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Frosting a Cupcake: Pipe or Swirl?

There are a lot of ways to frost a cupcake. I’m putting piping against swirling. Each method creates a unique look that looks great. Whether you’re using a rich buttercream or a silky meringue, try each frosting technique to see which you like best. I’m sure you’ll definitely have a preference within the first 15 minutes. Both piping and swirling take practice to get it right. Don’t get too discouraged. After all, it’s only frosting! If you don’t like the results, simply wipe it off and try again.


Frosting Tips

Using a pastry bag with a wide star or round tip, pipe the icing onto the cupcake in a circular motion, starting from the outside and working your way toward the middle of the cupcake. I like to drizzle on hot fudge on top, use sprinkles, or small fondant flowers to create a finished look. A fun cupcake that uses piped on frosting is this Hi-Hat cupcake.


This is also a good way to frost a lot of cupcakes. Perfecting the swirl on top is the key to making these tasty cakes look professional. This demonstration video from Cupcake Royale makes it look easy but trust me, it takes a little longer than 2 minutes to perfect!

Both Magnolia Bakery in New York and Cupcake Royale in Washington use a flat cupcake spatula (large palette knife) to form their trademark swirl on top of their cupcakes.

Offset frosting spatula

I prefer an offset spatula instead of the flat spatula. It makes frosting easier by providing exceptional control. Offset blade icing spatulas keep your finger away from the frosting, especially when working with large cakes. Dragging your knuckles through the frosting does not count as a “design”.


Piping! (by a mile) This is personally my favorite way to frost a cupcake. I have an 18″ (huge) pastry bag which holds a lot of frosting. Piping seems to be the fastest way for me to frost cupcakes and still achieve a beautiful look. Changing the tips (open star, closed star and round) is also a quick way to change the look of your piped frosting. If I’ve got a lot of cupcakes to frost, piping is my first choice. There are also many more piping techniques than swirling, which will make your cupcake look beautiful and unique.

Vanilla Buttercake Recipe

from Cupcake Royale

For those of you who don’t live near a Cupcake Royale location in Washington, or who prefer baking at home, here’s recipe for the shop’s new vanilla cupcake, scaled down for the home baker, which Cupcake Royale owner Jody Hall kindly shared. (recipe from eatallaboutit.com) A few of the brands listed might be tough for the home baker to find, unless you live in Washington, so go ahead and support your own local economy by substituting what’s available where you live. I’m a big fan of shop local, eat local, whenever possible.

makes 1 dozen

2 3/4 c. Shepherd’s Grain cake flour
2 3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. local egg whites
1/2 c. warm water
1/3 c. Medosweet sour cream
5 ounces Medosweet butter
3 tbs expeller-pressed canola oil
1 tsp Gahara vanilla bean paste

Line a cupcake tin with your favorite cupcake wrappers, and set your oven to bake at 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a mixer and mix on low speed. In a separate bowl, combine water and sour cream. Add vanilla paste and egg whites to this mixture and stir until combined. Add the butter, oil, and 1/4 of liquid mixture to your dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the remainder of the liquid mixture in three doses, beating for 20 seconds after each dose.  Scoop batter into wrappers. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until edges are slightly golden. Set cupcakes aside until they are cool to the touch, then frost ‘em up with real buttercream.

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7 thoughts on “Frosting a Cupcake: Pipe or Swirl?

  1. hey im doing cupcakes for a friends wedding and your blog is a definite help..
    thanks x

  2. Wonderful post. Cool blog. I’m not very good with a pipe and only marginally better at creating a swirl. Let’s just say that I go for the rustic look on most things. 🙂

  3. To be honest, either – though I did buy my very first piping bag today, nearly broke my very first piping bag today too…

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