Frosting 101

All the tips and tricks you need to know for properly frosting your desserts!

By Lily McDonald

When baking delicious desserts like cakes and cupcakes, the last step is applying the frosting. While this may seem like the easiest step, there are many factors that go into decorating desserts in order to make them look as beautiful as possible. Here is some of our most useful advice that will help you find the perfect frosting style. Those eating your creations will be left stunned by your designs, as your dessert will almost be too pretty to eat!


The first thing that you should pay close attention to when decorating your desserts is the consistency of your frosting. This will affect how well you are able to create designs that will hold up best on your cake or cupcakes. If the frosting is too thin, your decorations could end up runny and slide right off your dessert. If your frosting is too thick, it can be hard to manipulate and will crack easily. The ingredients used are key factors in producing the perfect consistency. While butter is used in most frostings, shortening can provide more stability. If you want to keep the butter flavor but desire the advantages of shortening, you can use half of each to receive both benefits. Powdered sugar is an important ingredient when it comes to the thickness of your frosting. If you use less than the amount called for in the recipe, you could end up with a thinner product that will be harder to decorate with. The opposite of powdered sugar is the liquid used, such as milk or cream, in your frosting. The more you add, the thinner your mixture will become. 

When making a frosting that contains other liquids, such as strawberry puree, you should use less milk or cream, as the additional liquid will make it softer and it won’t hold its shape. For cakes, you definitely want a thicker frosting in order to add designs, but with cupcakes, a slightly thinner frosting would be best. Cupcakes do not require the same level of stability and look better with a finer design. If you desire a whipped cream frosting, it is necessary to thicken it first as it can be hard to decorate with. To do this, add unflavored gelatin, powdered sugar, or cornstarch. Consistency is very important when frosting your cakes or cupcakes, so follow these useful tips, and you will be able to create the perfect creation! 

Make sure you have the tools that fit your aesthetic.


Once you figure out the ideal consistency of your frosting, turn your attention to the necessary tools! First up is a turntable cake stand. This allows you to spin the cake as you frost, so your final product comes out smooth and neat. Another tool that will help you keep your layers smooth is a cake scraper. Just run it along the sides of your cake at a 90 degree angle, and you will be left with a tidy and professional looking exterior. Textured scrapers can be used to add patterns, such as stripes, to your frosting! You should also invest in two icing spatulas: one straight and one offset. The straight spatula can be used for frosting the sides, while the offset is used for the center layers and top of your cake. These tools give you more control over your movements and guarantee that you will be able to spread the frosting evenly. 

While most tools are used for decorating cakes, piping bags and tips can be applied to cupcakes as well! They allow you to achieve that perfect swirl look on top of your cupcakes. There are many styles and sizes for different designs, so make sure you are using the correct kind. Not only can they be used for fine decorations, but they are also a valuable tool when frosting your cake layers. Using a piping bag, you can neatly cover your cake with frosting, and then spread it out with an icing spatula. That way, the frosting can be even and tidy, which saves you the worry of not knowing how much frosting to use.


While knowing how to get the perfect consistency and owning useful tools is important, this information is not very helpful without learning the best techniques! The prime approach to frosting your creations is to use the crumb coat method. First, freeze the cake layers for 20 or 30 minutes prior to decorating to keep the crumbs in place. If your cakes have a dome, then use a knife to remove it, so the cake is at an even level. To hold the cake in place as you frost it, put a small amount of frosting on the surface you are decorating on. Place your first layer of cake down, with the bottom facing up. Spread a small amount of frosting over the cake, including the middle, and place the next layer on top. Frost another light layer over the cake and freeze for around 15 minutes. Once you take the cake out, you can frost the rest! 

Cupcakes are much simpler and require less effort. To achieve the classic swirl, all you need is a piping bag and your desired tip. Start by adding a small dollop of frosting in the center of the cupcake. Then, going around the dollop, start frosting the edges. Once you complete a full circle, move the piping bag slightly inward to create the next line of frosting. Repeat this motion until you have covered your cupcake, and add a small circle on top. Proper technique is necessary to master pastry decoration. If you practice these tricks, you will perfect your frosting skills in no time!

Think outside the box with your dessert designs!


There are many innovative designs you can create with frosting, as there are no limits to creativity! One of the easiest styles you can do is a simple swirl, and all you need is a spoon! Just lather your frosting on your cake and make swirl shapes with the back of a spoon for a dolloped appearance. More intricate designs require piping bags and tips. One of the most popular shapes is a star; you can find piping tips shaped like a star online to streamline the process. All you have to do is connect the tip at the bottom of the piping bag, and squeeze away—it does all of the work for you! Another popular shape is a rose. Using a large open star piping tip, start at the center of the rose and pipe in ever-increasing circles until you reach your desired size. Then gently poke your tip into the frosting, and pull away to neatly break the flow. 

A standard design for most cakes is the shell border. To achieve this look, hold your piping tip at an angle and give a short squeeze as you gently pull away. As the frosting tapers off, start to squeeze/pull away again in a continuous motion. When you complete the border, flick the tip down and to the side to end the stream of frosting. For a different type of decoration, use your frosting to make small shapes that can be added onto your dessert later. To achieve this separate a small amount of frosting, color it however you would like, and chill for about 10 minutes. Then, with piping tips, you can make shapes and add them onto your treats. 

Frosting desserts may seem daunting, but if you follow these tips and tricks, you will soon be able to do it with ease! While making your cakes and cupcakes look fancy is not required, it is definitely more gratifying and impressive. Don’t be afraid to try new things with your frosting, and be sure to have a lot of fun!

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