How To Use a Piping Bag
Do you find yourself flummoxed every time you come across a recipe that calls for a piping bag? Stranded with an empty piping bag in one hand and a half-dozen piping tips scattered around the counter, and don’t know where to start? Do you wish you could pipe delicate ruffles or intricate details on your birthday cake and pastries, or pipe a batch of luscious pastry cream inside an eclair?
It’s time to befriend your trusty piping bag. I’m here to share some of my best tips and tricks for making filling and using a piping bag a bit easier. Read on and you’ll be swirling buttercream on cupcakes and piping roses onto cakes in no time!
How to Fill a Piping Bag
Before filling the piping bag, be sure to place the piping tip down in the bottom of the piping bag first. If you’re using a new piping bag, snip off the tip of the piping bag and wiggle the tip into place. Be careful not to cut so much that the tip slips through!
To fill the bag, hold the bag in the middle and fold the top half down over your hand to open it up. With a spoon or spatula, scoop the filling and place it the bottom of the piping bag. Scrape any excess filling off the spoon or spatula against the side of the bag before withdrawing it. Only fill the bag about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up.
Twist the top of the bag once and gently “burp” the bag by adding a bit of pressure to eliminate any air bubbles that may have gotten trapped before piping.
If working one-handed feels awkward to you, you can also place the unfilled bag into a tall drinking glass. Fold the top down around the drinking glass, and then use both hands to fill the bag.
Choosing the Right Piping Tip for the Job
Piping tips come in dozens of different shapes and sizes. As you can imagine, the tip used to write messages atop a cake is probably not the same tip you would want to use to swirl a rose of frosting on a cupcake.
Small piping tips are typically used for doing detailed work when decorating cakes, cookies, and other desserts. The most common tips are round, star, petal, and leaf tips. From those, you can pipe dots, lines, messages, stars, ruffles, and much more! Small tips may be used to “inject” filling into pastries, like eclairs.
Large piping tips are used primarily for filling things like pastries, layer cakes, and tarts shells, or for frosting things like cupcakes. Plain (aka round) and star tips can typically get most tasks done. Large piping tips are also used to pipe out cookies, like meringue and macarons, as well as shapes for pâte à choux.
Using a Tip Coupler
A coupler is a two-part plastic device that lets you swap out the piping tip for another one without changing the piping bag. One plastic piece gets inserted into the bag and then the outside ring — holding the pastry tip itself — gets screwed in from the outside. If you will be piping different designs and shapes with the same filling, try using a coupler set.
A Note About Filling Pastries
The easiest way to fill pastries, like cream puffs and chocolate eclairs, is usually by way of a piping bag. Not only can you “inject” a pastry with cream, but a piping bag also keeps things all nice and tidy.
Larger cream puffs and eclairs may simply be sliced in half horizontally (or just the top 1/3 off the top of a baked puff), then filled by piping pastry cream into the bottom portion. For eclairs, try piping coils or spirals of pastry cream before topping with the other half. For cream puffs, pipe the pastry cream straight into the hollow shell before replacing the top cap.
To fill by way of injection, first use a toothpick or the pastry tip itself to poke a hole in the side or bottom of the pastry. Then, holding the pastry loosely with one hand, slowly squeeze the pastry cream-filled piping bag with your dominant hand and squeeze the cream into the pastry. You should be able to feel the cream expand inside the pastry; take care not to overfill and break the shell. Pivot around the piping tip making sure to fill all the nooks and crannies.
- Filling of choice (buttercream, pastry cream, cream cheese frosting, etc.)
- Piping bag (disposable or canvas)
- Piping tip(s)
- Plastic coupler and ring (optional)
- Rubber spatula or serving spoon
Prepare the piping bag: If you are using a plastic, disposable piping bag, then you will need to snip off the tip first. Insert the tip you'll use into the bag to gauge how much to snip; you will only need to cut off a 3/4-inch or so. Do not cut too much or your piping tip may slip out the bottom. If you are using a canvas piping bag, trim the end to fit large piping tips.
Insert the tip: Slip the tip into the bag and place it snugly in the bottom of the bag. If you are using a couple set, insert the "inside" plastic piece into the bag first. Then secure the piping tip on the outside of the bag with the plastic ring. Screw the tip into the coupler tightly.
Prepare the bag for filling: Grasp the middle of the piping bag with one hand. Fold the top half of the bag over your hand to open up the bag and form a cuff covering your hand.
Fill the bag: Scoop up your filling with a rubber spatula, or spoon and insert it in the bag. Scrape extra filling off the spatula against the inside of the bag. Fill the bag only 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full.
Pinch the bag closed: Once the filling has been added, push all of the filling towards the tip of the bag and twist it where the filling starts. This helps the top of the bag stay closed (preventing spills) and keeps the pressure needed to pipe out the filling.
Eliminate the air bubbles: Gently "burp" the filled bag by applying a small amount of pressure to push out any air bubbles before getting started. Do this over a spare mixing bowl or the bowl of remaining filling. A bit of filling may "plop" out with the trapped air before it really starts flowing.
Holding the bag while filling: Hold the piping bag toward the top (at the twist) with your dominant hand — not at the bottom. If this feels awkward, try filling the bag with less filling for more control. Use your opposite hand to help guide the bag and hold it steady as you pipe.
Get ready to pipe! In almost all cases, hover the piping tip just above the surface of whatever your are piping on and at a perpendicular angle — don't press the tip directly against the surface, as this will not give the filling anywhere to go.
Pipe the frosting: Apply pressure to the bag by slowly closing your dominant hand (the one at the top of the bag) until the filling begins to flow out. Pipe slowly and steadily — no need to rush. When you're done piping a shape and are ready to move on to the next, stop applying pressure and lift the tip up. Reposition and start piping the next shape.
Changing a tip with a coupler: If you're using a coupler and want to swap tips, just unscrew the outer part of the coupler and change it out for a new tip.
Refilling the piping bag: Once your hand is closed and you can't pipe anymore, stop, push the filling toward the tip if needed, and twist the bag again. Continue piping, refilling the bag as needed.
Depending on what you are piping, you may need to change up the pressure on the bag while piping to create different patterns.
The angle at which you hold the piping bag will also affect the way the filling is piped. In most cases, keep the piping bag perpendicular to the surface. For more decorative elements, you may need to angle the bag at 45 degrees.
If you need to pause in the middle of piping, rest your bag inside a tall drinking glass. This makes it easy to pick the bag up again and prevents the filling from spilling out.