When it comes to cupcakes, first impressions matter. If you're looking for an alternative to the copious swoops of frosting á la boutique-bakery treats, give this easy and elegant decorating technique a try. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of frosting on each cupcake to form a thick layer. Using a small spatula or knife, spread the sugary goodness around to create a flat top with smooth sides. Then pick your poison: Place sprinkles or chopped nuts (or even candy hearts), on a plate, hold the cupcake at its base, and gently roll the outer edges of the frosting in the topping. You should have a nice coating along the flat sides with a smooth, glossy top.
If you do want your cupcakes to look like they came from a fancy bakeshop, here's how to give them that polished appearance: Place your frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip. Starting at the outside edge and working inward, pipe the frosting onto the cupcake in a spiral. If you're using a topping, sprinkle it on the cupcakes and bask in your handiwork.
If you’ve melted chocolate for dipping strawberries or cookies, there’s often a lot left over. Since it’s a sin to throw out chocolate, we have a trick for using up the rest. Mix in whole, toasted nuts (we like to use almonds and cashews, but any variety works), and toss them until they’re all evenly coated. Then, spoon clumps of the chocolaty treats onto parchment paper and wait for them to harden. Once they’ve cooled, store them in an airtight bag (if you can stop yourself from munching them all before your sweetheart gets to enjoy some, too).
Like these? See more quick tips at Cook's Illustrated.