Serious Eats / Eric King
The best knife set is the one you make yourself, the best cooking utensil set is no set at all, and the best piping tip set is one that has been carefully curated to not waste space or money. As a lifelong baker and professional recipe developer, I have amassed many tools that, despite my best hopes when I bought them, I never use. And out of all the piping tips I have (probably hovering around 100) I employ a dozen regularly.
I wish I could highly recommend a large set that has every tip you could need, but the truth is, the tips that I love and use most often come from three different sets. The sets I have bought are either way too big, carrying hyper-specific tips for basket-weave or grass patterns (which have their place!), or have tips that are so obscure I don’t even know what they do.
Serious Eats / Eric King
That being said, I’ve narrowed down a few sets below that would bring you pretty close to a great, trim collection. And I’ve ranked all my favorite piping tips that I’m always reaching for. (I have primarily Wilton or Ateco tips. Sometimes their size/shape numbering system is the same and sometimes it’s not, so I’ve given names for both.) I also included my go-to small and large piping bags, which should cover all of your needs.
Serious Eats / Eric KingLarge star (Wilton or Ateco 1M): This is one of the most popular piping tips for anyone, doing any level of baking. And for a reason! You can do a lot with it: make simple stars, pipe in a spiral to create a rose shape, swirl it into a pile on top of a cupcake, or run it around a cake to create a fun shell or helix border. These tips can also neatly pipe out butter cookies or churros.Large star (Wilton 4B-8B or Ateco 864): Nearly as versatile as the 1M, this tip, or range of tips, is also great for a swirl on top of a cupcake, creating a beaded border along the bottom edges of a layer cake, or just dropping dollops to create big stars.Large drop flower/closed star (Ateco 852 or Wilton 2D): This one is like the 1M, but because its tines curve inward, the “ruffles” that are created are thinner and more delicate so they fall more like fabric or petals. Large round (Ateco 809 or Wilton 1A): I use this tip to pipe frosting onto layer cakes, which gets you really even coverage—or for piping a ring or a “dam” of frosting to hold in fillings. They’re also great for piping a thick swirl (or just a big ole dollop) of buttercream on top of a cupcake—or piping out meringue kisses. Detail round (Wilton or Ateco 2 or 3): For writing in buttercream, or doing detail work like the centers of flowers, I love to use this size. This is also the perfect tip for piping the borders of thick royal icing on cookies, before flooding them with a thinner icing.
Serious Eats / Eric KingMedium round (Ateco 804 or Wilton 2A) and small round (Wilton or Ateco 12): These are great for creating borders that look like strings of pearls, or for just plopping on some dots. You can also use it to create big, spherical domes of buttercream on top of cupcakes by holding it just above the center, squeezing, and slowly lifting it up. They’re also great for filling the interior of cupcakes, thumb-print cookies, sandwich cookies, or vol-au-vents. The small round tips are especially good for piping out macaron shells. Small star (Wilton or Ateco 32): For shell borders, smaller stars, or dainty rosettes, reach for this tip. Small petal (Wilton or Ateco 104) and large petal (Wilton or Ateco 127): Use these to pipe thin petals around a mound of buttercream, slowly building a flower from the inside out. Or, pipe in a line, moving left to right slightly (or up and down if you’re piping along the side of a cake) to create ruffles. Small leaf (Wilton or Ateco 352): Probably the least versatile tip, but held one way, it makes piping professional-looking leaves super easy. Held the other way, it pipes thin ribbons.
For large tips: This set has four of my “must-haves”—sans the detail round—and also comes with eight disposable bags. For medium tips: With two small stars (21 and 32) and small round tips (10 and 12), this set has two of my “nice-to-haves.”For leaves and petals: This set carries two small petal tips (102 and my recommended 104), a small drop flower tip (224), and a small leaf option (my recommended 352). A little bit of everything (but not everything!): This one is missing a finer-sized detail round tip (it only has a size 5, when I prefer 2 or 3). There’s no large star tip with more tines than 1M (such as 4B-8B), and there’s no large round tip like Ateco 809 or Wilton 1A. It does come with all of the others (or a close-enough version) and 10 disposable bags.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
I like to have smaller bags for piping royal icing onto holiday cookies or detailed buttercream work, and also some large pastry bags for quickly covering large layer cakes. There are also reusable nylon and silicone pastry bags available for purchase that are more sustainable, but they are slightly less convenient if you’re using multiple colors or tips at once—and you have to wash them. I also find that plastic bags give more control over the flow of icings, filings, etc. than nylon or silicone.
These are called tipless bags because you don’t need a piping tip to use them. Many cookie decorators will simply snip off the very end and that gives enough precision to outline even the most complicated cookie shapes. Of course, you can also use them with smaller tips—but I wouldn’t recommend using large tips in them.
Any of the large tips listed above fit much better into these bags, which are thicker and more substantial feeling, giving you more control with thicker buttercreams and fillings.
What are piping tip couplers?
When you want to pipe from one bag of frosting, but use multiple tips, couplers make that possible—and easy. They have two parts: one that looks like the bottom of a piping tip and another round piece that simply screws onto the bottom piece. You place the bottom piece into the piping bag (cutting it to size so it just sticks out on the smooth part), add any small piping tip onto it, and secure that in place with the fastening piece. Then, you can change out tips whenever you want without having to change bags. Large couplers for larger piping tips are also sold.
How do you fill a piping bag or pastry bag?
Place the tip or coupler into the bag, pointed side down, and mark where you need to snip the bag’s end off. Move the tip away, snip the bag, and move the tip down into the opening. (The plastic should end right in the middle of the tip, not too close to the top or bottom.)
To fill the bag, twist the tip several times to prevent any icings or fillings from seeping out while filling. Then, place the bag (tip side down) in a large drinking glass, and pull the sides of the bag down so they hang over the glass’s rim. Scoop or pour the filling into the bag, trying to get as much down to the bottom as possible, and compressing it so there are as few air bubbles as possible. Lift the bag out of the glass, twist the top of the bag, and secure it with your thumb, a clip, or a rubber band.
Why We’re the Experts
Eric King is a recipe developer, writer, and social media creator who has run the baking blog easygayoven for four years.Eric has written many equipment reviews for Serious Eats, including rolling pins, wine tumblers, and meat pounders.