I remember frosting cupcakes as a little girl. It was always my favorite part of the cupcake making process. My Mom would bake them and I would frost them. I would use a butter knife and put a large amount of frosting on the cupcake I was going to eat because I have always loved frosting. Today, I frost cupcakes using a decorating tip or spatula. See my "how to" tips below.
My How To Tip To Frost With A Decorating Tip:
To get the "swirl" look I use really big decorating tips - #806 (for small cupcakes) or #807 (for regular cupcakes). The only local place I could find tips this large was at Orson H. Gygi, a Kitchen and Culinary Supply Store. (If you can't find them in your area, do a search online for "decorating tips size 806 and 807" - I found several websites you can purchase them for less than $2.00 a piece.)
I use disposable decorating bags - size 12-16 inch. You can find these at craft stores or some grocery stores. I just cut the end so the tip fits about half way through and it's good to go.
Some people put a dollop of frosting in the middle of their cupcake and then start to "swirl" around it. I start my "swirl" in the middle and work out to the edge, around, and then up (a tip I learned from watching DC Cupcakes). The frosting in the middle prevents the top of the "swirl" from caving in. Caving = not a cute cupcake. Each time you circle, move closer to the center of the cupcake until you are right in the middle and then pull up.
The recipe for this cupcake can be found here.
See another technique to frost cupcakes (that I love) with a decorating tip here.
My How To Tip To Frost With A Spatula:
If you want your cupcakes to look more like Sprinkles Cupcakes, you'll want to use a small spatula. Take your spatula and place a dollop of frosting in the middle of your cupcake. Spread the icing out the edges almost like you are making a table top on top of the cupcake with frosting. Then take your spatula and circle the cupcake on the edge to give it a flat, smooth look all the way around.
You can find several how to videos on frosting cupcakes on You Tube. Frosting a cupcake should be fun. So take your time. Practice. And just have a good time. Just remember - messy cupcakes can taste just as good.