Piping unique and beautiful designs onto every single cupcake that you make is the best way to ensure that they’re a true showstopper. However, when you’re trying to make the best designs that you possibly can, you might ask yourself what the best icing for piping cupcakes is.
Well, there are a few answers to that question. In this article, I will break down some of the main types of icing and frosting available to you, and talk about what makes them great, or not so great. Without further ado, let’s talk about the best cupcake icing for piping!
What Does The Perfect Icing Need?
To really make sure that we can judge what icing is the best for cupcakes, I’ve come up with a few criteria that I think are really important to make your bakes pop. Let’s get to it!
The flexibility of icing is a big factor in making sure that your bakes are precisely correct. If you’ve got a solid, rigid lump of icing that you’re trying to sculpt into a certain shape, you’re going to have a bad time.
You need to make sure that the ideal icing for piping cupcakes is as flexible as possible. This is doubly important when we’re considering piping – the icing itself needs to be squishable and flexible enough to get it through the piping bag that you’re working with.
When the icing that you’re using totally dries, it needs to set strong. It’s all well and good to pipe an exceptionally delicate design, but if that design begins to melt the second it’s exposed, you’ve got issues.
Ideally, I would argue that the best icing should have a crisp shell and a firm center. That sounds a little too specific, but stick with me – the center should be firm enough to hold its own weight, without being so solid as to be crunchy. The outer edge should be thin enough that it’s not a challenge to eat, while still solid enough that it maintains the design you created.
Typically, the color of the icing isn’t something that I consider too much, since I’m no stranger to adding a few different types of food-safe dye to achieve the ideal color. However, if we’re considering different types of icing, we should consider whether or not they look terribly appetizing.
Appetizing means different things to different people, of course, but my general opinion is this: the color of the icing should be warm and rich enough to look appealing, but not so bright as to look radioactive.
My final criteria point is quite a straightforward one – the icing should have a level of longevity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think icing should be expected to last for weeks on end, but a day or two is more reasonable.
Making sure that the icing can maintain its shape, color, and flavor over the course of a few days in the fridge makes you more likely to go back for another piece of that cake, or another individual cupcake.
Best Cupcake Icing for Piping
Buttercream is, perhaps, my all-time favorite icing. It’s so simple, and can be used to great effect! It’s possibly the best cupcake icing for piping, thanks to the fact that it’s essentially a thick paste.
Buttercream also takes different food dyes exceptionally well – dye powders, pastes, and liquids will all be whipped into buttercream with fairly little effort. Even without dye, though, it can look excellent – the rich golden color of butter is a pleasant color indeed and can be used to great effect alongside a golden-brown sponge.
The only downside that we might be able to consider for buttercream is that it doesn’t keep terribly well. In a warm environment, the butter can start to melt, leading to a frustrating and unpleasant final cupcake.
On top of that, the buttercream might begin to go bad before the cupcake itself, if it lasts that long. The reason for this is the combination of fat and sugar – together, they make for a product that spoils quite quickly.
For a very stiff buttercream, many bakers opt to use a combination of butter and shortening. Shortening has a higher melting point so it won’t melt as quickly as you pipe. It will also mean that the actual buttercream will be much stiffer and retain its shape.
Buttercream can be made in so many different variations too. One of my favorite buttercream icing for piping cupcakes is Swiss meringue buttercream. You can also get German, French and Italian meringue buttercream, all of which are perfect for piping cupcakes.
Whipped cream is a spectacular topping or filling for any number of different cupcake designs. It’s typically very light and rich, as well as being well-flavored when whipped by the baker themselves – they will typically add in some sugar and, potentially, some level of flavoring that might make the cream all the better.
Whipped cream also takes dye well – it has a bright white color that allows it to absorb different amounts of dye to make colors. You can add very small amounts easily to create a pale, pastel-like color.
The main disadvantage of whipped cream is that it isn’t as strong as the other options on this list. Because the whipping process incorporates air into the cream, it is easy to crush it or otherwise press the air bubbles out of it.
This doesn’t matter so much with a cupcake, but it would be worth bearing in mind if you were to make many cupcakes and transport them somewhere. The cream could easily collapse, melt and ruin your hard work.
If you are worried about your whipped cream collapsing, you can stabilize it with a bit of gelatin. Take a look at this recipe here to find out how to stabilize your whipped cream icing!
Royal icing is a fascinating example of a uniquely well-made creation. It’s essentially a form of meringue, though spread very thinly across a wide area. This makes for a sweet, crispy layer of icing that’s hard to refuse.
One of the best things about royal icing is how rigid it typically is when it’s dry. This is because the liquid content of the icing is already very low when you make it, so when it’s given chance to stand, the icing sets very rapidly indeed.
This rigid consistency allows you to make a number of patterns to a great degree of success – royal icing is what’s typically adorning Christmas cookies with snowmen, trees, and Santa Claus on them.
My main personal bugbear with royal icing is that it doesn’t really allow for 3D designs. When you have such a small amount of space as you do on top of a cupcake, that can be very limiting!
If you want to create a flat picture on top of a cupcake, then piping some royal icing across the surface of it might be perfectly ideal. However, if you wanted to build vertically, you would have to do so with several layers of icing, each of which would take a long time to dry. In a design sense, this can be very limiting.
Royal icing is typically used on sugar cookies as opposed to a cupcake. Having said that, royal icing can be used to add small details to a cupcake that has already been frosted. Royal icing is perfect for writing out messages on cupcakes too!
Water Icing, or Glace Icing
Water or glace icing is a very simple icing that’s infinitely personalizable. A recipe for water icing will typically only contain two ingredients – icing sugar and water. This means that you can easily adjust the ratio to create icing that’s the correct texture for what you’re trying to create.
Typically, water icing is designed with a simple concept in mind – a simple design will be created, and then allowed to set solid. This water icing will be ideal for piping, as you’ll be able to create the ideal texture for your needs – add a little more or less icing sugar to make it thicker or thinner, respectively.
The disadvantage of water icing is the same as the disadvantage of royal icing – they both cannot really be used to create 3D structures, While you could layer different amounts of the icing up on top of a cupcake, this would take an incredible amount of time, and would be something of a waste of time – there are other options that might work better.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Cream cheese frosting is a rare option when selecting icing for piping cupcakes, but it’s a great one too! Ensure that the cream cheese frosting is totally smooth, and then, when added to the piping bag, it will present a bright white shock of frosting on top of a cupcake.
Cream cheese frosting can be really great for making simple structures, as with buttercream – it’s thick enough to support its own weight, and, beyond that, the frosting will dry solidly.
It does have a textural difference from buttercream – it’s typically smoother, which allows for a more pleasant eating experience, but can make piping more difficult due to the increased time it takes for it to properly set.
What is Your Favorite Icing for Piping Cupcakes?
With all that said about the many different types of frosting that you might use for your cupcakes, I would have to stick with my old favorite – buttercream frosting! It’s perfectly rich and delicately textured, while also sticking solidly to itself over time, and maintaining the shape of a small structure.
To ensure that your buttercream frosting is as good as possible for your cupcakes, make sure to cream the butter and sugar together vigorously, ideally with a stand mixer, to achieve the perfect texture.