Saturday, October 17, 2009

A New Pastry Tip, and 12 Decorating Tips

Yesterday I tried out one of my new giant pastry tips on some mini cupcakes. (Recipe for the Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes w/ Cream Cheese Frosting at end of this post.)

When I bought these new decorating tips, the first thing I noticed is how huge they are (see yesterday's post).

But not until I was ready to frost cupcakes did I realize that the box of six supersize tips came with no coupler! (A coupler is a two-part plastic thingummy that holds the pastry bag tight around the decorating tip.) Maybe the weight of all the frosting would just hold the tip in place? Deciding to try, I dropped a tip into the pastry bag and just plopped all the frosting in:

It worked fine! And I was off to the races. As I went along, frosting and squishing and racking up the mini cupcakes, I thought about how easy it is to decorate cupcakes and cakes if you know a few little tricks. So, here they are, to demystify the process and inspire you, I hope.

Tip #1: Improvise. (See above paragraphs.) Decorating with frosting is too darn fun (and too darn tasty!) to let a little thing like the lack of a plastic thingummy stop you. If you don't have any pastry bags or tips, stuff the frosting into a zip-style plastic bag, snip a tiny bit off one corner, and go free-form with your stylin'.

Tip #2: Use the cuff-and-glass method to fill a pastry bag with frosting. Roll the bag's larger end down over itself to form a generous cuff. Then stand the empty bag upright in a tall drinking glass. Now filling the bag with frosting is a snap. Here's a shot of the Cream Cheese Frosting in the bag. Yum-mee!

Tip #3: Gently push the frosting down toward the tip by lying the filled pastry bag down on a counter. This gets rid of any unwanted air pockets. If you try to do this while holding the bag in the air, frosting can shploop out either end, and you don't want that! And yeah, I said "shploop."
Tip #4: Fold and roll the bag to prevent the frosting from backing out all over your hands as you work. First, fold the corners of the open end toward each other, then roll the open end up tightly toward the tip end. Like-a-this:

Gently roll until frosting begins to peek out the decorating end:

Tip #5: Use the fridge to modulate the temperature, and thus the squishability, of the frosting. If it feels too soft and isn't coming out in crisply defined shapes, put the frosting bag back in the drinking glass and pop it in the fridge for a few minutes. If the frosting gets too hard, leave it on the counter until it feels like the right consistency. (Don't use the microwave; you've got a metal tip in there, and nuking the frosting might warm it up unevenly.)

Tip #6: Practice making decorations on a plate before you start decorating. You can always scoop up the frosting and stick it back in the bag. Or, save your ugliest attempts for yourself and your family/best friends. Like this one, below. It's too peak-y in the middle and looks...stupid. So it became part of my lunch!

Now, these are looking better! I made these, below, by pointing the decorating tip straight down at the cupcake, then pushing out some icing until it covered about half the top, then pulling up with a quick motion to make the peak:

Tip #7: Add jimmies, nonpariels, etc. immediately after icing. If you try to add your decorations to a cake that was iced a while ago, the icing has hardened and your decorative bits won't stick nicely. Here's part of my decoration stash:

Ah! I spy the perfect decorations for this project:

Itty-bitty gingerbread people! (Yes, I believe in equality among cupcakes. Don't you?) Here's a look at the unenlightened label:

Tip #8: Use tweezers for precise placement. No, not the ones from your bathroom! Buy an inexpensive pair of tweezers from the drug store and dedicate them to strictly cake- and cookie-decorating use. And when you're picking through irregular shapes like these gingerbread folks, spread them out on a white surface so you can sort through them easily and weed out any oddballs. Unless you like using oddballs, of course.

Use the tweezers to place the decors exactly where you want them. I think three per cupcake is just about right for these three-bite cuties:

So after doing some ginger people, I sprinkled some of the mini-cakes with mini orange balls (see below).

Tip #9: Use a jelly roll pan under your decorating area. If you are using a lot of sprinkles, and/or if you want to minimize waste, the pan will catch any sprinkles that roll off. From time to time, you can tip the loose sprinkles into your hand and re-shake them onto the cakes:

Tip #10: Move the cupcake, not the pastry bag. Remember when you were in 2nd grade and Mrs. Ratchley said the best way to cut a difficult shape out of construction paper is to hold the scissors still and move the paper around? Same thing applies here.

To achieve this swirly shape below, I used the same pastry tip as before but held the cupcake in my left hand (I'm right-handed, so the bag of icing goes in your dominant hand). Then I cocked my left wrist, and as I applied the icing, I slowly "unwound" my left hand as I piped out the icing. That works much better than trying to twirl the hand that's holding the icing bag. It has enough to do, believe me!

Pretty, huh? I picked up the next tip from watching the pros at Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle.

Tip #11: Channel Mr. Spock on "Star Trek." To move iced cupcakes safely, turn your hand palm up and create a "Live Long and Prosper"shape. Gently grasp the cupcake around the paper between the vee made by your fingers to move it. This method keeps your hands below the decorated top and "shoulders" of the cupcake. It also helps prevents your knuckles from accidentally hitting the icing of a neighboring cupcake:

Here's my last tip:

Tip #12: Don't throw out leftover icing! There are so many fun things you can do with it instead. Pipe a big button of icing to attach two cookies together and create a sandwich. Ice a short greeting like "Hi!" or "I [heart] U" on somebody's pancakes or waffles. Squeeze a little icing on a slice of pear or apple for a fall treat. Melt a square of chocolate atop a Graham cracker in the microwave, and add a healthy blob of icing instead of a melted marshmallow, then top with another cracker.

Here are the recipes. Hope you enjoy them:

Pumpkin-Spice Bread

[from Mademoiselle magazine, ca. 1978]
[brackets throughout recipe are my additions and suggestions]

1-1/2 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C. mayonnaise
2 eggs
1-2/3 C. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
[1/4 tsp. of cloves is nice, too]
1 C. canned plain pumpkin [not pumpkin pie mix]
[1/2 C. raisins and/or chopped nuts, if desired]

In a large mixing bowl, cream together granulated sugar and mayonnaise. Add eggs and beat thoroughly. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and spices. Alternately add dry ingredients with the pumpkin [and raisins and nuts, if desired] to the batter.

Pour into a loaf pan and bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. [Remove from oven; run knife around edge of pan to loosen bread. Let sit in pan for 20-30 minutes. Turn out on a wire rack to finish cooling.]

[Makes 4 or 5 mini loaves; bake 50 minutes.]
[Makes 18 regular cupcakes; bake approx. 30 minutes.]
[Makes 36 mini cupcakes; bake about 20 minutes.]

Cream-Cheese Frosting
[This recipe has been in my family three generations. It is my go-to frosting for carrot cake but works beautifully on many other cakes, too.]

1 stick (1/4 lb.) butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. good-quality vanilla extract
1 lb. powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, beat the first three ingredients until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar until smooth. If the frosting seems too thick, add a few drops of milk to thin it out. Makes enough to fill and frost a three-layer, 9-inch cake.

Hee hee! There's still frosting in my refrigerator!


  1. This is super helpful! I definitely want to try frosting now =)

    Question about the pumpkin spice bread recipe -- what does the mayonnaise do? Would it be possible to substitute it with yogurt?


  2. Mayo is mostly made of egg and oil, and of course both of those are commonly found in quick breads and cakes. My guess is you could substitute the 1/2 cup mayo with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of a very mild oil, like canola, and maybe one more egg. You could probably add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of plain yogurt on top of that without significantly altering the recipe, but you might want to try these substitutions and additions first before you make a batch of cupcakes to take to the office! BTW, I've made this recipe using full-fat mayo and Best Foods Light Mayo, and both work equally well. Good luck, and thanks for reading our blog!

  3. Steph, I'd guess that you could sub the mayo with a 1/2 cup of yogurt, sour cream, or applesauce just fine. The oil/egg trick would probably work fine too. The key here is just the moistening of the batter, in whatever way works for you. :)

  4. Hi Girls
    I just started to play with pastry tips and I looked on the internet and found you. Thank goodness. I am starting a party on my blog called "Cupcake Sunday" one Sunday a month. I have never put frosting on with a bag before and thought I should learn. I'm a total beginner. I wanted to take some cupcakes to church once a month, but didn't want to eat all of them. So up came the idea. Today I am baking and wanted experiment. Thanks for the hints.



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