How To Frost a Cupcake

We made cupcakes this weekend for some friends (we weren't quite organized enough for cake pops), and we realized that we have a pretty standard way of frosting them. We think we picked up this method subconsciously watching the employees behind the counters of New York cupcake bakeries, but to be honest, we're not sure. No matter; this technique turns out respectable-looking frosting without much fuss.

Our way of doing this doesn't require any special tools. We use a basic kitchen knife.

Step 1: Scoop up a dollop of frosting with your knife, and smear it onto the top of the cupcake, running the knife down the edge of the cupcake top (as if you're wiping it clean).

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Step 2: Repeat! Pick up another scoop of frosting and unload it onto the cupcake, one-third of the way around the top from the first scoop.

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Step 3: This depends on how high and thick you want your frosting, but a third scoop is usually in order. Repeat the same process as steps 1 and 2, smearing the third scoop equidistant from the first two.

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Step 4: Gently move your knife back and forth across the top of the cupcake, smushing down the frosting and smoothing out the top. You want to push the frosting over the edge, so that there's a tiny bit of overhang. Not much, though, or you'll end up with frosting all the way down the liner. You can use your knife to redistribute the frosting if one side is too heavy.

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Step 5: Wipe any excess frosting off of your knife. Then hold the knife vertically and move it around the perimeter of the cupcake, creating a smooth "wall" of frosting. It might help to hold the cupcake in one hand and turn it while keeping your knife in one place. (Unfortunately, we were doing this alone, so our other hand had the camera...)

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Step 6: If the excess frosting has migrated down the side of the cupcake, you can use a clean finger to wipe it up. Otherwise, sit back, admire, then eat.

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Here are the recipes we used for our cupcakes:
Dark Chocolate Cake, from the Kitchn
Swiss Buttercream Frosting, from Smitten Kitchen

Do you use a similar method to ice your cupcakes? What are your tips?

Related: How To Frost a Layer Cake


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Republished article originally posted March 16, 2009.

(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)