Kitchen Basics: Piping Frosting

May 7, 2012

In her biweekly column, Kitchen Basics, Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen demystifies essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos. Whether she's showing us how much brown sugar we're meant to "pack"(or is it cram?) into measuring cups or how to detect when our onions are properly caramelized, Susan is the nonna we never had -- until now. Now, go on and get cozy under her wing.

This week, Susan demonstrates how to fill a pastry bag and pipe frosting.

frosting piping how to


My mom hosted unforgettable birthday parties when I was young. She served homemade hamburgers and fries and topped off glasses of Kool-Aid. At the end of the meal, she always brought out a chocolate cake. As an April baby, my sister’s cake took the form of a three-dimensional rabbit. My cake, which we gobbled in May, was decorated like a butterfly. Over the years, homemade cakes have become almost as rare as dinosaurs. That seems to make them all the more coveted. Cakes make for wonderful gifts year-round. If you want to decorate one for Mother’s Day, try using these tips.

Basic Tools for Piping Frosting

  • A pastry bag: Pastry bags come in different sizes and materials. I prefer to use 12-inch reusable bags. I find them easier to grasp, fill, and control than larger bags.
  • Decorating tips: There are hundreds of tips to choose from. The good news is that you can produce diverse designs with just a handful. I recommend starting with round tips, which can be used to make dots, straight lines, and letters. I also love to use star tips to form rosettes and stars, and to produce fancy borders.   
  • A coupler: Couplers makes it easy to swap decorating tips on a pastry bag. They have two parts that screw together: a base and a ring.

round tip
Sample designs using a round pastry tip

star tip frosting
Sample designs using an open star pastry tip (note the shallow ridges)

closed star pasty tip
Sample designs using a closed star pastry tip (note the deep ridges)

How to Assemble a Pastry Bag

Push the base of the coupler into the pastry bag as far as it will go. Use a pencil to mark the point where the smooth section of the base begins. Remove the base and cut off the tip based on the mark.

piping frosting

Push the base back into the pastry bag until the smooth section pokes out of the pastry bag.

piping frosting

Fit a decorating tip onto the base of the coupler.

piping frosting

Encircle the decorating tip with the coupler ring and screw the ring onto the coupler base. 


Fold over the end of the pastry bag and spoon icing into the bag, filling it about halfway. Push the icing as far into the bag as possible. 

filling pastry bag

Unfold the pastry bag. Gather the end together and twist it to force the icing down the lower half of the bag and toward the tip. Hold the bag in your dominant hand where it begins to twist. Squeeze a bit of icing into a bowl to remove air bubbles to "burp" the bag.

piping frosting

How to Pipe Frosting

There are two basic things to keep in mind when piping icing. First, the harder you squeeze the pastry bag, the faster the icing will flow out of it. Second, the speed at which you move the pastry bag over a cupcake, cookie, or cake will also affect your design work.

To pipe a simple rose, fit a pastry bag with an open, closed, or French rose tip. Begin piping in the center of the cupcake, then move the tip in concentric circles toward the outer edge. When you run out of space, reduce the pressure and quickly pull away to create a smooth edge.

piping rose frosting

I’d love to see your tips for piping frosting! Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.

Are you new to cooking? Tell me what skills you'd like to learn and your idea could be featured in an upcoming post!

Want more basic tips from Susan? Check out her previous post: Kitchen Basics: Asparagus.

All photos by Susan Pachikara.

Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest. 

susan cardamom kitchen

7 Comments Add a Comment
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    SpinachTiger says: Thanks for the tips. I use a 16 inch reusable bag because it's easy to sit inside a thin water pitcher or tall glass to fill. I fold about 4 inches of the top over and fill about half way. I never use a coupler, but I can see how that would be helpful to exchange tips.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: You're welcome. Keep the comments coming. Cheers, Susan

    about 1 year ago
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    maria_sf says: I totally agree with you! It is such a rarity to get a home made cake these days! Love the step by step for piping frosting. I actually learned how to do it before but was in huge need for a refresher! How do you wash the icing bag?

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: I'm glad the tips were helpful, Maria. In response to your question,I wash my pastry bags inside and out with hot water and soap and air dry them completely. Happy decorating!

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    smd1227 says: Maria, if you give the pastry bag to the kids (grandkids or even your husband/partner), they do most of the cleaning for you :-)

    about 1 year ago
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    missyjennings says: Great article, as always, Susan! As a cookie decorator who uses mostly royal icing, I struggle with buttercream, as I seem to get more on me than in the bag. The method I use for both types, which seems to help me and my natural clumsiness, is the glass method. I put the tip and coupler on and then push that end all the way to the bottom of a tall thin water glass. Then I fold about 1-2" of the edge of the bag over the rim of the glass like you do over your hand and load the icing. I find that gives me a little more control over the icing as I'm loading it. I also use disposable bags due to the number of colors I use at one time (and my inherent laziness when it comes to washing icing bags, LOL!)and use rubber bands on the ends (gather the end of the bag, fold it over and wrap with a rubber band). Keep up the great learning from you!!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Thank you for sharing these tips, Missy. I love the idea of inverting the empty pastry bag over a glass to fill it. Happy Mother's Day (early)! Cheers, Susan

    about 1 year ago

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