My goddaughter Maureen just turned four a few days ago. When asked what kind of cupcakes she wanted for her birthday party, she said “both,” meaning both cupcakes and frosting. So her mom, my cousin Barb, asked again – what did Mo want the cupcakes to taste like? She answered “pink.” Hmm.
Mo’s birthday party was held at a nature center near her house, where we learned about owls, turtles, and other Southern Maryland wildlife, so her cupcakes were nature-themed. While I don’t know if there are any pink owls in nature, there certainly were at her party.
Mo helped me bake the cupcakes and make the frosting, and she’s a great helper. As she licked a frosting-coated beater, I asked her if it tasted pink, and she said “yep!” Mission accomplished.
Note: the recipe below is designed to feed a crowd and yields 45 cupcakes. You can adjust as necessary to make fewer if you don’t need this many. Also, we did a dozen owls and then used M&Ms to make caterpillars, flowers, and mushrooms on other cupcakes, so if you want all owls, you’ll just need to adjust the quantity of sandwich cookies for the eyes.
For the cupcakes
- 3 3/4 cups cake flour
- 3 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 6 eggs
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 6 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups canola oil
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- red liquid food coloring
For the frosting & decoration
- 1 recipe vegan vanilla frosting
- red liquid food coloring
- cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies
- M&M candies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
Place eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and continue to beat for another 30 seconds.
Add vanilla and canola oil and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.
Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Add a few drops of red food coloring at a time until you reach your desired color; remember, batter will lighten as cupcakes bake. Batter will be very thin.
Using a quarter-cup measuring cup, scoop batter into prepared pans. Bake for 12-13 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting and decorating.
To frost and decorate:
Prepare vanilla frosting, reserving a small amount to use as “glue” for the owl eyes. Add a few drops of red liquid food coloring to the frosting with your mixer running on low to medium speed to achieve a light pink color.
For the owls:
Twist apart chocolate sandwich cookies carefully, leaving the cream all on one side. Reserve plain sides for another use, like making a pudding pie crust.
Place two cookie halves on each cupcake; dot with white frosting, then place an M&M for the pupil on each eye. Add another M&M for the beak.
For the other nature-themed cupcakes:
Place M&Ms as you like; we made caterpillars with green bodies and red heads, flowers, and a few cupcakes that were totally covered in M&Ms to look like mushrooms.
Serve very shortly after cupcakes are decorated, as the cookies will begin to soften from the moisture in the frosting.
Here, Mo and I are relaxing in the hollowed-out trunk of an enormous tree. Birthday parties for four-year-olds can take a lot out of you…especially if you’re the guest of honor.