Cupcakes have a rather interesting and intriguing history. The earliest description of what we may call a cupcake goes back all the way to the late 18th century when a recipe for a “light cake to bake in small cups” was written by Amelia Simmons, who was heralded as the first American to write a known cookbook. The term “cupcake” was first documented in a 1928 cookbook by Eliza Leslie.
In previous centuries, muffin tins were widely available and used as a synonym to the modern cupcake. They were baked in individual pottery cupcakes or makeshift moulds. The word “cupcake” soon became popular, and it is now given to any small round cake that is about the size of the teacup. But at that time, the cupcake wasn’t elaborately decorated. Not only that, but the modern cupcake is a lot larger than the small pastries that used to fit comfortably within the teacup – giving you more space to experiment with decorating.
Today, the cupcake is a culinary phenomenon. There are shows dedicated to the decoration of cupcakes, like DC Cupcakes on TLC and Cupcake Wars on the Food Network. Thankfully, decorating your cupcakes doesn’t have to be a competitive, stressful process. It just requires the right tools and a bit of foresight.
Before you start decorating, you need to gather the right tools.
If you’re going to make your own frosting, and you’re looking for a particular color, then here is a very helpful guide by the Food Network. It suggests mixing a cup of your favorite frosting with the recommended number of food color drops to create the perfect shade for your cupcake. You’ll want this ready before you start decorating the cupcake. Even Ziploc has jumped on the bandwagon, as it notices that many people who are on a pinch, use their zip bags with the corners clipped off as a makeshift piping bag.
Filling up the piping bag. Before actually decorating your cupcakes, you need to set up your tools. The piping bag is what’s going to allow you to place the frosting and icing directly onto the cupcake. The icing tips are designed to leave a circular trail. However, you can also buy icing tips that have different patterns on it, allowing you to decorate your cupcakes with a dramatic flair.
Place the icing tip onto the bottom of your piping bag. Your piping bag will need to be cut first — cut just enough for the icing tip to come through, but not so much that it falls through. An icing tip that keeps falling out is very annoying, and there is unfortunately always the potential of you pouring a whole batch of icing onto your cupcakes! Once secured, fold down the top of the bag just past the piping tip. Remember to keep your hands underneath, right along the fold. Now you’ll simply add the frosting into the funnel you created.
With your free hand, use a spatula to scoop up your favorite premade frosting, or store-bought icing. Scrape the spatula on the sides where you have your hands cupped to get every last bit of icing. There might be confusion as to how much icing you should use to fill up the piping bag. Do not go over 3/4 full. Putting too much icing into the piping bag will overfill it, and you will have a hard time controlling the output of the frosting when you start squeezing it onto the cupcakes.
Once the majority of your piping bag is full, unfold it. You’ll want to keep air bubbles out since they can disrupt your decorating process. Shake the frosting a bit to ensure that there aren’t any trapped air bubbles. If you’re reusing a piping bag, then there is a good chance that there might be air bubbles, and it is essential that you remove them before decorating.
At this point, you’ll want to secure the piping bag and prepare for emissions. Twist the bag shut. You can use ties or secure the knot with your dominant hand. Your “weapon” is loaded and now ready to shoot some tasty fun.
The key to working a piping bag is applying even pressure so that the icing and frosting can come out uniformly. To get it right, you need to squeeze the top of the bag and not the bottom where the icing tip is. It might feel a bit awkward, and you may need to practice on something stationary like a cup to get familiar with the icing’s consistency, but with practice, you’ll eventually feel comfortable enough to start decorating your cupcakes. To get the perfect swirl, make sure that you’re holding the bag at a 90° angle to the cupcake’s surface.
Start in the center of the cupcake and swirl outwards, then work your way back to the center after you’ve made a complete circle. When you go back to the center with your piping bag, be sure to hold the tip above the frosting since you do not want to erase and smash over your work. As you finish the second circle, stop squeezing and pull straight up.