Decorating cupcakes with the kids just got easy. I give you my three favourite, super simple, child-approved ways to decorate cupcakes. And yes, it's worth the mess.
Baking with kids – you either love it or hate it, or may depend on your patience levels, your child’s attention span, and time, oh, elusive time. Whatever your relationship status with baking, it's certainly a great way to bond with your kids and spend quality time together.
One of the easiest things I’ve ever made with my kids over the years of baking together is cupcakes. GoodtoKnow’s cupcake recipe is my go-to and I’ve made them time and time again. They are simple, soft, and spongey, and the perfect base for decorating. Whether it's topping them with a swirl of buttercream, drizzle of icing sugar, a pinch of rainbow sprinkles, or coating them generously with chocolate spread, cupcakes are a great choice for making and decorating with kids – not to mention the perfect sweet option when it comes to kid's party food as one of my favourite things to do with kids.
So, for those of you looking for easy cake decorating ideas, I thought I would share my three best kid-friendly decorating techniques that have served me well over the years, and have been a big hit not just at birthday parties, but bake sales, playdates, and as food gifts for the grandparents too.
Icing sugar and sprinkles
The easiest (probably messiest) way to decorate cupcakes with little ones is with icing and sprinkles. From toddlers to teens, mix some icing sugar with water to make an icing and pile on the sprinkles. It's finger-licking fun the kids will certainly love. I like to have my icing mix pretty thick so it gloops onto the cakes, instead of running down the edges of the cases, so play around with thickness by adding more icing sugar.
My kids chose rainbow sprinkles, however, there are plenty of sprinkles out there – be it classic hundreds and thousands, chocolate strands, silver sugar balls, and more. Replace some of the water you're mixing with the icing sugar for a squeeze of food colouring gel or drop of food colouring.
You will need:
- Icing sugar
- Get your little one to carefully scoop 4 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar into a mixing bowl. I would recommend pouring icing sugar into a bowl for them to scoop from because getting icing sugar directly from the bag is asking for trouble.
- Add 2 tablespoons of cold water and let your kids do the mixing. Again, measure this into a bowl and let them scoop from the bowl otherwise you'll have kids running back and fourth from the kitchen tap and the stress levels will start to peak.
- Repeat until you have enough icing mixture for your cupcakes. Feel free to add more icing sugar if you want a thicker consistency. And if you don't have enough mixture as you go along, it's really simple to make some more if needed.
- Cover the table or kitchen counter with something you're happy to get covered in sticky icing and let them go wild. They can drizzle, blob, scoop and smooth the icing sugar mix to their heart's content. We used a teaspoon and I made sure the kids brought the cupcakes to the icing bowl or vice versa so there weren't trails of icing mix all over the kitchen table.
- For the sprinkles, add some to a bowl. If you're decorating with a couple of kids, let them have a bowl each to stop the arguments. A teaspoon is a good idea for scooping onto each cake – or they could use their fingers.
Chocolate and Smarties
One for the pre-school kids who fancy a spot of cupcake decorating, I give you chocolate. Be it chocolate spread or melted chocolate, it's a great addition to a cupcake as it adds an extra sweet layer of flavour, and makes them a tad more indulgent. Plus kids love it, right?
This is a decorating method that needs adult supervision as there is an element of heat to this. You'll either need to melt the chocolate or you'll need to warm the chocolate spread to make it easier to decorate the cupcakes. If melting a chocolate bar, break the chocolate into squares, and melt on low heat for 10 seconds at a time stirring every so often. If you're warming chocolate spread, heat it for 10 seconds just to soften it so it's easier to work with.
My kids chose Smarties to decorate our cupcakes, but again, any chocolate will do – crushed Maltesers, chocolate sprinkles, the list goes on. We opted for a chocolate spread for this one as I had a jar of Nutella sitting in the cupboard, however if you're making it for a kid's party or bake sale, avoid anything with nuts to be on the safe side.
You will need:
- Chocolate bar of your choice
- Or chocolate spread of your choice
- Either get your little one to break the chocolate bar into squares and place in a microwavable bowl OR get them to scoop 2-3 tablespoons of chocolate spread into a microwavable bowl.
- Adults only or older kids if you're comfortable with them using the microwave (parent's choice here!), heat the chocolate on bursts of 10 seconds stirring until melted (which usually takes around 1 minute total) or heat the chocolate spread for about 10 seconds to soften slightly.
- Once the bowl has cooled to the touch, let your child scoop the chocolate mixture on top of each cake with a teaspoon. Again, like the icing sugar mix, cover those kitchen counters or tables and bring either the cake to the bowl or the bowl to the cake to avoid unwanted spillages.
- We forgot to wear aprons this time round and my two were covered in chocolate splodges so I would recommend old clothes or covering your child in something to avoid brown stains on clothes (why did we decide to bake in light-coloured tops?!). Rookie mistake.
- Once the cakes are covered in chocolate, get creative with the Smarties. Ta-dah!
Buttercream and food colouring
For the bigger kids, buttercream icing is great for taking their cake-decorating skills to the next level as they can get creative with a piping bag and nozzle.
Now, I had a lovely pastel blue buttercream in mind for this one, with perfectly formed piping and a buttercream swirl to give the classic 99 a run for its money, however, my heavy-handed daughter, bless her, took the reins on this one and poured half a bottle of blue food gel into our buttercream mix. I managed to save it with an abundance of icing sugar, however, it doesn't look exactly how I imagined, but hey-ho.
So when it comes to colouring buttercream, I would say get the buttercream to the consistency that you want it to be at, then gradually add in a drip or two of colouring at a time. If, at any point it looks like the butter is separating, add more icing sugar and continue to mix. If the buttercream mixture you're making has water or milk in it, replace some of the liquid with the food colouring instead.
Have a piping bag and nozzle or two on hand ready to load the buttercream in to – and leave it in the fridge for a while before using it to decorate – will make sure the buttercream sits nicely on top of the cake when piping.
You will need:
- Icing sugar
- Food colouring
- Get your child to measure – using weighing scales – the right amount of butter, and leave the butter to soften before whisking. Meanwhile, measure out the icing sugar into a separate bowl.
- Adults only (or older kids if you're comfortable with them using an electric whisk – again, parent's choice!), carefully whisk the butter whilst gradually adding in the icing sugar until they begin to combine. Add a few drops of food colouring and keep mixing until you have a cake batter-like texture. If the buttercream is too thick, add some water or milk, and if the buttercream is too thin, add some more icing sugar.
- Place a piping bag into a tall cup, with the nozzle down, and open the piping bag up so that the largest part – the opening of the piping bag – is over the edges of the cup. This will allow you to scoop the buttercream into the piping bag without making too much mess (she says!). Let your child scoop the buttercream into the piping bag.
- Once the icing is at the max mark on the piping bag, remove the piping bag from the tall cup and twist the opening of the piping bag to seal it shut. Add an elastic band or hairband to the end to stop it from opening up when the kids are using it.
- Show the kids how to pipe the buttercream onto the cakes – you could let them experiment on a chopping board or flat surface first so they get used to the feel of the piping bag and how to hold it properly.
Other cupcake recipes you could choose for your base instead:
Are there any other ways to decorate cupcakes?
There are plenty of other ways to decorate cupcakes besides buttercream, icing or chocolate spread. You could try coloured fondant cut into shapes, chocolate ganache, Swiss meringue buttercream and royal icing, to name a few.
However, buttercream is the perfect versatile option for decorating cupcakes. It’s great if you want to add another flavour to your cupcake as you can infuse it with lemon juice or vanilla extract, or add some sifted cocoa powder to make chocolate buttercream. You can also colour buttercream with food colouring or gel and piping bags have a variety of nozzle attachments so you can create a range of different patterns and textures on your cupcakes too. You can also top buttercream with sprinkles, jelly sweets, crushed chocolate, edible flowers and more.
Cupcakes decorated with buttercream:
- Sunflower cupcakes
- Rose cupcakes
- Raspberry cupcakes (with raspberry buttercream)
- Lemon and white chocolate cupcakes (with white chocolate buttercream)
- Coconut and lime cupcakes (with coconut buttercream)
At what age should you start baking with kids?
I have a six and a four-year-old, and I’ve been baking with my kids since they were toddlers. Yes, it’s messy and stressful, and everything ends up in their mouths or on the floor but it can also be fun and very rewarding (and I’m not just talking about the batch of chocolate brownies you get to indulge in later on when the kids are in bed!).
What are the benefits of baking with kids?
There are plenty of child development benefits cooking with kids; such as improving their fine motor skills, developing their language skills and improving their maths skills. Whether it's lining the bun tin with cupcake cases, practicing their egg-cracking skills (the Bluey Omelette episode springs to mind here), or learning the difference between grams, cups and ounces, there are plenty of ways the kids can help you bake.
Must-have baking equipment for kids
EATO Silicone Muffin Cupcake Cases, Reusable Cake Moulds - View at Amazon
If you’re an avid cupcake maker, invest in some silicone cupcake cases. Easy to clean and reuse over and over again. Bright, colourful and you get 24 in a pack too. You might want to opt for disposable cupcake cases however if giving the cupcakes away as you might not get the cases back – they are that good.
Amazon Basics Biscuit Cutter Set Pack of 25 - View at Amazon
I love making cookies with my kids and have invested in a lot of cookie cutters over the years and I have everything from Christmas trees to butterflies and gingerbread men to Halloween bats. If you’re looking for a basic starter kit with the favourites this is a great choice from Amazon Basics. Choose from a flower, star, cat, ghost, square and heart, to name a few.
kuou 2 Pcs Kids Cooking Aprons, Adjustable Child Chef Aprons - View at Amazon
Another one of my must-have products that comes in handy when cooking or baking with kids is an apron to protect their clothes. I’ve made the mistake of letting them bake without one on before and they have been well and truly covered in flour, dough, food colouring – you name it. I’ve chosen these aprons from Amazon as you get two in a pack which is handy if you’ve got two kids like me, or you have an avid baker who needs aprons on rotation. There are plenty of other kid's aprons available on Amazon, just make sure you check the size is correct for your child.
So the cupcakes are done and decorated, but what about your kid's birthday cakes? Our roundup of the best Frozen birthday cake ideas or Bluey birthday cake ideas are great for inspiring your birthday cake designs.
We've also got plenty of first birthday party ideas for those of you thinking of celebrating your little ones' big day, not to mention kids' party games everyone will love, as well as 13th birthday party ideas for your pre-teen.
Parenting advice, hot topics, best buys and family finance tips delivered straight to your inbox.
Jessica Dady is Food Editor at GoodtoKnow and has over 11 years of experience as a digital editor, specialising in all things food, recipes, and SEO. From the must-buy seasonal food hampers and advent calendars for Christmas to the family-friendly air fryers that’ll make dinner time a breeze, Jessica loves trying and testing various food products to find the best of the best for the busy parents among us. Over the years of working with GoodtoKnow, Jessica has had the privilege of working alongside Future’s Test Kitchen to create exclusive videos - as well as writing, testing, and shooting her own recipes. When she’s not embracing the great outdoors with her family at the weekends, Jessica enjoys baking up a storm in the kitchen with her favourite bakes being chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, and a tray of gooey chocolate brownies.
From rare Happy Meal toys to scarce Power Rangers, if you've got any of these gems at home, they could be worth up to £712,000
If you need to have a toy declutter at home, keep your eyes peeled for these items that could be worth some serious cash
By Sarah Handley Published
Tomato, bean and basil pasta salad
This tomato, bean and basil pasta salad is a great alternative to sandwiches for lunch boxes and is also an excellent vegan buffet option if you’re hosting a party.
By Rose Fooks Published