Rainbow Frosted Cupcakes: Colorful clouds of cupcake icing couldn't be easier

I wonder what it is about rainbows that enchants us so much? I know I rush to the window as rainstorms cease, hoping to see the colors spread across the sky. In spring I see cars on the highway slow as they glimpse the curve of the bow across the mountains on the drive home.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve started hanging crystals in our east-facing windows. I’m not trying to be full of woo or feng shui, but I do love to wake up and see the sparkle and play of light. It lifts my mood and reminds me of the sparkle of jewels. I can’t afford to own the Hope Diamond, but this is my way of bringing the same joy to my home on a dime.

Care to join me in the love of rainbows, up close? Small crystals found tucked in the junk box at a yard sale, lone pieces of chandelier at the thrift store, or a birthday gift of a faceted globe are ways  you can add color and light to your house, too.

Then again, we’re bakers, aren’t we? Why not take our love of rainbows to the kitchen with us, and make colorful, joyful, treats to share with those we love? I promise that these Rainbow Frosted Cupcakes are not only stunning – they’re really, really easy to do.

First, whip up a batch of your favorite vanilla frosting. You’ll need about 3 cups total, divided into 3 equal portions.

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Tint each portion one of the three primary colors (red, yellow, blue). You can make them bright or pastel, depending on your mood. I like the look of the pastels, and used about 8 to 10 drops of gel paste food color per cup of icing.

Place each color in a separate zip-top bag and trim off one corner. This temporary piping bag will make spreading your colors easier.

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Lay out a piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Try for about 14″ to 16″ long; you’ll need some extra length for rolling.

In the center of the strip use your zip-top bags to pipe out fat strips of icing. You’ll use about half a cup of icing for each strip, about half of each bag.

Pipe the icing strips side by side, with the blue in the center. Think back to your color wheel; red plus blue make purple; yellow and blue make green, and yellow and red will make peach/orange.

Roll the plastic up jelly-roll style, and twist one end closed. Keep the other end open for the icing to flow out of.

Repeat with the remaining icing to make a second roll, setting it aside for now.

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Now, here’s the only place where you’ll need some specialty equipment. Luckily, you can find large (16″ or larger) piping bags and tips locally fairly easily. Try the cake decorating section of your local craft store or party store. Open star tips and closed star tips make the best cupcake swirls, but you can use round tips as well.

Place the plastic twist of colored icing into the bag, open section down. Twist the bag closed and press the icing towards the tip. As you squeeze, all three colors will come out, both separately and blended together where they meet.

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To pipe those bakery style swirls, think of your cupcake as a clock. Begin at 4, and pipe clockwise around to 3. As you get to 3, lift the tip and move it slightly towards the center. The bands of icing will overlap and build upward, creating the spiral.


Now that’s a rainbow! A cloud of frosty goodness, a prism of sweetened sunshine.

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From plain cupcakes to out of this world creations, in about 20 minutes. Seriously.

Once you have the rolls of colors made up it’s a breeze to pipe one cake after the other. Simply by rotating where you hold the bag, you can change which colors show up where on the cakes, making each one unique.


A cacophony of color, a flight of fantasy. Beautiful for birthdays, gorgeous for graduation. Make your friends ecstatic at Easter, flabbergasted on the 4th of July. Just think, you can change up your color combinations, too. Try red, white, and blue for summer parties; red, green, and white for the holidays.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I think you could easily color your icings naturally, too. Blueberry, strawberry, and pomegranate juices might do the trick; or grinding freeze-dried fruits to powder. Even shades of chocolate and white would make for some incredible cupcakes.

Remember, the world is your crayon box. Bring rainbows of color wherever you wish and, as always, take time to share the joy with those you love.

From me to you – Happy Spring!

MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...


  1. Paul from Ohio

    Now THIS EXCELS you crafty baker you! My mind takes flight immediately on the various color combinations for Holidays, celebrating sporting events, time of year, think Fall, think Summer, think Spring – don’t think too much about Winter (let’s let it get out of here!!!) – what colors go with each season at your house! Brilliant!

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      It’s the bees (replacement) knees, right Pauly? Glad to see you back up on your pins again and smiling. 🙂 <3, MJ

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      It’s a great way to talk about how colors blend and change. Be sure to save a little to blend together totally into “mud”. ~ MJ

  2. Nanny Jean

    Gorgeous! For spring you can do the rosettes on your favorite cake, sides and top. That look would make people smile!

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      Wouldn’t that be pretty? Pale green background, bright rainbow flowers!~ MJ

  3. Karen Thompson

    Oh me, I done something like this before – but these colors are so pretty — my GRAND GIRLS will love doing these!

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      Time for a party at your house, right Gina? Take lots of pics and be sure to send them along so we can see!~ MJ

  4. Sherrie

    These look marvelous and I would love to try them. I am afraid I am inept at cupcake making, however. This sounds silly, but I cannot get those liners to sit in the tins and when they do, they seem too big. How do you expert cupcake makers manage?

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      HI Sherrie,
      I can’t say as I’ve had that problem before, so I’m not sure the solution. Have you checked the size of your tins? Perhaps they are older and smaller? There are silicone cupcake molds too, that don’t require liners, that may be something to look into. Maybe drop the bakers an email at some point, I’m sure there would be a lot of experience and advice to send your way. ~ MJ

    2. Joann

      I think I know what you mean! Try putting the liner over every other space in the tin first (like you’d lay out checkers, on alternating squares). It’s okay if the liners are opened out wide, not nestled into the tin. Then put the cake batter in a big baggie, and cut off one corner to squeeze the batter into the center of each liner. As they fill with batter, the weight will push the liners down into the cupcake tin. Then go back and fill the remaining spots in the cake tin the same way. I hope that makes sense! 🙂

  5. julie

    I have tried to color bands of icing down the edges of my pastry bags, but that is really hard…the plastic wrap is a brilliant way to easily do this great trick. Thanks!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Glad you enjoyed this post, Julie. I see some very pretty cupcakes in your future! Barb@KAF

  6. Shar

    I actually ran into the problem that Sherrie mentioned when I used cupcake liners that had been purchased at a local grocery chain store. Unlike the liners that come in a close fitting plastic, cellophane or cardboard container, these liners sat in a molded plastic cover that allowed the liners to spread out more. When put into a cupcake pan, they just wanted to pop right out again. I was able to use them by slowly filling with the cake batter, but some of them had little wrinkles on the side where the paper ‘folded’. I have never had this problem with the cupcake liners that I buy at the King Arthur Flour store.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Glad you found our cupcake liners easy to use, Shar! And thanks for sharing your experiences. Barb@KAF

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      Merci, belle madame! I hope you’re having a sunshine-filled day today! <3 ~ MJ

  7. Derry

    Thank you for reminding me of this rainbow technique and for the very helpful hints about how to efficiently do it! I made KA’s Emerald Isle cupcakes (mini) as a St. Patrick’s treat for my co-workers and was looking for something less time consuming than fondant decorations to top them. I tried the KA vanilla buttercream as suggested which is very well-balanced and used a 12″ piping bag since that’s what I have today. I found that as long as you pipe out your colors in 10″ lines you can easily use a 12″ bag (but you have to refill more often). Also, I was able to get great swirls even on minis. These turned out great – thank you!

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      Thanks for the tips on using the smaller bags Derry. I bet your coworkers are going to be thrilled! ~ MJ

  8. JenBishop

    I am going to have to try this. Let’s see there are a few holidays coming up I can use as an excuse. Thanks for showing this technique, it is one I hadn’t seen or thought of before.

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      The world is your rainbow, right Jen? I think they would look really cute with a gold chocolate coin tucked at the “end” of the rainbow for St. Pat’s tomorrow. ~ MJ

  9. Sharon

    I’m looking forward to possibly using this technique on cupcakes that I plan to bake for an upcoming Bridal Shower for which I will be serving “Tea”. These would be a real hit, I’m sure.

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      ooooh, that sounds lovely Sharon. Be sure to take lots of pics! ~ MJ

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      AND, the plastic wrap keeps the bag clean, so clean up is a breeze! ~ MJ

  10. Amy

    You just blew my mind. This is a new tip for me. The rainbow is effect is so cool- especially with the blending of secondary colors where the primaries meet. But the possibilities are endless. How about a tonal blend of frostings? Dark blue, medium blue, light blue for a boy-themed baby shower? Medium green and light green for two tones for St. Patrick’s Day? I assume you could do this for colorful meringue cookies? I must color all the piped things now!!!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You can do this with meringue cookies- they’ll be spectacular for spring events! Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  11. Monica

    This blog came just in the nick of time! My DIL and I were planning on baking cupcakes for my grandson’s First Communion celebration instead of making a fancy cake. These cupcakes look amazing, with lots of “fancy factor” without too much “fancy work”! We can’t wait to do this. Planning on yellow cupcakes with pastel colors and chocolate cupcakes with chocolate/vanilla swirls. Did you use the Golden Vanilla Cake recipe for the cupcakes? Thanks for the great tip!

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      That sounds wonderful. I still remember my First Communion cake, and I’m sure your grandson will remember this. I didn’t use the Golden Vanilla recipe this time, but I have used it before many times, it’s a great choice. Have a lovely, special day with your family. ~ MJ

  12. Claudette Roy-Viall

    Just thinking of the high school and sport team colors, and how great they could be!! Thanks for the great tip!

  13. Julie Dickson

    What s the recipe you used for the cupcakes? I need to make some cupcakes next week for my class and these will be a big hit with the kids.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Lucky kids! Try the “Ultra-Vanilla Cupcakes with Easy Vanilla Frosting”. It’s fast and simple! Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  14. Monica Bush

    I have a recipe for Banana Split Cupcakes with a frosting of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. The technique shown was not workable for me. So when I saw your blog on rainbow frosting I was excited. This is a much better way to do more than one flavor of frosting. THANK YOU!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re so glad this post was helpful, Monica! Those Banana Split Cupcakes sound beautiful and delicious. Barb@KAF

  15. Rockycat

    About how many standard-sized cupcakes will the accompanying buttercream recipe frost? My 13 yo wants to make the rainbow cupcakes for a bake sale this weekend and I have no idea now much frosting she will need.

    1. Susan Reid

      That depends entirely on how you’re frosting the cupcakes. If you’re piping a swirl top, you’ll need a double or triple batch for 24 cupcakes. If you’re spreading the frosting on with a knife or spatula, 3 cups is enough for 2 dozen, assuming 2 tablespoons of frosting on each. Susan

  16. Rockycat

    Just to follow up…These cupcakes were the hit of the bake sale. We priced them twice as high as the plain cupcakes and they just about flew off the table. Thanks for the great idea and advice.

    The other hit was the German Chocolate Mini cakes from your site. I was able to punch out 6 mini cakes and 3 “baby” cakes from the 9 x 13 sheet and used the cake scraps to make Black Forest Trifles. All were a great success.

  17. Linda Thompson

    This is a great idea. What tip did you use? I make disposable bags out of freezer paper so you can throw the bag away when you are done. Very easy to do. I suggest to the people having trouble filling cupcake papers to use a scooper to fill the papers. You get the same size cupcakes every time:)

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      Hi Linda,
      I have a set of large decorating tips that I use for cupcakes, but I don’t know specifically which one I used for this project. I know it’s one of the large closed stars. Hope this helps. ~ MJ

  18. jessica ligon

    my daughter loves to cook a lot and .I think for ä twelve year old she will enjoy it. I love that she loves to cook and can’t wait till she makes it.

  19. Adrianne Jamieson

    Thanks Mary Jane for this fabulous post! I used it as inspiration to make some tri-coloured buttercream frosted cupcakes tonight. I loved how you explained what you did as it made it so easy for me to follow. Thanks and love your work!

    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      Thanks Adrianne! I’m thinking of some Halloween colors later this week. 🙂 ~ MJ

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