‘How on earth did you do that?’ is a often asked question when people have seen my cupcake designs. It’s satisfying to both the eater and me as the baker that the cupcake has had time spent on it, it makes the gift of a cupcake a little more personal and touching. I like to give baked goods as gifts, because I’ve not just spent money on them, but my time, a far more precious thing. I could have spent that time doing plenty of other things, such as doing sports, or studying (which I probably should have done), but I usually make a sacrifice of an activity for baking something for a friend or family member. It’s often worth it to see the elation on their faces at the idea of both food and fun presented to them at the same time!
I used to make a habit of cupcake decorating when I was in sixth form, when I had the time, equipment and kitchen facilities to be able to decorate my cupcakes with intricate designs. I was never a big fan of making the whole decoration from sugar paste though, it looks lovely, but doesnt really compliment the flavour of the cake, and I often found myself just picking it off before I could even eat the cake! Of course, sugar paste is a great decorating tool for cakes and cupcakes, but I just dislike using it in excess, especially as on cupcakes there isn’t very much space for decoration so it should be bold and appetising. Buttercream and other pipable icings are also often overused, as I find that some of the patisserie bought cupcakes have a 1:1 ratio of icing to cake! Icing makes it look pretty, but it’s all about the taste surely?
So here are a few of my past decorating tips, ranging from simple and classy to playful and a little more intricate. I apologise for the poor quality of some of the photos, as my photography equipment and style has certainly improved since my more serious cupcake and cake decorating days!
Simple fruit and buttercream toppings
Nowadays, for a quick finish to any cupcakes or cakes, fruit is a great way to go. Strawberries are just coming into season at the moment, and the gorgeous colour of them instantly turns the simplest and plainest of vanilla cupcakes into a decadent treat.
Here, I just sliced up the strawberry almost to the end, and fanned it out. Pipe or spread a layer of buttercream on your cupcake, and top with the strawberry, and your cupcake is instantly upgraded! Berries are really great fruits to use, they make an effecting topping, just with 2/3 raspberries, blackberries or blueberries per cupcake. Making a pattern such as the union jack with blueberries, strawberries and cream is another simple way to create the perfect and classy showstopper. Just make sure that you add the fruit just before serving, as they can ‘bleed’ into the icing and get a little soggy. I find it’s best to keep cake and fruit seperate until just before you set them on your platter, or a few hours at most, if you wish to assemble them at home before taking them somewhere.
Perhaps try using just whipped cream instead of buttercream, to cut the sweetness of the fruit! Again, add the whipped cream just before serving, as can over moisten the cake, or begin to lose its shape in the fridge. If you want a flavoured cream, my favourite option is to whip 150ml of double cream with 1-2 tbsp of seedless raspberry jam, adding more jam to your tastes before the cream is fully whipped.
Using sugar paste & more complicated designs
Sugar paste is useful in providing a stable base for cake decoration. It keeps much better than buttercream and is easy to work with. I often buy pre coloured blocks from baking shops such as Lakeland, as they offer a good range of colours without you having to dye and knead in the colours yourself. I have never used Amazon for buying sugar paste, but I have seen that they have a wide range, so it’s worth trying there if you cannot find any in your local shops. Sugar paste keeps for a long time in a tupperware box too, so the leftovers don’t go to waste!
As I don’t particularly like the taste of sugar paste I like to roll it thinly, so as to only just coat the base. Here I am using blue for the ‘sky’ in my rainbow cupcakes. I remember first making these cakes for a trip to Marwell zoo, and they went down a treat! The ‘rainbows’ did droop during the journey there, but the rest of the cake kept very well. I used a cutter the same diameter as the top of my cupcake to cut out my rounds, before cementing it to my cake with a thin layer of buttercream.
The ‘clouds’ were just blobs of buttercream again, then I used a candy rainbow belt to make up my rainbow. I could have made it out of sugar paste, but the fizziness of the sweet adds a little fun to the cupcake. And it’s a lot tastier too! I added silver ball decorations at one end to signify the ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow, but it’s completely optional of course.
Other designs (Using buttercream)
Decorations: Blue buttercream, shop bought chocolate chip cookie (I used Maryland), Giant white chocolate buttons and dark chocolate chips.
Decorations: Pink buttercream icing (you could use strawberry marshmallow fluff), pink wafers, dark chocolate chips and marshmallows (halved)
The best thing to do is just get creative, and to not over reach for a cupcake design that is simply not possible for you. I’ve done this in the past and the disappointment is quite offputting, to the point where I have taken a hiatus for decorating – yes, that serious – and it can end in disaster if you were relying on the cupcakes turning out well the first time round, for say, a birthday. These cupcake designs were all adapted from the more professional versions on the internet, using decorations that I had in the house. The piggy cupcakes were my biggest hit, because really, who could dislike the thought of pink wafers for ears? I personally think they are very cute, and I have had people offer to buy this particular design off me a few times.
Decorating cupcakes is certainly a great thing to teach friends to do, so how about giving someone some cupcakes then making a little voucher offering to give them a baking and decorating lesson? I know a lot of my friends would certainly not turn this down!
Love Sian xxx