That said, I know a lot of us want to do cute stuff for the kiddos for Easter, but lack the time and energy. And while Pinterest can help us find an endless array of adorable treats, they can be kinda complicated and intimidating-looking. And honestly a lot of that stuff IS complicated. But the thing is, some of the complicated-looking stuff is actually really easy. Just try it! Take some time while the kiddos are in school or in bed and just try. You may surprise yourself!
Case in point:
I was working on a little project (more on that in about 12 days) that involved some easy-to-decorate Easter cupcakes. I was inspired by some super cute little chocolate animals that I found at TJ Maxx, along with some malted chocolate eggs and delicious little mint candies. In my head I was picturing a rainbow of frosting colors to accompany said candies. But reality always hits after I start baking and have to do the first dish.
Because I don't have a dishwasher.
And because I always start this stuff at like 10pm, forgetting that I'm not 23 anymore and I'm tired.
And because this is supposed to be fairly quick and uncomplicated.
After only a few cupcakes I realized something: I can do a whole lot of adorable cupcakes using only two colors of frosting... and only 2 decorating tips!
I'm going to get into a little bit of detail about the cupcake liners, how to make the frosting and how to tint/dye it. If you don't need or want to know any of that, you can skip to step four where I talk about decorating.
Chickety check it out.
Step one: Make cupcakes
I used a white cake recipe and added a little bit of almond flavoring. But you can use whatever cupcake you'd like - from scratch or from a box. Whatever floats your goat.
While my go-to cupcake liner is a dark chocolate brown, I really wanted to use something a little
cuter and more pastelly. (I don't know if "pastelly" is a word, but this is my blog and I can say it if I want.) The problem with traditional paper cupcake liners is that the oils from the cupcake tend to soak through them - this causes spots of discoloration and it makes the cutesy little designs on the paper disappear or just plain look terrible. This is especially true if you make chocolate or red velvet cupcakes - the darker the cake, the worse it looks. Some good quality liners are "greaseproof" or have foil lining under the paper one, so those are good options to look for when you're shopping.
My new obsession, though, is paper baking cups. They are slightly harder to open before eating, but only slightly. I love them because they are thick - they hold their shape, and the designs and colors aren't messed up by the cupcake at all. Also, they stand up on their own, so you don't have to dirty a muffin pan - just set them on a cookie sheet and bake. And they come in the cutest designs! They are pricier than paper liners, but not expensive if you buy them on sale or at places like TJ Maxx/HomeGoods. That place is kitchen heaven... and no, I'm not on their payroll. I just love them. You can also almost always find them on sale on amazon.
If you opt to use baking cups, you'll usually need to bake them a little longer. It depends on what size cups you get. Just eyeball them as they bake. Start with the normal cupcake baking time and see if they're done. You can usually tell by looking if they're even close - if the tops are uneven and look wet in any spots, then they need more time. Once they look done or close to it, you can do a quick test by gently touching the middle of one of them. If the cupcake bounces back after you put slight pressure on it, you're good to go. If it sinks down or feels like it deflates a bit, then they'll need to bake a bit more.
Once you have your cupcakes, let them cool completely and get going on your frosting.
Step two: Make frosting
This is my go-to buttercream frosting, adapted from every other basic buttercream frosting recipe out there. I like it because it tastes good and it's easy to pipe.
This made enough for these 24 cupcakes.
1.5 cups unsalted butter (softened)
4 tsp good quality vanilla
6 cups powdered sugar
milk or heavy cream
pinch of salt (if you want)
I use the paddle attachment on my stand mixer, but regular beaters would work fine.
Beat the butter for a few seconds until its not in stick form anymore. I like to add the vanilla and salt at this point and beat for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. I add the vanilla here because it seems to disperse the vanilla flavor really evenly throughout the frosting. I could be full of it, but that's my theory.
Add the powdered sugar about 2 cups at a time. When you turn the mixer on, do it on the lowest possible setting until its mostly incorporated. Otherwise you'll have a powdered sugar explosion all over your kitchen and on your clothes and in your hair. Then increase the speed and beat for 30 seconds or a minute until its fluffy again. Keep this up until you've added it all.
Regarding the milk: there's no measurement listed because the amount of milk needed can vary so much. Kitchen temperature, humidity, altitude... all of those things have an effect on your frosting. The trick is to add a a teeny tiny bit at a time and stop when your frosting is the perfect consistency. It doesn't take much liquid to change your frosting from thick to perfect, or from thick-ish to runny. So I usually add about 1/4 - 1/2 tsp, beat well to make sure its well incorporated, and test the frosting. Then add more as needed. You want the frosting thick enough to hold its shape, but you don't want it to be dry. And you may need it thicker or thinner depending on what you intend to do with it. The nice thing is that you can always add a little more milk if you think its too thick, or a little more powdered sugar if you think its too thin. So don't freak out if you mess it up.
Once you have your frosting at the right consistency, you're all set to frost!
Step three: Prep frosting
Divide your frosting into a separate bowl for each color you're going to do. With this batch, I initially intended to use 3 colors: green, pink and purple.
USE GEL COLOR! NOT THE LIQUID FOOD COLORING YOU GET AT THE GROCERY STORE
Using liquid food coloring is a nice quick way to screw up your perfect frosting consistency. Its like adding water to it. Lots of grocery stores carry gel frosting now, and you can always find it at Walmart, MIchaels, Hobby Lobby or the like. If you shop at Walmart, you'll want to go to the cake decorating aisle that's usually near the greeting cards & wrapping paper - not the baking aisle that has all the cake mixes and stuff. They carry a ton of supplies there - you'll see lots of wedding cake type stuff - and that's where you'll find Wilton Gel Food Coloring.
Using a toothpick or similar, dip it into the gel and wipe it on top of the frosting. This stuff is super concentrated, so a tiny bit will go a long way. It'll often take multiple swipes over the frosting to get all the coloring off from that first dip. The picture makes it look like a lot, but its really not.
Grab a spoon and mix very well, until the color is evenly dispersed and you aren't seeing dark spots. Dark spots mean there's a glob of food coloring. So be patient and make sure you really mix it well. The picture makes it look like I have really weird thumbs. That's because I actually do have really weird thumbs.
Pick your piping tip(s), attach them to the bag and fill your pastry bags with frosting.
The easiest way to fill a pastry bag is to get a tall-ish glass or cup and fold the top of the bag around the rim of the cup. Then spoon some frosting in, squeeze the frosting down and try to get all the air bubbles out. Then twist the top several times to prevent the frosting from squeezing out of the top of the bag.
I try not to add too much frosting at once when I'm doing designs like this. Squeezing the bag repeatedly heats the frosting up because your hands are like little space heaters, so your perfect frosting can quickly become melty. If that happens, you can put it in the fridge for a bit. But if you keep your bag half full or so and just refill it as you need, that helps to keep it cooler. And try not to handle the frosting any more than you absolutely need to.
Now that the frosting is tinted and bagged, its time for the fun part!
Step four: Decorate
So here's the beautiful thing I discovered the night I made these: One pastry bag of green frosting with a grass tip and one pastry bag of pink frosting with a Wilton 2D tip gave me a TON of different cupcake designs! Just those 2 colors and tips! And FYI, decorating tips are like 2 bucks. You can do this on the cheap.
My basic idea was to do green grass frosting and put malted chocolate eggs and/or chocolate farm animals on top. For this I used a grass tip - basically a flat ended tip with little holes in it. Behold: a fuzzy picture! But you get the idea of what it looks like.
So basically what you'll want to do is, with the tip touching the cupcake, gently squeeze and lift up at the same time. How long you squeeze will determine how long your "grass" will be. This was the first time in years that I've used this type of tip, so my grass was kinda all over the place length wise. I didn't really care though - the long ones looked neat, and the ones that came out too short were easy to fix by just piping more grass over those spots.
They're pretty cute as-is! But having a variety of designs makes it fun. I started using the chocolate animals and little mint candies and piped some flowers. The Wilton 2D tip is versatile with flowers: you can do a big rose by starting in the middle and swirling around toward the edge. These roses look hard, but they're incredibly easy and fast! If you haven't tried it before, just give it a go. You'll be surprised at how quick it is once you get the hang of it.
Using the same tip, you can gently press down and bring the tip up, kinda like with the grass, and make a small flower.
You can also do the same thing, but twist the tip back and forth as you come up to make a little bit of a fluffier, more ruffly flower. And adding one of the little mints to the middle makes it really cute.
Adding little pearl sprinkles to the roses can make them look extra special.
Once I started, I completely forgot that I had a bowl of purple frosting sitting on the counter. I was having fun playing around with the pink frosting and candies and seeing what came of it all. And loving how much could be done with those 2 bags of frosting.
Once I ran out of pink, I remembered said purple frosting. So I stuck it in the same bag that the pink was in and piped roses on the remaining cupcakes. They actually looked pretty - purple roses with pink accents.
I got so caught up in playing around with this stuff that I failed to realize my cupcakes were looking more and more like they were for some tea party or brunch, and less and less kiddo friendly.
And so I had to scrap these and start at square one for the aforementioned project that I'll tell you about in just under 2 weeks.
But I do love the little white chocolate lamb. And I still have all the stuff. And these were fun. So I think I'm going to make them again Easter week. Because why not?!