Here are three easy ways to apply frosting or icing to cupcakes: spreading, piping, and dipping.
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closeup of cupcakes on a display with piped pink frosting garnished with pink flowers
Credit: Allrecipes

A sweet and fluffy frosting is the final decorative touch that elevates homemade cupcakes into miniature masterpieces. But you don't have to be a sculptor to turn your baked good into edible works of art in your kitchen. Here, we'll show you three easy ways to frost cupcakes and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about frosting, including how much to make and why frosting is different than icing.

How to Frost Cupcakes

1. Spreading

This method is quick and easy, with little or no skill or special equipment needed. A small offset spatula works perfectly to spread the frosting, but you could also use any small knife with a broad blade, such as a butter knife or sandwich spreader.

Spreading Frosting on Cupcakes
Photo by Rustic Joyful Food
  1. 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. 
  2. Use the spatula to scoop up the frosting and place it in the center of the cupcake top. Then, 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. Depending on the type of tip you use, you could make stars, roses, scallops, and more. 

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

To fill the pastry bag:

  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 3 to 4-inch cuff over the edge of the glass.
  2. Use a rubber spatula to scoop the frosting from the bowl into the bag. Fill it no more than 2/3 full. Of course, 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.
  3. Lift the bag out of the glass and twist the top to close. You can use a twist tie to close it or hold the twisted end under the palm of your hand while you pipe.

To pipe frosting: 

  1. Place the cupcake on a flat surface. 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. Then, 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.

chocolate ganache made into frosting, glaze, and truffles
Credit: Stefani Pollack
  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. 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. 
  3. 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 tends to be 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 2 to 3 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 the sugar to melt, and the frosting will slide off.

Related:

Check out our collection of Cupcake Recipes.

By Vanessa Greaves and Allrecipes Editors