All cakes are wonderful, but when piped with stars, hearts, or friendly faces, they're truly something to celebrate. After practicing the basic techniques, Josie, 7, Devlin, 9, and Max, 10, create their own icing art on cupcakes -- an activity that's ideal for a kid's party. Or children can work on a special project -- their own birthday cake, or one for a sibling or parent. All that's needed is pastry bags, tips, and couplers (plastic pieces that let you change tips easily). Mix up our Fluffy Buttercream in different colors. You can do the baking a day ahead, but it's best to ice and pipe the cooled cake the day of the party. Your kids can build on our ideas to form brilliant designs from their own imaginations.
1. Snip off the end of the pastry bag; slide a coupler into the opening (couplers allow you to change tips without emptying the bag of frosting). Choose a tip and twist on.
2. Fill the bag: Fold down the top of the bag (making a deep cuff) over the hands of an assistant. Spoon in about 3/4 cup frosting -- any more and it may be too bulky for kids to handle comfortably. Twist closed and wrap end with a rubber band.
3. Hold the top of the bag in your right hand -- that's your squeezing hand. Your left hand steers the bag. (Lefties hold the bag with their left hand and steer with their right.) With a bit of patience, kids will discover for themselves the best way to position the bag, but in general, for lines and writing, the bag is held straight up and down; for most designs and trim, the bag is slanted.
A Few Tricks
If you practice on parchment paper, you may scrape off the frosting and use it again. Bayley wrote letters on a piece of paper, then placed it underneath the parchment to use as a guide.
Before piping, poke holes into the surface of the frosting with a toothpick to sketch out shapes and letters. If you don't like the look of your toothpick pattern, just smooth over the frosting with an offset spatula and try again.
To make a design that's nice and neat, press a cookie cutter lightly into the frosting, then pipe over the imprint. Josie uses this trick to pipe a pair of pink hearts and a star.
Start with a #4 tip for the flower's stem, then make the leaf and petals with a #352. Go back to a #4 to add the flower's center. When using the same tip for more than one color, be sure to wash it out well.
A head of curly hair is actually a bunch of small rosettes made with a #16 tip -- if you like, add more for a different hairstyle. The nose is piped with a #12 tip, and the eyes and mouth with a #4 tip.
This little piggy's ears and snout are made with a #12 tip; hold tip close to surface and squeeze until you get the size you want. His eyes come from a #16 tip, and a #4 tip is just right for drawing two nostrils and a tongue.
Use a #4 tip for lines and dots; with tip just above cake's surface, squeeze, and let the icing fall into place across the cupcake.