How to use a piping bag

I’ve been baking cupcakes (compulsively, some might say) for a long time and, over the years, I’ve often been asked to show friends ‘how to do icing like that!’ So here’s the answer… use a piping bag.
I use a piping bag to ice my cupcakes nine tenths of the time. Why? Because it’s quick and easy, and it’s a sure way to make your cupcakes look extra stylish and impressive. It takes a bit of practice to get used to the technique but trust me, it’s really simple and once you’ve mastered it your icing adventure can begin.

What you need:
– Some cupcakes, obviously. (For my easy-peasy cupcake recipe, check out the Science Behind Cupcakes)
– Some buttercream icing. I mix 4 cups of icing sugar with 125g butter and half a cup of milk. Add some colouring if you like.
– A piping bag
– Piping bag nozzles (this handy nozzle set includes a piping bag and seven nozzles)
– Kitchen scissors

The technique:
1. Every new piping bag needs to be cut so that the nozzle fits cosily into the bottom of it. Choose the nozzle you want to use and carefully estimate how much you need to cut off from the bottom of the bag so that it will fit tightly inside with just the end of the nozzle poking out. Snip off a little at a time – there’s no going back if you cut off too much so I suggest you take this bit very slowly. If you have a nozzle set, all nozzles will have the same diameter base so will fit into your cut piping bag.
2. Now that your nozzle tip is poking out the bottom of your piping bag, you can start to fill the bag with icing. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to pack the icing into the base of the bag and, if you roll the top of the bag back on itself, you will find this whole process a lot easier and less messy.
3. Get a feel for the bag, working the icing down to the bottom of it and giving it a little squeeze until you see the icing coming out through the nozzle.
4. And now for the fun part, get your naked cupcake ready. Starting from the outside and working anti-clockwise, squeeze your icing gently out of the nozzle. Work slowly. Once you’ve got to the middle of your cupcake, stop squeezing, dip the nozzle into the icing gently and lift off. Voilà.
5. Decorate with your choice of sprinkles and chocolate balls. You can also change colours. If you don’t have more than one bag, you will need to clean out your used piping bag thoroughly before using your next colour.
Experiment with the different nozzles for different effects (the round tip will give you soft, ‘cloudy’ edges, the star tip will give you swirls with defined ridges).

Top tips:
Don’t cut off too much from your piping bag.
2. Fold the top of the bag over on itself when spooning in the icing.
3. Practice, practice, practice.
And there you go, the piping bag world is now your oyster.