We all eat with our eyes first. Right? Especially kids. I would love to take credit for the decorations here, but these are the genius of Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. You may have seen their adorable book HELLO, CUPCAKE! If you're into decorating cupcakes, or even if you're not, the book is chock full of clever ideas. I was able to find all these decorating items at my local Walmart.
Twizzlers Pull and Peel red licorice
orange cereal Os (Fruit Loops or Apple Jacks)
blue M and M minis
pink or red jelly beans
(or small pink heart-shaped candies)
10 chocolate chips
1/4 teaspoon butter
These would be so cute for a birthday party or slumber party, or just as an after school surprise. If you lose your mind and decide to make them for the whole class, it's do-able, but I would probably enlist some help. Imagine how fast these would go at a bake sale!
You can use your favorite cupcake recipe for this, or cheat and use (shh, we won't tell) plain (undecorated) store-bought cupcakes.
The recipe below is one of my new favorites. It just smacks of fall with all the right flavors -- cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. I've made it three times now, because one of my dogs saw fit to eat the better part of a batch (paper and all) before they were iced. I guess I'm not the only one who likes them.
I made these cupcakes in advance, photographed them for the blog, and then froze them for a cupcake tasting weekend. They survived beautifully in the freezer for six days -- except for the ears. The cereal turned soggy when it thawed. So if you freeze them, apply the ears after they thaw. To thaw the cupcakes, simply bring them to room temperature by letting them rest on a counter for about 45 minutes.
The instructions for the cute lion faces follow below the recipes.
Autumn Spice Cupcakes
(makes 12 regular cupcakes or 24 mini-cupcakes)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of cloves
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup regular sugar
1 large egg (room temperature)
1/2 cup applesauce
Preheat oven to 350 and place cupcake papers in pan.
Use a fork to mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a bowl. Set aside.
Cream the butter with the sugars. Add the egg and beat. Add the applesauce and beat. Beat in the flour mixture until smooth.
Fill cupcake papers a little over 1/2 full. Bake 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter (room temperature)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar
Place first four ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. (I used a Pyrex 2-cup measure.) Microwave in short bursts from 20-50 seconds, stirring each time until it bubbles up and is hot. Set aside to cool. Must be completely cool to make the frosting. (After it cooled substantially, I placed it in the fridge for 1/2 hour while the butter came to room temperature.)
Beat the butter well, scraping the sides and beating again. Add the cream and the cool caramel mixture and beat. Add the vanilla and beat. Slowly add the powdered sugar until it reaches the desired consistency.
Use a firm frosting. One that doesn't hold a shape well won't be strong enough to hold the licorice in place. The pieces will slide off.
In the book, they use food coloring to make the frosting orange. I think the color of the caramel frosting worked fine.
Using a knife or an offset spatula, frost the cupcakes evenly, not heaping it or making it too thick.
Work on a tray large enough to give you room between the cupcakes so you won't disturb the ones nearby as you work. I used a large pizza baking pan, which worked nicely because I could rotate it to the next cupcake.
Place two orange fruit loops in the frosting at an angle for ears.
Add blue M and M minis for eyes. If you're into perfection and you have some white icing on hand, place a little drop of it on each eye. (I omitted that step.)
The nose was problematic for me. The book recommends a small pink candy heart but I couldn't find one and had to improvise. I cut pink and red jelly beans in half for noses.
Again, the book recommends using chocolate frosting for the mouth. I would probably make chocolate frosting for mouths if I were making 30 cupcakes. Instead, I melted 10 chocolate chips with about 1/4 teaspoon butter in the microwave and used the sharp end of a wooden skewer to "paint" the chocolate mouth. A toothpick would probably work, too.