18 ways to decorate cupcakes

Cupcakes are a popular baked good. In most cases, it is a to-go-to item for events, sugar cravings, and beginner bakers.
While cupcakes are usually easy to make, the decorating part can be a bit tricky.

It is quite simple to decorate a cupcake with buttercream, but there are so many other ways you can decorate your cupcakes.

18 ways you can decorate your cupcakes

These methods will provide you with aesthetically pleasing cakes that you can bring to events, bake sales and casual outings.

1. Buttercream

buttercream cupcake

This is the most popular method of decorating cupcakes. You can apply your buttercream with a spoon, spatula or piping tip. Each of these tools will give you a different decorative effect. For a professional looking cupcake, apply your buttercream with a piping bag and tip, then top your buttercream with some dragees.

The best part of using a buttercream frosting is that you can use the type of buttercream that you enjoy. American, Swiss and Italian buttercream are the best to choose from.
Ermine frosting will not hold its shape if you pipe it onto the cupcake.

You can flavor and color your buttercream as needed, and this makes it even more ideal for decorating cupcakes.

2. Icing sugar or cocoa powder

cocoa powder topped cupcakes

This is the easiest way to decorate cupcakes. You will need to sift your icing sugar or cocoa powder to get rid of lumps. After your icing sugar or cocoa has been sifted, dip your cupcake into the icing sugar or cocoa powder and press down. This is so that the icing sugar adheres to the top of the cupcakes.

For a more sophisticated look, place a stencil on top your cupcake and dust your cupcakes with icing sugar or cocoa powder. Then, lift your stencil carefully.

If you would like to color your icing sugar, blend a tiny amount of your  food color paste with your icing sugar. this will give you a pastel colored icing sugar.

The downside of using icing sugar is that you cannot decorate your cupcakes too far in advance. If you do place your icing sugar on a moist cupcake too far in advance, the icing sugar could melt into a glaze.

3. Use a glaze

This is my recommendation for people trying to add a bit more flavor to their cupcakes.

A basic glaze recipe contains icing sugar, vanilla extract, and a liquid. This liquid is usually milk or cream. However, if you are trying to add some flavor, replace the cream or milk with a reduction, juice, or liquor.

If you prefer a thick glaze, make your glaze accordingly and dip the top of your cupcake into the glaze. Before setting your cupcake down, allow the excess glaze drip off. After a while, the glaze will harden and resemble a fondant glaze. This glaze can be colored very easily but avoid using liquid food coloring because it will change the consistency of your glaze.

4. Decorate your cupcake with chocolate

If you are a chocolate fiend and love to top everything with chocolate, decorate your cupcake with chocolate or chocolate ganache.

If your cupcake has a domed top, I recommend dipping the cupcake tops in tempered chocolate. Make sure you allow the excess chocolate drips off first. When the chocolate cools down, it will harden and create a shell around the cupcake dome.

If you would prefer to have a bit of buttercream beneath the chocolate shell, pipe on your buttercream then place your cupcakes in the fridge for 15 minutes. After your buttercream has hardened, you can cover the top of your cupcake in melted chocolate. After a while, the chocolate will harden and create a shell over the buttercream frosting.

-Use chocolate ganache

Whip up some chocolate ganache for a pipeable cupcake frosting that will add a decadent feel to your cupcakes.

Do not whip the ganache if you prefer to coat the top of your cupcake in chocolate ganache.

5. Use a marshmallow

Decorating a cupcake with marshmallows is probably one of the easiest methods on this list.
Here, you pop a large marshmallow on your cupcake 5 minutes before the baking time elapses. By the time you take your cupcake out of the oven, the marshmallow would have melted and spread all over the cupcake. If you want a slightly rustic look, broil the cupcakes for a few seconds for slight char marks on the marshmallow frosting.

If you enjoy marshmallow frosting but do not want to melt a marshmallow onto your cupcakes, you can decorate your cupcake with marshmallow fluff. This will give you a cloud-like, bright white frosting.

6. Using Meringue

Meringues are light but they are a very sweet and easily flavored item. If you do not care for buttercream or marshmallow, try an in-between ‘meringue.’

You can make your meringue and dollop spoonfuls of it onto your cupcake for a light cupcake decor. If you would like the cupcake to resemble a lemon meringue pie, you can pipe the meringue onto the cupcake. Then, use a blowtorch/broiler to color the top ridges and create a charred look.

When decorating cupcakes with meringue, you cannot do so too far in advance. You also have to be careful to whip your meringue properly to avoid weeping and deflation.

If you are a fan of meringue cookies, bake large dollops of meringue till they are well done. Apply a very thin coat of buttercream to the top of your cupcake and attach a large meringue cookie to the cupcake. 

Note: you can decorate your meringue cookies by dipping them in chocolate and adhering sprinkles to them.

7. Use crushed nuts or shredded coconuts.

coconut flakes cupcake

For those that love texture, this is the best way to decorate cupcakes.

You can make brittle or candied nuts and leave them to harden. After they have set, pulse your nuts in a food processor until you have crushed nuts of roughly the same size. To achieve this, you will need to blend a small number of nuts at a time. Furthermore, your food processor or blender should not get hot, or it will liquefy the sugar in the candied nuts or brittle.

When you have your crushed nuts or desiccated coconuts, you can press the top of your cupcakes into them. If your cupcake has a moist top, the nuts or coconut will stick to the top of the cupcakes. However, if the top of your cupcake is dry, apply a thin coat of buttercream before dipping the top of your cupcakes into the crushed nuts.

Using crushed brittle or candied nuts will add a different texture to your cupcakes. If you do not like nuts but still would like the crunchy texture, break up some toffee and use it in place of the candied nuts.

8. Sprinkles

sprinkles covered cupcakes

With the large variety of sprinkles available to home bakers and cake decorators, sprinkles are one of the simplest ways that you can decorate your cupcakes.\

Sprinkles are no longer restricted to a rainbow collection known as Jimmies. Now, you can get sprinkles made up of different sizes, shapes, and luster in a single jar; these are referred to as medleys or sprinkle mixes.

These medleys are useful when decorating cupcakes to match a color scheme or when you want a fun colored cupcake.

 It is quite easy to use sprinkles, apply them onto your frosted buttercream cupcakes in a random manner if you wish. If you prefer a little more semblance of order, apply your sprinkles in a particular pattern.

9. Fruit

Using fruit to decorate cupcakes is my favorite method for creating rustic looking cupcakes. This is an easy method for beginner bakers. Properly arranged, cupcakes decorated with fruit can look even more elegant than you imagine.

It is important to note that you can not use this method far in advance before the cupcakes are eaten. Furthermore, avoid fruits that brown quickly or wilt like bananas. By applying some lemon/lime to apples and pears, you will be able to delay the browning of these fruits when sliced.

Fruit that you can easily use to decorate cupcakes include strawberries, blueberries, pineapples, cherries, blood oranges, oranges, and grapes.

To ensure that the fruit stays on top the cupcakes, you can do two things:
- Use a large cupcake liner. After your cupcake is baked, you will still have a considerable amount of space left in the cupcake liner. You will be able to arrange your fruit in the cupcake liner without any of the fruits rolling away or falling.

-If you do not have a large cupcake liner, apply a large dollop of buttercream to the top of the cupcake and arrange the fruits on the buttercream. Slightly push the fruits into the buttercream to ensure they stay in the right place even when the cupcakes are moved around.

10. Jam and Marmalade

Jam cupcakes

Topping your cupcake with jam or marmalade is about beauty and functionality. If you plan on making Victorian cupcakes, I recommend that you do so in sturdy cupcake cups. After your cupcakes have cooled down, scoop some jam or marmalade onto the cupcake and pop a piece of fruit onto a dollop of jam.

To ensure that your presentation does not look sloppy, ensure that the jam you are using is not watery or too loose. Also, use a small size ice cream scoop to portion out the jam on the cupcake.

When decorating cupcakes using this method, ensure that you attach little spoons to make eating these cupcakes easier and less messy.

11. Streusel

Want a delicious looking cupcake just out of the oven? Try a streusel topping.
Streusel is a topping made of sugar, butter, and flour. When baked, this topping creates a sweet, slightly caramelized, crunchy top that can elevate the taste and flavor of cupcakes and muffins.

Before topping your cupcakes with streusel, ensure that your cupcake batter is thick enough. Streusel will sink when baked on a thin batter and while it will still taste good, you will not have the decorative effect.

12. Fondant

This is a method amateur, and professional bakers can use to decorate cupcakes. You can cut out shapes and place them on top of your cupcakes quite easily. However, if you are an expert, you can make flowers, figures, and signs out of fondant.
 You can use these fondant creations to decorate a cupcake.

13. Cookies

Top your buttercream decorated cupcake with a mini or regular sized cookie for a decadent looking cupcake. Cookie decorated cupcakes tend to look more appetizing than plain cupcakes.

Avoid using pale or plain looking cookies except it is absolutely necessary. If possible, use sandwiched macarons instead of plain cookies. The pastel-colored macarons will add a whimsical but elegant look to your cupcakes.

Save time by purchasing a dozen macarons from the store instead of making it by yourself.

14. Use candy and chocolate 

Give your cupcake an extra sweet touch by decorating it with candies and chocolates of your choice. You can pipe a swirl of buttercream on your cupcakes and stick your favorite candies and mini chocolates in the buttercream.

If you will be using hard candies to decorate your cupcake, inform the people that will consume these cupcakes. You can also use gummies and jelly beans for this purpose.

To decorate your cupcake with chocolates, place chocolate bonbons/truffles, mini chocolate bars, Mars bars, and chocolate wafers onto the buttercream covered cupcake. 

Do not place your candy on your buttercream too early as the sugar could begin to dissolve and the candy piece may stain the buttercream.

15. Cocoa butter velvet spray

A recent trend on social media is cakes that look like they covered in velvet or flocked fabric. To achieve this effect, you will need cocoa butter spray.

Cocoa butter sprays come in different colors and are easy to use. However, they are fairly expensive, not widely available and may not be a reasonable investment if you bake and decorate cupcakes once in a blue moon.

If you want a cupcake design that will turn heads and makes you look like a pro,  this is the best way of decorating cupcakes.

16. Mirror Glaze

Mirror glaze covered cakes are a work of art. These amazing looking cakes are slightly harder to make because of the process of making and applying the glaze.
Mirror glazes emphasize every dent and mark on the buttercream covered cake.

There are 2 easy ways that you can apply mirror glaze to a cupcake.

Method 1.

- pipe some buttercream or apply a small mound of buttercream on your cupcake.
- Pop your buttercream frosted cupcakes in the fridge for about 15 minutes until your buttercream has hardened.
- Put your mirror glaze into a deep glass or bowl.
- Holding your cupcake upside down, dip the buttercream into the glaze but leave a tiny amount of buttercream unglazed.
- Hold the cupcake sideways or at an angle to allow most of the excess glaze drain off.

Note: If you use the first method, Your glaze will drip when you set the cupcakes down, this could stain your cupcake liner. To prevent your liner from staining, you can glaze your buttercream separately.

Method 2.

- Pipe your buttercream onto parchment sheets or onto a cookie sheet.
- Place the piped buttercream in the freezer for 15 minutes.
- When you take your buttercream out of the freezer, it should be hard.
- Using an offset spatula, place your buttercream on a cooling rack or grid.
- Once placed on the cooling rack, pour the mirror glaze over the piped buttercream.
- Leave the glaze to drip for a few minutes.
- Once the dripping has stopped, pick up your buttercream with an offset spatula and place the mirror glazed buttercream on top of your cupcake.
-If your cupcake has a dome, cut it off first before putting the mirror glazed buttercream on top of the cupcake.

17. spun sugar

Add flair and flavor to your cupcakes with a sugar nest. Making enough spun sugar to decorate 12 cupcakes will be easier if you use a cut off whisk.

To make spun sugar, I recommend that you get a candy thermometer and carefully follow the cooking instructions.

After the spun sugar is ready, roll your sugar into a nest and place it on top of your cupcakes just before serving the cupcakes. If applied too far in advance, the spun sugar may dissolve before you can serve the cupcakes.

If you will be decorating many cupcakes with spun sugar and would like to make your spun sugar in advance, it is possible.

18. Edible sheets

A less popular way of decorating cupcakes among amateur cake bakers is to use edible sugar sheets. These sheets come in multiple patterns and colors. You can apply an edible sheet ontop some fondant.

Edible sheets are convenient if you would like to decorate a cupcake to match a particular theme.

It is also an incredibly convenient route to explore if you wish to decorate many cupcakes in a print or pattern. While you can create a stripe pattern with fondant or buttercream, It would be time-consuming.
The easier option would be to roll out your fondant and apply your edible sheets (stripe pattern) to the fondant using edible glue.
After applying the sheets to your fondant, cut out the shape you would like to place on top of your cupcakes.

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