Cooking School

The secrets of great cupcake icing

By: Martha Uniacke Breen

© Photography Author: Canadian Living Credits: © Photography

Cooking School

The secrets of great cupcake icing

By: Martha Uniacke Breen
In a memorable scene from the recent movie Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig's character, a pastry chef, consoled herself after a bad day by fashioning an intricately detailed lily atop a cupcake, and then eating it by herself standing in her kitchen.

Well, movie magic aside, we may not all be able to (or want to) create such an elaborate work of art, but there are secrets to frosting cupcakes perfectly, whether it's for a birthday party or other special occasion, or just for the sheer creativity of it.

According to Lisa Biemans, head baker at The Cupcake Shoppe in Toronto, the key to icing a great cupcake is to use an icing bag and tips. You can use a flat pastry knife or even a butter knife if you have a steady hand, at least for the base, she says, but once you get the hang of it, an icing bag is easier and allows for much more control. You can buy them at Bulk Barn, or even craft stores like Michael's; they come in several sizes, and the tips are also available in a selection of sizes and types that produce different effects. (You can also make a homemade pastry bag by cutting the corner off a Ziploc bag in the size you wish.)

Types of cupcake icing
There are generally two types of cupcake icing, Biemans says: Regular frosting, made from a mix of icing sugar, butter and vanilla; or buttercream, which adds egg whites to the mix. "Buttercream is fluffier and lighter, and we use it a lot for wedding cakes," she says. Regular frosting is thicker, so it may be a little trickier for a novice to work with, but it covers better and holds its shape well.

Food colouring
For food colouring, The Cupcake Shoppe's bakers prefer gel food colouring, since its colours are a little more intense than liquid food colouring; you can also add flavourings that add colour, such as melted chocolate or mint extract.
Preparing cupcakes for icing
To prepare the cupcakes for your artistry, first be sure that they are completely cooled before you begin. Make sure the cupcake is symmetrical and perfect; if desired, cut a slice off the top to ensure a smooth, level surface.

Icing your cupcakes
To produce the base, you can squeeze out the icing in concentric circles or a spiral; a round tip produces an interesting, whimsical effect, whereas a star tip produces deeper grooves and more texture. If you want a smooth surface, finish with a pastry knife to flatten out the ridges.

Then, use a pastry bag and your desired type and size of tip to produce different decorative effects, from dots and borders to stars or stripes. The thinner the tip, the finer the line; your only limit is your imagination and creativity.

You can add ready-made decorations such as flowers, for an instant professional look, or add candies to the iced top. "We use a lot of silver or gold dragee balls on our wedding cupcakes; they add a really elegant finish," says Biemans.

Throw a cupcake icing party
A cupcake-frosting party is a great idea for a kid's birthday. One of The Cupcake Shoppe's most popular items are its "Frost Me" kits, with ready-to-frost cupcakes and all the tools and trimmings, but you could bake the cupcakes in advance and throw your own version. Set out different colours of frosting in icing bags; put the tips on, or for older kids, let them choose which tip they'd like to use to finish their cupcake work of art.

Even if you're not quite ready to frost a cupcake that's as elaborate as the lily cupcake from Bridesmaids, cupcake icing at its best can be a beautiful art form -- one that's good enough to eat.

Share X
Cooking School

The secrets of great cupcake icing