Yes, you read that right. Ombre Cupcakes by my 5-year-old daughter.
Today is Mother’s Day and my 5-year-old daughter announced this morning she wanted to make cupcakes for me. Not just any cupcakes, they had to be pretty pink cupcakes.
Alrighty then… this should be fun.
I mean it’s not like I spent the entire day before, at the bakery, dealing with hundreds of baked goods all day, and it’s NOT like the Saturday before Mother’s day was one of the busiest days of the year… so of course the first thing I wanted to do on the one day of the year where Moms are supposed to be entitled to relax to was spend time in the kitchen baking cupcakes and cleaning the mess up afterwards. (Can you just hear my run-on thoughts dripping in sarcasm?)
But of course my daughter doesn’t know that.. she just wanted to make me something special for Mother’s Day. Which is really sweet and thoughtful.
So I open up the cabinet to look for a box of cake mix (gasp! a box mix?!?).
I know, but just hear me out – Alex is in kindergarten, kindergarteners have parties and celebrations in class constantly (they even had a wedding for the letter Q marrying the letter U!?), and she seems to always volunteer me for cupcakes. So I usually have a box on hand just in case I don’t have time (read: too tired) after coming home from the bakery to bake 2 dozen cupcakes. Hey, at least the icing is ALWAYS from scratch! (and in case you were wondering why I don’t just get the cupcakes from the bakery, I can’t afford to spend nearly 50 bucks on plain vanilla cupcakes all the time, especially since I make them for a living.)
Anyway, when I dug through the cabinet.. there was no cake mix to be found.
“Sorry Alex, we don’t have any cake mix, we’ll go to the store later and make the cupcakes another day” Externally: sad face, internally: happy face (Yay we can just be lazy today!).
But she simply looks at me, shrugs her shoulders and says matter-of-factly, “That’s okay mommy, we can make it using a recipe and ingredients.”
She wants to make the cupcakes. From scratch.
Okay smarty pants…
Well, I looked through my recipes for one that seemed easier than the rest, and one where I had the ingredients on hand.
Together we read and followed the recipe, then she measured the ingredients properly as she’s seen me do hundreds of times before. I quickly realized she only really needed me to get the ingredients out and guide her. She even knew to mix the dry ingredients first!
After we mixed the batter, it was time scoop them into the liners, but she quickly reminded me she wanted to make the cupcakes pink.
I thought, since we were going to color it, we might as well have fun with it and try a technique I’ve been wanting an occasion to play around with…
She didn’t know what it was so I simply explained 3 shades of pink in one cupcake, and she got excited!
I helped her divide the batter evenly into 3 bowls and she squeezed different amounts of pink food coloring in the 3 bowls. (I like to use Americolor gels and keep them on hand, but any food color will do).
Once the colors were mixed, Alex started scooping the batter into the wrappers using our standard cookie scoop. 3 of these scoops fill one of the cupcake liners – Perfect when you’re layering 3 colors!
As you can see below, the liners were all filled with one scoop of the darkest pink batter first. I then rapped the pans on the counter to spread them out a bit.
Then we repeated with the medium pink batter, and lastly with the light pink batter.
Once they were baked, Alex couldn’t wait to see how they looked and when she opened the wrapper, she (as well as her 2-year-old sister) squealed in delight!
Update: Many have asked about using a cake mix or other cake/cupcake recipe to achieve the ombre effect. It will work with any white/off white colored cake mix (like vanilla). Other cake mixes (like yellow or butter) will change the final color of your cupcake. As for other cake/cupcake recipes, it depends on how the recipe is structured. The only instance I can foresee this not working is if your recipe calls for beaten egg whites folded into the batter because the final batter will deflate as you mix the food color in and will affect the final texture of the cupcake.
The process of baking with my 5-year-old was not that difficult. It was actually fun and helped me remember those early days that started my love of baking.
I just have a few tips if you ever decide to bake with a child (or just to make clean-up easier on yourself for that matter).
- Cover the surfaces in plastic wrap – it makes for easy clean-up. Once you’re done, you can just remove the plastic wrap and toss!
- Measure ingredients on a piece of parchment paper so after they finish measuring each ingredient, you can return what didn’t make it into the measuring cup without waste.
- Use kid-friendly tools if you have them. She used a dull butter knife to level off the measuring cups and the cookie scoop made filling the cupcake liners fun and less messy.
- Let them have fun! This is a great opportunity for learning about math (measuring), science (heat makes the ingredients react), and art (color exploration). It also teaches patience – they can watch the cupcakes bake up in the oven.
- 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ stick (4 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp almond extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Food coloring in color of your choice
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place liners in a 12 cup cupcake pan.
- In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
- Using electric or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until color has lightened and it looks fluffy and creamy. Scrape down bowl using rubber spatula.
- Add egg and the extracts to mixer and mix until smooth.
- Alternate mixing flour mixture (3 additions) with buttermilk (2 additions), mixing after each addition until just combined.
- Scrape bowl and mix for 15 more seconds.
- Divide batter evenly into 3 bowls and dye each bowl of batter 3 different shades of the same color. (example, for a pink ombre cupcake, put 3 drops of pink food color in one bowl, 2 drops in another bowl, and 1 drop in last bowl. You can add more or less coloring to achieve the color shades you want.)
- Mix color in gently.
- Divide bowl with darkest color among the liners. Rap against counter to spread batter.
- Repeat with remaining two colors, starting with the middle color next and ending with the lightest color.
- Bake for 16-18 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
- Remove cupcakes from pan right away.
- Allow to cool before frosting.Helpful tips: Use a standard cookie scoop to portion each layer of batter in the pan. 3 of these scoops fill a cupcake pan perfectly which makes creating theombre effect much easier to achieve.