You can make many fun and attractive cupcakes without ever purchasing icing bag and tube sets. In fact, if you’re just making lines, you can cut a corner off a plastic sandwich bag and squeeze icing out of that. For more advanced, yet still simple, techniques, you can easily get away with buying individually colored tubes with plastic adaptors in four basic shapes, and smaller tubes of writing icing or gel are also available. Cake Mate has a line of tubes that are sold in many grocery stores. At larger department stores as well as craft retailers such as Michael’s and JoAnn’s, you can find tubes sold by Wilton, arguably the biggest name in consumer cake decorating. These tubes don’t even need to be refrigerated. You don’t have to worry about cleanup (except for rinsing the tips after use) and you can buy notoriously hard to mix colors such as red. If you’re just adding a few details to your cupcakes, the tubes are a bargain at about $2 each and will last quite awhile. If you have a lot of icing to do, you will probably be better off making your own or using canned frosting. (Canned frosting almost always works just fine with decorating tips, unless you’re making something that needs to stiffen, such as roses that are typically made with homemade royal icing.) Another cool thing about the Wilton tubes is that, along with the standard set of four plastic tips (round, leaf, petal and star), they’re sized to be used with any of the standard metal tips; just place a tip on the tube and secure it with a Wilton plastic coupler.
However, you can gain precision and ultimately save money by investing in a bag-and-tube system. It doesnâ€™t take long to learn how to use it, and with practice you can make all those cool stars, ribbons and even flowers that experienced cupcake makers can create. You can even make two-toned frosting designs by adding a “strip” of differently colored icing along part of the inside of the bag. Metal tips start at about $1, and you can add them to your “collection” gradually. They are standardized and numbered to make it easy to follow more-advanced decorating directions.
You can purchase disposable decorating bags or washable plastic or fabric ones, in a variety of thicknesses and sizes. For cupcake decorating, Wilton recommends the “featherweight” bag. A two-piece coupler is used to attach the tip to the bag; directions come on each package. (You unscrew the coupler, drop the pointy end into the bag, screw a decorating tube onto it and replace the circular part of the coupler. By using a coupler, you can change tips without having to use a new bag.) When you fill the bag with icing, use a spatula and be sure to fill it only halfway. It may help to fold the bag over a few times before filling it. Next, twist the end of the bag, removing any air bubbles and forcing the icing toward the tip. For most techniques, you’ll be holding the bag at a 45- or 90-degree angle. (For example, borders, writing and flower stems are done at 45 degrees while drop flowers are at 90 degrees.) Your dominant hand exerts the pressure while your other hand simply guides the bag’s path on the cupcake.
If you’re writing on a cupcake, use your entire arm to make the motion, not just your hand.
When you’re done, wash your bag, tubes and tips right away before the icing has a chance to harden in them. You can also purchase disposable bags, which are really convenient.