’re ready to eat. If a berry or other juicy fruit is in contact with the sugary frosting for too long, it will react with the sugar and begin to macerate, or soften and release some juice. The last thing you want is a sticky cupcake covered in fruit mush! Place fruit at the last possible moment to ensure a crisp, fresh bite.

14 Ways to Decorate Cupcakes Like a Pro

Pictured: Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

5. GANACHE

Ganache is a great choice if you’re decorating a large number of cupcakes. You can spoon it quickly on top of frosting and not have to worry if it gets a little messy – it will just look artsy. To make a simple chocolate ganache, bring 1/4 cup of milk to a simmer, then remove it from the heat and pour it over 1 cup of room temperature chocolate chips.

For a mint chocolate ganache, add 1/4 teaspoon of mint extract as well, or switch it up and make a Chocolate Butterscotch Ganache. Stir the mixture until the milk has melted all of the chocolate and you’re left with a smooth, glossy sauce. Let it cool on the counter for a few minutes so it will thicken – a thicker ganache gives you a bit more control over where it lands when you pour it over a cupcake.

You can dip the tops of cupcakes directly into the bowl of ganache for a smooth, glossy finish, or spoon a bit over frosted cupcakes (as seen below) for a fun drizzle-y effect.

Cupcakes 103: 14 Ways to Frost a Cupcake Like a Pro


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