January 06, 2010

L&E Part Two: How to Decorate Cupcakes

Over the holiday break, I had the great fortune of taking a lesson on how to decorate cupcakes with Nancy, one of the founders of Lucy and Ethel's Cakes. While some of the things she taught me are top secret, I'll share with you some good techniques so that you can see just how easy it is to make nice-looking goodies yourself.

1. When baking your cupcakes, choose a recipe that uses butter instead of oil. You're already being unhealthy by eating cupcakes, so don't sacrifice flavor just to make yourself feel a little better. Trust me. The flavor and texture are worth it.

2. The buttercream frosting we used was a mixture of butter, Crisco, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla. In a lot of bakeries, "real buttercream" contains not one trace of butter. Again, if you're already eating cupcakes, why not go whole hog and eat something truly enjoyable (and recognizable) instead of some creepy soy product?

3. One great tip Nancy shared with me is that red and black are to be avoided in large quantities when frosting a cake. The pigments are so strong that they alter the flavor, so use them in small doses. Here, we used Moss Green to color the first batch of frosting. Work in small batches in case the color isn't right, and add the coloring in small amounts with the tip of a knife to keep yourself from going overboard. Mixing the frosting with a popsicle stick or a chopstick is a great way to avoid having to buy a new tool.

4. We used a typical cake decorator's frosting bag, and attached each style of tip with the small white tip couplers. Use a spatula to scoop your frosting as close to the bottom of the bag as you can, then gently push the remainder on the sides down until the frosting is ready to go. Gently roll the open end of the bag closed, and nestle the bag in the palm of your hand, using your index and middle fingers to hook over the top of the bag and apply pressure.

5. I started at the outside edge, but it's probably better to start from the center and work your way out. Keep the cupcake steady, and, swiveling your wrist, apply consistent pressure to the frosting bag as you work your way over the surface of the cupcake in concentric circles. Go slowly, so you don't end up with the gaps in your frosting that you see here.

6. To make the smaller flower-like decorations, apply gentle but consistent pressure to the frosting bag, and allow a little bit of frosting to come out onto the cupcake. Then, continue to apply pressure while pushing in towards the center of the "flower," and pull back out as you taper off the pressure. If you've ever worked a soft-serve machine, it's a lot like that.

Et voilĂ ! Knowing how to decorate cupcakes is a great way to save time and money when a birthday or another celebration rolls around, and it's very therapeutic. If you mess up (as I did, several times), just hide the evidence in your stomach!

Obviously, I'm just a beginner in the world of baking and cake decorating. For more creative cupcake decorating ideas, check out this list of the 10 Best Ways to Decorate Cupcakes.

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