A plain cupcake is practically a muffin, so frosting is definitely a necessary element of the cupcake equation. Vanilla and chocolate are nice, but one of the joys of having mini cakes is that you can be a bit more creative in decorating them than you can with full-size cakes. Sprinkles and jimmies, as well as colored sugars, are the easiest way to go. One of my favorite ways to dress up a cupcake is to use a cupcake stencil. Stencils take no more effort to use than it does to open a box of sprinkles, and they add a lot of dimension to a cake.
Stencils work by allowing you to add a design to your cake by sifting a contrasting color on top of the frosting. Confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder are two of the most obvious choices of medium for stenciling, since one of the two will contrast with just about any color of frosting.
You can buy stencils, but they’re easy to make at home. All you need is a fairly sturdy piece of paper and some scissors. Trace a design of your choice onto the paper, then cut your chosen design carefully out before holding the card up to the cake and sifting cocoa powder or confectioners’ sugar over it. Simple, geometric designs are the easiest to do and make a great impact on a finished cake. If you ever made paper snowflakes in grade school, that technique makes beautiful stencils, as well.