Cupcake Decorating — Great Holiday Ideas and Easy Frosting Tricks

Posted by on Feb 14, 2011

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Quick tips: 
— You can make all of these with homemade or store-bought frosting — use chocolate for brown or black (add some black food coloring), and vanilla for every other color. 
— Gel food colorings are the best — start out with just a drop for each cup of frosting and continue from there.
— For thinly piped frosting, fill a Ziploc bag about two-thirds full with the frosting, and snip a tiny opening in the corner for a makeshift pastry bag.
— Start with the smallest hole possible – you can always make it bigger later.

If you’ve been outside lately, you know adorable cupcakes are all the rage — monstrous and gooey, one-bite minis, and often with frosting just like grandma's. Every party is improved with these individually styled treats. If you want to impress your friends and not drop a lot of cash at a cake decorating shop, try these cupcake decorating ideas for occasions throughout the year — from that wild Halloween party to an Easter gathering, birthday celebration or baby shower. These decorating ideas and tips use ingredients you can find in most supermarkets, to turn the utilitarian, home-baked cupcake (albeit delicious), into show-stoppers your friends can admire as party centerpieces. 
Eggs Nest
Difficulty Level: Easy 

This playful design is perfect for Easter or any other spring-themed event. Spread the cupcakes with white frosting and cover them in toasted coconut. You can toast your own by baking it on a rimmed baking sheet at 350 F for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on it as coconut burns quickly. Another option is to create a chocolate or vanilla swirl of frosting, using a pastry bag or store-bought tube with a star-shaped frosting tip. Then make an indentation in the center and gently press chocolate-egg candies on the cupcake. You can also use jellybeans, or even a marshmallow peep, for when your mother bird returns to the nest. 
What you’ll need: coconut, chocolate or vanilla frosting, egg-shaped candies or jellybeans
Under the Sea Cupcake
Under the Sea
Difficulty Level: Easy

Bring a little ocean-front flair to your next party with these beach bash creations. Dye your frosting blue, and spread over the entire top of the cupcake. Cover the bottom half of each cupcake in graham cracker crumbs. Decorate with goldfish crackers, or even a Teddy Graham who’s enjoying the sun. You can also pipe some frosting sunglasses or shorts onto your chillin’ teddy bear for a fun detail. Add a cocktail umbrella for a whimsical touch. 
What you’ll need: blue frosting, graham cracker crumbs, goldfish crackers and Teddy Grahams.
Spaghetti and Meatballs cupcake
Spaghetti and Meatballs 
Difficulty Level: Easy

Cupcakes that look like other foods always get a laugh. These spaghetti and meatball cupcakes will look like they took hours, while only you know how easy they were. Use vanilla frosting to pipe thin lines of squiggly frosting to look like spaghetti. For the meatball, use store-bought chocolates like Ferrero Rocher, and coat them in strawberry jam. Place on top of your spaghetti and top with a little shaved white chocolate for the parmesan. Dinner is served!
Ice Cream Cones Cupcakes
Ice Cream Cones
Difficulty Level: Easy 

This fun trick will have everybody oohing and ahhing over your cupcake creations. Bake the cupcake batter directly in ice cream cones — make sure you have the flat-bottomed variety — then go wild decorating! If they’ll be served right away you can top with whipped cream, but if they need more stability put a swirl of buttercream frosting on top, then adorn with sprinkles, cherries and even a tiny spoon.
What you’ll need: flat-bottomed ice cream cones, frosting or whipped cream, sprinkles, cherry.
Flag cupcake
Old Glory 
Difficulty Level: Easy 

Show off your patriotic side by arranging your cupcakes into an American flag. Unless you’re feeding a large crowd, don’t worry about making all 13 stripes, or 50 stars. There are a million ways you can make the stars and stripes, but fresh fruit like strawberries and blueberries is a great start. You can also tint frosting red and blue, or decorate with strips and cut-out stars of Fruit Roll-Ups. Before you frost anything, lay out your cupcakes into a rectangle, and decide on a topping. That way you’ll know exactly how many you need of each color. If you want to use all frosting, pipe white stars onto the blue cupcakes with a star-shaped tip for the finishing touch. 
What you’ll need: red, white and blue frosting, strawberries, blueberries, Fruit Roll-Ups.

Spider Web cupcake
Spider Web
Difficulty Level: Easy

This sophisticated look is surprisingly easy to create and will leave your guests in awe at your wicked frosting skills. Cover the entire cupcake in white frosting. Pipe thin lines of either melted chocolate or chocolate frosting, in concentric circles on the cake. Starting in the center, use a toothpick to drag a line to the edge. Continue around the cake. Top these with a plastic spider for a scary Halloween look, or leave empty so everyone can see the cool design. 
What you’ll need: white or black frosting or melted chocolate.
Sweet Faces cupcake
Sweet Faces
Difficulty Level: Easy

The round, smooth surface of cupcakes are perfect for making frosting faces. After the first coat, use a variety of candy, snacks and cereal to create unique and funny faces. You can also use frosting to create squiggly “hair,” or eyes and mouth. Pull-and-peel Twizzlers can be cut to form mouths, or Cheerios can provide a “surprised” look. Jelly beans work well as noses, and cashews or candy fruit slices can provide the typical mouth shape. Eyes can be created out of M&Ms, Runts or cereal. Hair can also be created out of potato sticks, licorice or chow mein noodles. Whew! Create a whole series to look like your family and friends! 
What you’ll need: frosting, a variety of candies, cereal and snacks.
Summer days cupcake
Summer Days 
Difficulty Level: Easy 

If the dead of winter has you longing for those lazy summer days, recreate them in cupcake form! Fit a frosting bag with a small round tip and pipe thin, squiggly lines around the cupcake to simulate grass. Top with flower sprinkles, gumdrop trees and other spring and summertime delights. Use toothpicks or thin wire to create the candy trees, and, of course, remove before eating. 
What you’ll need: green frosting, flower sprinkles, gumdrops
Worms in the Dirt cupcake
Worms in the Dirt 
Difficulty Level: Easy 

This classic kid creation is perfect for a child’s birthday party or a nostalgic adult gathering. For the least effort, you can create a swirl of chocolate frosting and then plant your gummy worms inside — or you can crumble up some extra cake, and stick it to the frosting for a extra dirt-like effect. For best results, eat with your hands! 
What you’ll need: chocolate frosting, one extra chocolate cupcake for every six you decorate, gummy worms.

Photo Credits (top to bottom):  Thinkstock; Ruth Black /;; Thinkstock; Candy Hom /; Fotomaker7 /; Thinkstock; SomeHoosier;;

Amy Spiro is a reporter, writer and editor based in New York with a focus on food writing.

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