Baking with Your Kids: Tips for Frosting Cakes & Cupcakes

Welcome to Day Two of my 10 Days of Baking with Your Kids series, part of the iHN Homeschool Hopscotch!

Today we’re going to talk about something that so many of you really want to know how to do: frost pretty cupcakes and cakes.

Before I became a homeschooling mom, I had a custom cake business in WA, and I taught cake decorating.  I’ve had several years to get it wrong and learn what worked for me and the majority of my students.

Want to see my cakes? Journey on over to this page!

I do have to put a disclaimer in here, though: I don’t believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do just about anything.  There is your way.

Another disclaimer:  even though it’s fun to make your cakes look like they do on TV, it’s also super-fun to let your kids go to town with a piping bag.  They can get pretty creative.

People often want to know how to make their frosting job look like those in magazines, though, so I’m going to share some tips below.

Know the Difference

The first, very most important thing you must know is the difference between buttercream frosting and fondant.

Many times the images you see on TV and in magazines are cakes that have been covered in fondant.  That’s what gives a flawlessly smooth appearance.

That’s not to say that you can’t get frosting smooth, but it just won’t look quite as perfect as fondant.

Fondant Cake

This is a fondant-covered cake.

This is a buttercream-iced cake.

You can really see a difference if you pay attention to the edges and corners.

The Right Frosting

Believe it or not, the type of frosting you use makes a huge difference in how smooth you can get it.

  • Don’t use canned frosting.  I know, I’m a fan of the canned stuff too.  In certain applications.  If you want your cupcakes to look like the ones in the first picture, canned frosting is not your friend.  It’s too thin and can’t hold shape.
  • Make sure your homemade frosting is the right consistency.  Frosting that is too thick will crack as it is piped onto a cupcake and it will tear crumbs up when you’re frosting a cake.  Not to mention it’s a mother to spread…
  • Use a crusting frosting.  Yes, that does sound gross.  No, it doesn’t taste gross.  This simply means that the frosting develops a slight “wall” on the outside.  This isn’t so important when frosting a cupcake, but it’s super imperative for the way I get my icing smooth on cakes.

The Right Tools

You can’t properly frost a cake or cupcake without using the right tools for the job.

The Right Process

Frosting cupcakes is pretty simple:

  • Prepare your piping bag and fill with frosting.  It’s best to use a large piping bag if you’re frosting a dozen or more cupcakes.  Getting that big, fluffy pillow takes quite a bit of frosting.
  • Starting at the outer edge of where you want your frosting, apply steady, firm pressure while simultaneously moving your entire arm clockwise.  Continue moving clockwise, making smaller and smaller circular movements until you’ve created a peak at the top.  Think of it as filling an ice cream cone from a soft-serve machine.

Frosting cakes and getting them smooth takes a bit more practice and there are multiple ways to do it, so I’m going to share the easiest way.  The reason people get crumbs in their icing is because they use too little icing.

  • Prepare your piping bag same as above, but use tip 789.  Now, squeeze frosting out in big, fat, horizontal lines all over the sides and top of your cake.
  • Using an angled spatula, spread the frosting so that all of the cake is covered.  Don’t worry about getting it smooth right now.
  • Let the icing sit for a few minutes {because you’re using a crusting icing remember?}.
  • Using a Viva paper towel {yes, must be Viva}, smooth out your icing.  How?  Just lay the paper towel on the surface, either the side of the cake or the top, and gently use your hand to smooth the surface out.  Don’t spend too long in one spot or the heat of your hand will make the paper towel stick to the icing.  Otherwise, you just do small sections at a time until everything is smoothed out.

My Icing Recipe

I rarely share this with anyone, but I want you to get started right, so I’m sharing my icing recipe with you guys today!

Whip up a batch and enjoy frosting a few cupcakes with your kids!

Just remember to practice and eventually you’ll have your own system down.  This is something that is so fun to practice with kids; they think it’s the most amazing thing ever!