There's no need to be intimidated by all those websites and blogs loaded with photographs of fancy cakes. With some inexpensive piping tips, high quality zip-top bags, and a little practice, you too can create beautifully decorated cakes and cupcakes at home -- even without a culinary arts degree. Before you get started, keep in mind that it's helpful to practice piping techniques on a plate first. That way the frosting can be scooped back into the bags for re-use. Frosting should be quite stiff so it better holds its shape on the cake or cupcakes.
Ruffle Cake: Crumb Coat
Bake and cool two 8-inch cakes. Make a double batch of frosting and divide in half. If desired, color the frosting. Using one portion of frosting, put a dollop of frosting on a cake plate and place one layer on top. Top the cake with frosting, add the second layer, then coat the entire cake in a thin layer of frosting. This will seal in the crumbs.
Ruffle Cake: Side Ruffles
Snip 1/4 inch from the corner of a large zip-top bag and insert a rose petal piping tip (like Wilton 104) into the snipped corner. Spoon the frosting into the bag, press it into the corner and tightly twist the top of the bag. Place the wide edge of the tip against the base of the cake and the narrow edge pointing out and pipe the frosting in strips from bottom to top using even pressure. Move the frosting bag side to side as you go, creating a ruffle.
Ruffle Cake: Top Ruffles
Once the cake is frosted around the sides, create top ruffles by placing the wide edge of the tip towards the center of the cake and the small edge out. Begin on the outer edge of the cake, creating a ruffle over the top edge of the side ruffles to completely conceal the cake. Continue to overlap the ruffles in a spiral pattern until you reach the middle.
Rosette Cupcakes: Create the Color Streak
Bake and cool one dozen cupcakes and prepare one batch of frosting. Snip 1/4 inch off the corner of a large zip-top bag. Insert a wide star tip (like Wilton Star Tip 16) into the snipped corner. Place the bag into a tall glass, fold down the edges and drizzle a drop or two of food coloring down one side of the bag.
Rosette Cupcakes: Add the Frosting
Carefully spoon frosting into the bag, pressing it towards the food coloring streak. Push the frosting into the corner of the bag and tightly twist the top of the bag several times to seal it.
Rosette Cupcakes: Create the Rosette
Pipe the frosting onto a cupcake in a spiral pattern starting in the center of the cupcake. Slowly turn the cupcake around and around as you squeeze the frosting out of the piping tip using steady pressure, creating a rosette. Repeat with the remaining cupcakes.
Colorful Star Cupcake: First Layer
Divide one batch of frosting into three bowls. Use food coloring to create three compatible colors. Snip 1/4 inch from the corner of a zip-top bag. Insert a small star tip into the snipped corner. Spoon in the first color, press into the corner and twist the top of the bag tightly. Hold the bag perpendicular to the cupcake and squeeze out a small portion of the frosting. Lift the bag up and quickly twist to create a spiked-star shape. Repeat to cover the entire cupcake in a spiral pattern.
Colorful Star Cupcake: Second Layer
Remove and wash the star tip from the frosting bag. Snip the 1/4 inch from the corner of another bag and insert the tip. Spoon the second color of frosting into the bag, press it into the corner and twist the top tightly to seal. Create a second layer of frosting stars over the first, starting one row in from the edge of the cupcake, again creating a spiral pattern.
Colorful Star Cupcake: Third Layer
Remove and wash the star tip from the frosting bag. Snip the 1/4 inch from the corner of another bag and insert the tip. Spoon the third color of frosting into the bag, as above. Create a third layer of stars, starting one row in from the edge of the second layer. Pile stars in a spiral pattern into the center of the cupcake, adding as much height as desired. Dust the top of each cupcake with sprinkles.
Two Flavor Swirl Cupcake: Prep the Bag
Bake and cool one dozen cupcakes and prepare 1 batch of two different, but complimentary, frosting flavors (I used cream cheese and pumpkin spice). Cut 1/4 inch from the corner of a large zip top bag and insert a large star tip in the snipped corner (like Wilton 1M). Place one flavor of frosting along one side of the bag and another flavor on the other. Press frosting together and towards the tip, and twist the top of the bag tightly.
Two Flavor Swirl Cupcake: Frosting Technique
Begin layering the frosting along the outside edge of the cupcake, spiraling towards the center, holding the bag of frosting perpendicular to the top of the cupcake, and taking care to apply steady pressure. The frosting flavors will swirl together naturally.
Two Flavor Swirl Cupcake: Frosting Peaks
After making the first layer of frosting, continue to frost around the inside edge of the first spiral, creating a second layer. Continue the upward spiral towards the center of the cupcake with even pressure. Release the pressure on the bag and pull bag upward, creating a nice peak on the top of each cupcake.
Ombre Cake: Crumb Coat
Bake and cool two 8-inch cakes. Make a double batch of frosting and divide into 5 bowls. Using one portion of frosting, place a dollop of frosting on a cake plate and cover with one layer of cake. Frost the center of cake, add the second layer, then coat the entire cake in a thin layer of frosting to seal in the crumbs.
Ombre Cake: Dollop Technique
Color the four remaining portions of frosting from light to dark shades of the same hue using food coloring. Place each color in a pint-sized zip-top bag. Press frosting to the one corner of each bag and twist top to seal. Snip 1/4 inch from corner from the lightest color and place dollops of frosting in a single line all around the top edge of the cake. Wet a spoon and carefully drag the bottom half of each dollop to smear it down the side of the cake.
Ombre Cake: Colorful Layers
Take the next darkest color and snip off 1/4 inch from the corner of the bag. Create another line of dollops under the first layer, about half way down the smear. Wet a spoon and smear the second line of dollops as you did the first. Repeat with one more row and color, then finish the cake by dolloping the darkest color around the bottom edge of the cake.