Cupcake Icing Ideas

The best cupcake icing is simple to prepare and delicious to taste. It should complement the cupcake rather than overwhelm it.

As with most things in life insisting on good quality at the beginning will show in the final product. Cupcake icing is simple and requires few ingredients but always choose the freshest and best quality you can afford.

Preparing to make the icing

Here are some tips before you start:

  • Have all the ingredients at room temperature before you begin.
  • Use unsalted butter.
  • Sieve the icing sugar initially to get rid of any lumps, then sieve again as you add it to the icing.

General tips for applying icing

  • You’ll need a palette knife, spatula or broad-bladed round-ended knife for this.
  • Give the Icing a good beating before you start applying it and mix it a little in between each cake to ensure it retains its consistency.
  • Scoop up a large dollop onto your knife and put it on the top of the cake. Spread the icing over one side of the cake. Take another dollop of icing and repeat, covering the remaining side. Keeping the knife at an angle spread the icing around in a circular motion, leaving a little trail.
  • Cupcakes should be generously covered so if you’re using a small-bladed knife or you feel it just needs more icing, then add another dollop and continue with the circling motion.
  • For a traditional finish leave a small peak in the icing in the centre of the cake.


Alternatively, you could Pipe Your Icing through a piping bag – we find the disposable ones are easier to work with. A large nozzle (wider opening at the end the icing comes out of) gives a professional finish and it’s easier to get a nice looking finish than with a small one (especially if you’ve never done before).

For an original cupcake appearance start at the outside and work inwards. If you want a ‘rose’ shape start in the centre and work outwards.

Decorating the cupcake

Choose from the hundreds of cake decorations now available. Make it simple with chunks of chocolate flake or for a special occasion buy Edible Gold Leaf! The choice is yours.

But whatever you choose, apply quickly before the icing becomes too firm or chocolate sprinkles or smaller decorations won’t stick properly.

Storing icing

Leftover glace icing or fondant can be stored in an airtight container for several days, let it return to room temperature before using. Butter cream and cream cheese icing should be treated as any fresh dairy product, so keep in the fridge for no more than 3 days.

Before using, beat well again to return it to its original consistency.


Experiment with the flavours and the textures. There are no hard and fast rules and icing should be fun!

For coloured icing, add the colouring at the end, a drop at a time and mix well until you achieve the colour you want.

Basic buttercream

  • 110g (4oz) unsalted butter
  • 60ml (2fl oz) milk
  • 500g (1lb 2oz) icing sugar, sieved

Have all the ingredients at room temperature before you begin. Place the butter in a large bowl and add the milk and chosen flavouring. Sieve in half the icing sugar. Beat well until pale. Add the remaining icing sugar. Continue beating until you have a very smooth and creamy consistency.

For vanilla buttercream, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

For lemon buttercream, add 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest.

For coffee buttercream, add 2 teaspoons instant coffee dissolved in a little hot water.

Chocolate buttercream

  • 175g (6oz) dark chocolate
  • 225g (8oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 250g (9oz) icing sugar

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water taking care not to let the base of the boil touch the water. When the chocolate has melted and is quite smooth leave it to cool very slightly.

Meanwhile place the butter, vanilla extract and milk in a large bowl and sieve in icing sugar. Beat well until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and keep beating until the icing is thick and smooth. Don’t worry if it looks a little runny: just keep on beating until you have the desired consistency.

Cream cheese icing

  • 175g (6oz) cream cheese or mascarpone
  • 125g (4½) unsalted butter
  • 450g (1lb) icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Add the lemon and the sieved icing sugar. Beat again until very smooth and pale.

Cupcake Recipes

For more cupcake inspirations, read our Classic Cupcake Recipe, Chocolate Cupcake Recipe and Dinner Party Cupcake Ideas.

Leave a comment

Cake Baker