Top Tips for Decorating Cupcakes

Posted by Jo Shaw on

At Just Bake, we're always looking for great baking advice and tips from baking experts. We have been fortunate enough to interview the lovely Ruth Harmer from Southwell Cakery based in Nottinghamshire to gain some fabulous baking tips.

How do you get different types of icing effects?

There are so many! If I can start with the different types of icing:

Glace - this is the easiest icing to make and apply. It's just icing sugar and water and can be poured, spread or drizzled over cakes. 

Royal - traditionally made with icing sugar, egg whites and a little lemon juice; however, now you can buy royal icing sugar which you just add water to. It sets hard and can be either spread or piped. It is easy to adjust the consistency to suit your needs. I love piping vertical 'candy stripes' on the sides of cakes. You can also use it to outline areas then fill with 'run-outs', using this method you can create 3D decorations quite easily although you do have to wait for it to set! It also makes a great edible glue! 

Regal or Sugar Paste - you can buy this ready made, just knead it and then roll! This is ideal for covering large cakes or cutting decorations. It can also be used for modelling.

Flower Paste - this is a form of sugar paste that sets hard. It can be rolled thinner than normal sugar paste which makes it ideal for creating flower cupcake decorations.

Fondant - you can now buy fondant icing sugar and it is used for pouring and dipping cakes and gives a smooth, satin like finish.

Buttercream / Frosting - this is made with icing sugar, butter, milk and flavourings and can be spread or piped. It is used to create swirls on cupcakes, fill layer cakes and cover large cakes before covering in sugar paste. I love piping buttercream swirls and have a number of different piping nozzles or tips to achieve different effects. 

How do you get the right shade of colour in icing?

I like to use colouring pastes or gels instead of the liquid food colouring. You have to remember that they are concentrated and to add a little at a time until you reach your desired shade. This is easier in the more fluid types of icing. Colouring 2kg of sugar paste is like a workout at the gym, sometimes buying ready coloured paste is an easier option.

Any top tips for making buttercream icing?

Firstly, all the ingredients need to be at room temperature. Work your butter until it lightens in colour and becomes softer in consistency before adding the other ingredients. At the end, mix on a high speed to create a smooth, light buttercream.

Does it matter if you use margarine or butter for buttercream?

I do use both; however, butter will give you a better result.

How do you get the right buttercream consistency?

The ambient temperature will effect buttercream and you will find you may have to add extra icing sugar in Summer.

Are there any other tips for decorating cupcakes that you think might be useful?

  • Always think about how you want your finished cupcakes to look before you start.
  • Choose a complimentary cupcake case to pair with your flavour or decorations. For example, an orange cupcake case works well for carrot cupcakes and a brown cupcake case for chocolate cupcakes.
  • I try to avoid a fancy, patterned cupcake case if there is going to be an extravagent decoration on the top of the cupcake. But if a really pretty cupcake case catches my eye (as they often do!) I use a simple decoration.
  • If you are making any cupcake decorations using flower paste or want your sugar paste to harden, make these in advance and at least 24 hours before they are needed.

Southwell Cakery are specialist makers of wedding cakes and other special occasion cakes and cupcakes. They supply across the East Midlands and beyond.


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