Frosting is the decorative final touch that elevates cupcakes into miniature masterpieces. Here are three easy ways to apply frosting or icing to cupcakes: spreading, piping, and dipping.

By Vanessa Greaves and Allrecipes Editors
Updated December 21, 2020
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Credit: Joyful Rustic Food

We'll show you three easy ways to frost cupcakes, and follow up with answers to frequently asked questions about frosting, including how much to make and what's the difference between frosting and icing.

1. Spreading

This method is quick and easy, with little or no skill or special equipment needed.

Photo by Rustic Joyful Food
  1. To spread the frosting, a small offset spatula works perfectly, but you could also use any small knife with a broad blade, such as a butter knife or sandwich spreader.
  2. Hold the cupcake in one hand and the knife in the other. That will let you get a good view of the cupcake so you can spread the frosting evenly over the entire surface. Use the spatula to scoop up frosting and place it in the center of the cupcake top. Spread outward, smoothing the surface with the edge of the knife.

2. Piping

If you're frosting a lot of cupcakes, or you want to make decorative shapes and patterns, use this method. Piping squeezes the frosting through a tip attached to the end of a pastry bag. (Attach the tip following manufacturers' directions.) Depending on the tip you use, you could make stars, roses, scallops, etc. For these cupcakes, we used a large star tip.

Here's how to fill the pastry bag without getting frosting all over the bag and your hands.

  1. Put the pastry tip in the bottom of the pastry bag and set the bag into a tall glass or measuring cup. Fold a three- or four-inch cuff over the edge of the glass.
  2. Use a rubber spatula to scoop frosting from the bowl into the bag. Fill it no more than two-thirds full. You can always reload the pastry bag with more frosting, but if it's too full you're likely to squeeze frosting out of both ends of the bag.

Lift the bag out of the glass and twist the top to close. You can use a twist-tie to keep it closed, or you can hold the bag closed by keeping the twisted end under the palm of your hand while you pipe.

To pipe frosting, place the cupcake on a flat surface.

  1. Hold the main body of the pastry bag in your dominant hand. If you're right-handed, hold it in your right hand, keeping the twisted end folded and placing your fingers onto the body of the bag.
  2. Rest the piping end of the bag on your left index finger for better control. You'll use your right hand to squeeze out the frosting, and your left hand to guide the pastry bag.

3. Dipping

Use this method when you want to put a thin glaze, such as chocolate ganache, over your cupcakes.

  1. Make a batch of chocolate ganache. It should be warm to the touch but not hot.
  2. Hold the cupcake upside down by its base, and dip the top into the ganache, covering it evenly.
  3. Twist your wrist slightly as you pull the cupcake out of the ganache. This coaxes the excess icing to fall away back into the bowl. Set the cupcake on a lined baking sheet to catch drips until the glaze sets.

Frosting and Icing FAQ

Q: What's the difference between frosting and icing?

A: You often hear the two words used interchangeably, but frosting is generally thick and fluffy, while icing is a thin glaze.

Q: How much frosting or icing do I need to make?

A: It depends on what method you're using to top your cupcakes. If you're spreading frosting or dipping in icing, plan to use two to three tablespoons of frosting or icing per cupcake (about 1.25 ounces/42 grams). If you're using a piping bag, you'll need twice that amount (2.5 ounces/70 grams per cupcake).

Q: Why does everyone say to cool the cupcakes before frosting or icing them?

A: Applying frosting or icing to warm cupcakes could cause it to melt or slide off.

Check out our collection of Cupcake Recipes.