Learning to cook or bake in quarantine gave people a lot of creative opportunities. Not everyone had piping bags, for example, when making cupcakes. So, they had to find new ways to do it without venturing to the store or even without using a piping bag.
Piping bags are not expensive or hard to use, but sometimes you just want to work with what you have. Knowing how to ice cupcakes without a piping bag means getting creative, so how about we get into it?
How to Ice Cupcakes Without a Piping Bag
Cut the Corner Off a Plastic Zip-Up Bag
One of the easiest ways to ice cupcakes without a piping bag is to make your own out of a plastic zip-up bag. All you need is a zip-up bag of your choice and a pair of scissors.
Fill up the zip-up bag with your choice of icing. Make sure you seal the bag. Do not fill the bag up entirely since you might accidentally squeeze frosting out both ends of the bag. Filling it roughly two-thirds of the way should do the trick.
Then use the scissors to cut a small or big hole in one corner of the zip-up bag. Remember that the hole will expand into a circle, so start with a small hole. We recommend starting at around one-fourth inch and slowly working your way up in case you want a larger squeeze.
Hold the bag at the top with one hand and use your other hand to guide the frosting through the opening. Make sure to hold the bag around a half-inch above the cupcake, so you do not squish the frosting. Feel free to hold the bag closer if you want to create that effect.
Once you have finished, pull the piping opening straight up to create a tiny point. You might twirl it slightly to create a gentle swirling effect at the top.
Remember that this method can get a little messy if you do not handle the bag right. You might accidentally press or squeeze the bag and lose a little frosting, where a regular piping tip might keep it contained.
That said, it is still a versatile method. You can squeeze the opening in a spiral around the cupcake, or you can hold the opening over the center and squeeze frosting out to create a dome.
Make sure you press the frosting as far into your zip-up bag as you can. Unless you want bubbles to be part of your frosting design, compacting your frosting tightly will eliminate them from your piping.
If you still have frosting in your makeshift bags, you can use rubber bands to seal the openings. You might even use a rubber band to close the top even when you close the zip-up seal. Doing so makes it look a little bit more like an actual piping bag if you enjoy the look.
Use Pinking Shears to Cut the Corner Off a Zip-Up Bag
So far, we have talked about using regular scissors to create a piping bag. You might notice a slight difference if you use pinking shears or scissors with fun designs on the blades to cut the hole.
Keep in mind that the look of your frosting will not look that different with this method. Regular piping bags have metal or plastic tips that help keep their shape against the frosting, while here, you will only have the flimsy plastic bag.
That said, you can cut a smaller hole in the bag and apply more pressure to help the frosting conform to the shape you have cut with your scissors.
Use a Knife, Spatula, or Spoon
If you do not feel like cutting up any zip-up plastic bags, you can use a good old-fashioned knife or spoon to spread frosting over your cupcakes.
Some people prefer to use spatulas instead of knives because they have smoother surfaces. The slight dent in their handle also keeps your hand elevated above the cupcake, so you do not accidentally push your fingers into your work.
On the other hand, knives have a serrated surface to create a cool design on the frosting. You can also use the blunted edge to keep the frosting looking smooth.
Still, whichever utensil you choose serves a purpose in icing cupcakes.
To start, use the knife to place a glob of frosting on the cupcake. Do not worry; you will smooth out the glob with the knife or spoon next.
With enough frosting to possibly cover the cupcake, you can choose the knife or spoon to smooth out the frosting. The knife may provide a smoother, straighter spread, while the spoon may add some aesthetic indents or curves in the frosting. Either way, you want to spread the frosting evenly over the top of the cupcake, shaping it as you see fit.
For extra icing power, you can use a turntable to make smoothing out the frosting a little easier. Otherwise, you can hold the cupcake in one hand and the knife in the other. Turn the cupcake to whichever direction you need to see and fix the frosting until it is perfect.
Use an Oiled Spoon or Knife
This method of how to ice cupcakes without a piping bag may sound a little strange for how to ice cupcakes without a piping bag, but let us explain.
In transferring frosting to your cupcakes, some of it might stick to your knife or spoon. You may need extra time to wipe off the excess into the frosting container or onto the cupcake. Either way, you want to use as much of your frosting as you can.
One way to keep frosting from sticking to your knife is to oil it. You can run some butter over the knife or lightly spray it with cooking oil. Your knife will still pick up frosting, but it should not stick as much to your knife. Be careful not to add too much, or the knife could slip out of your hand.
Also, use cooking oil that does not have any particular flavor. You don’t want any strange flavors to seep into your sweet treats.
Similarly, you can also run your knife or spoon under hot or warm water to prevent the frosting from sticking to them.
Use a Cookie Dough Scooper
Instead of pressing frosting onto your cupcakes with a knife, you can use an old-fashioned ice cream or cookie dough scooper.
Using a cookie dough scooper, especially one with a removing mechanism in the cup, can help you deposit a lot of frosting onto a cupcake. The removing tool quickly allows you to wipe at the bottom of the frosting and easily remove it from the scooper.
Plus, it creates that perfect dome shape that mimics an ice cream sundae. You might use this trick to make ice cream cone cupcakes.
Scoop as much frosting as you want into the ice cream scooper. Position it over the cupcake and press the lever to help release the frosting. Once you have placed the frosting on the cupcake, smooth it out as you like.
For extra measure, you may consider lightly oiling the scooper to prevent any frosting from sticking to it. Either way, this method may use a little more frosting than a normal icing method.
Cookie dough or ice cream scoopers are also great since they eliminate bubbles in your frosting. While you can compact your frosting quite tightly into a zip-up bag, it can still sometimes create bubbles.
Dip Your Cupcakes Into Lighter Frosting
If you are working with a more liquidy frosting, you might consider dipping your cupcake into the frosting. Learning how to ice cupcakes without a piping bag means you’ll have to master this technique.
Mix your frosting in a large bowl. Dip the top of an undecorated cupcake into the frosting until it is sufficiently covered. Pull the cupcake out and set it down on a baking sheet to dry. You can reshape the frosting with a knife or spoon.
Make sure you twist your wrist slightly as you remove the cupcake. Doing so will remove excess frosting and possibly create a cool design, depending on how thin your frosting is and how quickly it dries.
Make sure your cupcakes have had plenty of time to cool before using this method. If you pick them up and tip them over while they are still warm, they might fall apart. Do not squeeze the cupcake too hard, too, since the cupcake could potentially split apart and fall into the frosting.
A thicker frosting, especially a traditional buttercream frosting, will not work as well with this method. You might be able to spread a thin layer over the top, but you will have to lay more layers on top with a knife.
Speaking of dipping, you can also use this method for decorating. If you have a bowl of chocolate chips or sprinkles, you can dip your frosted cupcakes into them to give them more color and beauty.
Use Your Fingertips
That is probably not the first method you would think of since touching anything these days might seem like a cause for concern. However, you can use clean fingers for decorating cupcakes, or you can wear plastic kitchen gloves to fully protect your fingers and the frosting.
Once you have smeared a massive glob of frosting on the cupcake, your fingertips make a great decorating tool. You can gently push your finger onto the frosting and pull it back up to create a small spike. Repeat that process all over the cupcake to create an edgy top of your cupcake.
Similarly, you can use your finger to create swirls on the cupcake. Press your fingertip in a spiral sound the frosting until it is as swirled and smooth as you like.
While it may sound strange using your fingertips, it might give you a little more control than a knife or spoon. Plus, if you are making the cupcakes for yourself, you can just lick the extra frosting off your fingers.
FAQs About Homemade Icing Bags
Now that we have covered every DIY method we know for icing cupcakes without a piping bag, here are a few extra tips.
How Do I Store My Homemade Piping Bags?
Sometimes you do not use all your frosting, and that’s okay.
To store your frosting, make sure that each end of your homemade piping bag is sealed, either with a rubber band or twist tie. You can also tie each end closed, but you will have to be careful untying them before your next use.
Once you have stored the frosting in the fridge, it should last for up to a week.
Remember that your refrigerated frosting will have hardened. If you want to pipe the rest of the frosting out, wait for the frosting to get to room temperature and soften a bit.
If you want to store your homemade piping bags when they are empty, you’ll need to wash them out with soap and water. You may need to let them air dry before you store them, or wipe them out with a paper towel.
What Kind of Zip-Up Bag Should I Use?
While any plastic zip-up bag will make a good homemade piping bag, we recommend using a freezer-size bag. The freezer size is usually stronger and has tougher zip closures to protect the contents. Plus, of course, they are larger so they will hold more frosting.
Should I Prepare the Bag Before Adding Frosting?
It is a good idea to put some tape around the corner you want to cut when learning how to ice cupcakes without a piping bag. While zip-up plastic bags are strong on their own, putting a few rounds of tape helps reinforce the corner so it will not tear during a particularly hard squeeze.
How Can I Create Fun Designs in My Homemade Piping Bags?
We have discussed before how you can use pinking shears to make fun hole shapes in homemade piping bags. There are a few other tricks you can try.
To create a rose, cut a horizontal slit at the bottom of your first cut. A backward V cut in your piping bag should create a leaf tip.
To create a frosting swirl or zig-zag design, cut a half circle into the bag. For a star piping design, cut a V in one corner, then press the bag’s side seams together, and cut down the middle of the fold.