Cupcake icing typically comes in a few basic flavors, including buttercream, cream cheese, chocolate and vanilla, but any of those can be easily transformed by just adding a few ingredients. If you're stuck in a flavor rut, change things up with some out-of-the-ordinary icing flavors.
Buttercream, cream cheese and vanilla icings have a mild taste that makes them ideal as a base for adding other flavors. To give any standard icing a fruit flavor, add 1/2 tsp. fruit extract, such as banana, coconut or citrus, to 16 oz. of store-bought icing and stir until combined. Extract is a concentrated flavor oil, so don't add more than 1/2 tsp. to your icing before tasting it.
If you don't have extract, you can substitute 2 tbsp. of fruit juice, but some varieties are more subtle tasting than others, so add 2 tbsp. at a time until you get the flavor you desire. Extract and juice may slightly thin the icing, so apply two layers of the icing to cupcakes if it's too thin.
For an extremely fruity flavor that will also give icing a rich color, try a fruit purée. Purchase store-bought purée or mash up your own fruit until you have 1/2 cup, then stir it into 16 oz. of icing. You can use any mashed fruit, such as kiwi, watermelon or raspberries, for a fresh and natural flavor; however, remember that the icing will take on the color of the fruit. The puree will add a thicker texture to the icing. If it's too thick, add 1 tbsp. milk to thin it out.
For a creative cupcake icing flavor, take inspiration from other desserts, as even the smallest addition can add a new depth of flavor. For a cotton-candy flavored icing, tear prepackaged cotton candy into small pieces. Add the cotton candy pieces into a basic icing and mix until they are evenly distributed. Even if the pieces melt slightly the flavor will be infused into the icing. You can also sprinkle more chopped cotton-candy pieces on cupcakes for a garnish.
Think of your favorite desserts and incorporate the ingredients into your icing. For instance, if you want to try a s'mores flavor, add a dollop of marshmallow cream and a handful of crushed graham cracker crumbs to chocolate icing. For key lime pie, add fresh lime juice and crushed graham cracker crumbs into cream cheese icing. If you're adding liquid, the icing will be thinner, while solid ingredients may make your icing a bit thicker.
If you want more mature cupcake icing flavors for adults, go for a coffee or cocktail theme. Mix 2 tsp. each of instant coffee and cocoa powder into a chocolate icing for a mocha flavor. To sweeten the flavor, add a splash of your favorite variety of coffee creamer. Use instant espresso instead of regular instant coffee for a more intense flavor. Coffee icings tend to be pair well with chocolate or spice cupcakes. You can also model cupcake icing after your favorite cocktails; for example, add 1/3 cup of rum, a handful of shredded coconut and 2 tbsp. pineapple juice to cream cheese icing for pina colada icing or stir in tequila and lime juice. Icing is extremely versatile and easy to add flavor to, so don't be afraid to experiment.
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