When it comes to ideas for decorating cupcakes (birthday, wedding or any kind of celebration) you're limited by only two things: your imagination and the small amount of decorating surface you have to work with —the top of a cupcake is about 2-3/4 inches in diameter.
Just because you don't have a lot of room doesn't mean you don't have a ton of decorating options. You do!
Our cupcake design philosophy?
If it's small, pretty and tastes good, you can absolutely decorate a cupcake with it!
Here's a list of some of the decorations we've used when making birthday cupcakes. Add them before the frosting sets so they don't fall off (with a few exceptions...see the Important Note below).
Important Note: Some of these birthday cupcake decorations (fresh fruit, coated candies, and fresh flowers) are best added immediately before serving time.
If you decorate your cupcakes too early in the day of your party, you almost certainly will find that the candy coloring has melted and run onto the icing, that the fruit doesn't look fresh anymore and has made the frosting wet, and that your pretty flowers have wilted.
Mix up a batch of marshmallow fondant (this is our favorite recipe and it's super easy) and use it to make cut-outs in any shape and color you want. You can decorate each cupcake in exactly the same way, or you can vary it up and decorate them in several different ways, all related to the same theme.
Small cookie cutters come in handy for cutting out shapes, and some are now made specifically for use with fondant. You can also make your own template out of card stock or cardboard and cut around it with a sharp knife.
For the artistic and adventurous among you, try sculpting objects related to your party's theme, like the ones for a movie theme birthday party, below. Time consuming but very impressive!
Using a pastry bag and special tips to make buttercream flowers takes a bit of practice but once you get the hang of it, it's quick work and the results are so pretty.
The easiest kinds of flowers to make are the ones that lay flat.
You can pipe out two different flat flower shapes using tip #2D: the star flower and the swirled flower.
Use tip #3 to pipe a little dot of a contrasting icing color right in the center. This is very easy to do (don't be a perfectionist!). Pipe a bunch on each cupcake or just one in the center.
You can also use a round tip to pipe swirly abstract designs or a star tip to pipe stars onto the cupcakes. These are two very quick ways to add designs that look professionally done.