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There are a number of different toppings for cupcakes available, some of them very traditional and others very complex and unique. For a sweet, standard topping, buttercream or royal icing are popular. When decorated elaborately, marzipan can be cut to match the surface and stacked to the desired thickness to support plastic or sugar figurines. Whipped cream, fruit preserves, melted chocolate or sauces made from nuts can all be used as toppings for cupcakes. Simple toppings can be made just by dusting the surface of the cupcake with some powdered sugar, cocoa powder, or colorful sugary beads.
One of the most familiar toppings for cupcakes is buttercream frosting. This is simply made from butter that has been whipped until it is creamed and then mixed with sugar. It is versatile and can be flavored with vanilla, chocolate or liqueur and colored with a few drops of food coloring. It can provide a rich, creamy taste to the accompanying cupcakes.
Royal icing, which is a sugar-based icing that dries into a solid sugary state, can be used to make a crisp crust on top of the cupcakes. Like buttercream, it can be flavored and colored to suit the situation. The icing often is used with marzipan, a malleable sheet of almond paste and sugar, because marzipan can create a flat, clean surface and the royal icing can make solid patterns and decorations on top of it.
For certain events, special toppings for cupcakes can be made from normal confections and placed on top of a frosting base. This can include curls of shaved chocolate or pieces of fruit that have been dipped in simple syrup to give them a glossy appearance. Flakes of white chocolate, grated hazelnuts or pieces of premade candy or decorating sprinkles can be placed on top for extra flavor.
There also are molds available that can be filled with melted chocolate or colored sugars that create three-dimensional (3D) designs such as butterflies, flowers or stars that can used as whimsical toppings for cupcakes. Different types of fruit, such as apples and pears, can be carved and positioned to make small, edible figurines. Any sweet substance, such as chocolate or royal icing, that can be drizzled as a liquid before it hardens can be used on wax paper to create delicate, solid shapes that can be pulled off the paper and placed on top of a cupcake that has been frosted.
Foods that can be ground also can be turned into toppings for cupcakes by sprinkling them over the frosted tops. Ground almonds or peanuts, crushed chocolate cookies or graham crackers all work well. For a more elaborate topping, a thick sauce made from reduce fruits topped with caramel sauce can add sweetness and texture to the cupcake.
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