I have always loved baking. Nothing thrills me more than pulling an intricately latticed pie out of the oven or decorating the perfect gingerbread cookie. But I have always been daunted by the idea of frosting cupcakes; the perfect swirl on the cupcakes at the store seemed like something out of reach. Luckily for me, Sarah Wallace, the general manager of Magnolia Cupcakes in Boston, and Courtney Gray, their Head Decorator came over to give Spoon University an exclusive cupcake frosting class (If the name Magnolia sounds familiar, it's likely from "Sex and the City"--the show featured the New York bakery in an episode). They taught us how to frost two classic cupcakes: Magnolia’s trademarked swirl cupcake and a pretty flower cupcake. Even luckier for you, you can learn how to frost the perfect cupcake too!

Swirl Cupcake 

This is Magnolia's classic swirl cupcake. This look can be achieved with just a spatula and a bucket-load of frosting. It does take a little practice, but results in an adorable cupcake. 


-Cupcakes (here are some great recipes!)

-Lots of frosting

-A wide, straight decorating spatula (called a wand)

-Sprinkles (not necessary, but a whole lot of fun!)


Step One: Picking the Right Frosting

The secret to a great cupcake is great frosting! Sarah stressed the importance of using buttercream with real butter for a perfect frost. 

Step Two: Mixing the Bubbles Out

Sarah set us all up with large tubs of frosting and instructed us to mix the icing until all the bubbles were gone. Then, she told us to clean our wands off because “a clean wand is a clean cupcake!” After scraping the excess frosting off the wand, smooth the frosting in an arc shape against the edge of your bowl or bucket. 

Step Three: Scooping Your Frosting Blob

Next, Sarah told us to scrape about ¼ cup of frosting onto our wands using a diagonal scooping motion. The secret to this is making sure your frosting is all pushed to the side of the bowl, resulting in a smooth, rounded ball of frosting on your wand.

Step Four: Frosting the Cupcake

To get your frosting from wand to cupcake you need to hold your cupcake in your non-dominant hand (for me, this was my left hand), and slowly spin the cupcake. With your dominant hand, hold your wand, keeping your elbow high—Sarah told us to always keep our elbows high while decorating cupcakes—and touch your frosting blob to the part of the cupcake closest to you (if you imagine your cupcake as a clock, you’d be putting frosting down at the 6:00 position). As you turn your cupcake counterclockwise in your non-dominant hand, gently shake your dominant hand to get the frosting to release from the wand and attach to the cupcake. This results in a smooth and rounded frosting application!

Step Five: Perfecting that Swirl

This was probably the trickiest step to get the hang of—Sarah told us that generally decorators at Magnolia have to go through 40 hours of training before being ready to create Magnolia’s signature swirl.

To make the signature swirl (which is trademarked, by the way, so if any readers were thinking of opening up rival cupcake shops, think again) start by holding your cupcake in your left hand in a kind of claw shape, with your thumb facing away from your body—what Sarah referred to as an “ugly hand”. Then, place your wand at the center of the cupcake, pointing towards the 10:00 position. In one smooth motion, turn your hand 180 degrees until your thumb is facing towards you—what Sarah calls a “cute hand”. Lastly, finish the swirl with a flick of the wrist.

Step Six: Sprinkling

This is the fun part! Once you’re satisfied with your swirl, put the finishing touch on your cupcake with a healthy amount of sprinkles. According to Sarah, “sprinkling is an art”. She told us to start sprinkling gently around the outside of the cupcake then to finish in the center for a perfect garnish. 

Flower Cupcake

Lauren Richards

Courtney Gray, the head decorator at Magnolia also taught us how to make flower cupcakes. Although it looks complicated, this cupcake looks a lot harder to make than it actually is! It uses two piping bags instead of a wand, but the bags are easier to get used to than you would expect. Plus, you're sure to impress your friends with these botanical beauties!



-Frosting in two colors, one color for the petals of the flower and one color for the center

-Two piping bags

-A petal piping tip

-A round piping tip


Step One: Holding the Piping Bag Right

First, set up your piping bag and fill it with the frosting color you'd like for the petals of the flower. On a petal piping tip, there is a thinner and wider opening on either side of the tip (it looks a bit like a skinny triangle). To make a perfect flower cupcake, Courtney instructed us to hold the piping bag in our dominant hands with the thinner end facing up. Next, she told us to rotate our hands so the thin end was pointing away from us. 

Step Two: Making the Petals

Lauren Richards

To make the petals, Courtney told us, hold the cupcake in your non-dominant hand and start with the piping bag in the center of the cupcake. Next, make a “tall n-shape”, moving from the center of the cupcake to the edge, turning your piping hand to create the curve of the petal, then returning to the center of the cupcake. After each petal, turn the cupcake a tiny bit to start the next petal. Courtney instructed us that the petals should be close enough that they overlap a tiny bit. If you want, you can even add a second layer of petals for a pretty ruffly effect!

Step Three: Adding the Center

After finishing all the petals, all that’s left is adding the flower center. Courtney gave us each a piping bag with a round tip filled with yellow frosting. Then, all you have to do is pipe some dots in the center. Courtney said she usually does one large dot in the center, then pipes six smaller dots around it. I tried to do a slightly different center for each of my flowers, giving some more or less dots to see what I liked best. 

Visit Magnolia Bakery!

If you'd rather not take the time to decorate your own cupcakes, stop by Magnolia Bakery at Fanueil Hall in Boston or any of their other locations (including several in New York, one in LA, and one in Chicago) to try some of their amazing cupcakes. Every month, they release a menu of their daily cupcakes, which feature seasonal flavors: some of the November flavors include Harvest Apple and Devil's Mocha (see the full list here). Personally, I can't wait until December to try their holiday-inspired peppermint cupcake! 

List of Magnolia Bakery Locations Here