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Make easy unicorn cupcakes decorated with dreamy pastel buttercream swirls and sprinkles! This step-by-step tutorial walks you through how to create magically frosted birthday cupcakes for your next unicorn-themed party.
Keep the whimsy going and use these same techniques to frost a buttercream flower cake.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Easy Unicorn Birthday Cupcakes
- Why You’ll Love This Cupcake Recipe
- Cupcake Ingredients
- What Frosting Should I Use?
- How to Make Unicorn Cupcakes
- Coloring Buttercream Frosting
- Tools You’ll Need for Decorating
- How to Decorate Unicorn Cupcakes
- Helpful Tips and Variations
- How to Store Decorated Cupcakes
- More Cupcake Decorating Ideas
- Get the Recipe
Easy Unicorn Birthday Cupcakes
Today, we’re going to brighten up your next birthday or celebration with these dreamy frosted unicorn cupcakes! These delightfully decorated cupcakes are my interpretation of the viral unicorn cupcake trend, with no horns and ears required. Unicorns come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, after all.
We’ll start with a batch of fluffy moist vanilla cupcakes, then dive into a step-by-step on how to achieve those gorgeous piped swirls of pastel-colored buttercream.
Decorating bakery-worthy cupcakes is way easier than you think! I’m a firm believer that anyone can make beautiful frosted desserts with the right tools and a little practice. Once you’ve mastered the basics of cupcake decorating, and you’re ready to try something new, this is a great place to start.
Why You’ll Love This Cupcake Recipe
- Easy frosting techniques. You’re going to feel like a total professional after you’ve frosted your unicorn cupcakes! This tutorial uses easy tools and techniques to create cupcakes that are out-of-this-world.
- Soft, fluffy cupcakes. The frosting might be the star here, but that doesn’t mean we’re sacrificing the cupcake underneath. I’ve included my recipe for the best vanilla cupcakes as the base!
- Perfect for theme parties. Bright, colorful pastel frosting swirls and plenty of gold sprinkles make these unicorn cupcakes the perfect dessert for unicorn-themed birthdays, bridal showers, and baby showers, too.
For this tutorial, I use my favorite vanilla cupcakes. Below is a short overview with notes on the key ingredients that make these cupcakes the best. Be sure to scroll to the detailed recipe card below the post for the full amounts and instructions.
- Sugar and Oil – I recommend regular granulated sugar. When it comes to the softest cakes and cupcakes, use vegetable oil (or another neutral-flavored oil) in place of butter. The reason is that oil stays liquid at room temperature, for an ultra-moist and tender crumb. It makes a huge difference!
- Eggs– Should be at room temperature.
- Vanilla – For perfect vanilla cupcakes, use real vanilla extract. The flavor is so much better than imitation vanilla.
- Sour Cream – In addition to the oil, sour cream is my second secret to the fluffiest, moist cupcakes. I This recipe will also work with Greek yogurt if you’re out of sour cream. Just be sure it’s at room temperature.
- Flour– the good news is, you can use regular all-purpose flour or make them gluten-free. However, this recipe is not designed to work with cake flour.
- Baking Powder, Salt
- Milk– Should be at room temperature.
You can apply the decorating technique in this tutorial to any kind of cupcake you’d like! I make this recipe with vanilla cupcakes, but you could easily make chocolate cupcakes, funfetti cupcakes, Red Velvet or any cupcake you prefer.
What Frosting Should I Use?
For the frosting, I use my best vanilla frosting and dye it the pretty pastels that you see in the photos. A stable, pipeable buttercream frosting is a must for decorating unicorn cupcakes!
My perfect vanilla frosting holds color well, pipes smoothly, and comes together with just a few basic ingredients. Highly recommend it for this recipe! I include the directions for my vanilla buttercream in the recipe card. Also, check out my tutorial on how to make buttercream for more helpful tips.
How to Make Unicorn Cupcakes
First things first, you’ll whip up a batch of homemade vanilla cupcakes and frosting.
- Make the batter. Cream sugar together with oil, eggs, and vanilla, followed by sour cream. Next, combine the dry ingredients separately. Add the mixture to the batter a little at a time, alternating with the milk until combined. The batter will be on the thinner side, so make sure that you stir the batter well from bottom to top after mixing.
- Portion and bake. Portion the cupcake batter between the wells of a lined cupcake pan. Bake at 350ºF for 14-16 minutes, then take the cupcakes out and leave them to cool. They’ll need to be at room temperature before you go ahead with frosting them.
- Prepare the frosting. You’ll start by whipping cold butter in your stand mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually add powdered sugar, and finally heavy cream. Give the frosting a good final whip to get the consistency airy and smooth. Like the cupcakes, be sure to scroll to the recipe card with the full frosting ingredients and directions.
Coloring Buttercream Frosting
With your cupcakes baked and the frosting whipped and ready, it’s time to pick your color palette. I suggest choosing 3 colors while leaving a portion of the frosting uncolored (white). For these cupcakes, my 3 frosting colors are pink, teal, and purple.
My tutorial on how to color buttercream covers everything you need to know in order to achieve vibrant, beautifully colored frosting. Here’s what you’ll need for these unicorn cupcakes:
- Pink – Our primary color. You’ll need about 2 cups of pink frosting for the roses.
- Teal – The secondary color, used to make the squiggly ribbons. You’ll need approx. 1 ½ cups of teal frosting.
- Purple – Let’s call this the accent color. You’ll need 1 ½ cups of purple frosting for the rosettes and swirls.
- White – Frosting that’s left as is, uncolored. I combine white and purple frosting when piping the marbled swirl that you can see in the picture below.
What Can I Use to Color Buttercream?
To color your frosting bright, unicorn-themed colors, you’ll need good quality food-grade dyes. I recommend using gel food dyes, like the ones from Wilton Color Right or AmeriColor. Gel dyes are more potent than traditional food coloring (like the kind you find in supermarkets) and won’t water down your buttercream. See my how-to guide for coloring frosting, linked above, for details.
Tools You’ll Need for Decorating
You’re just about ready to get decorating! Here’s a short list of helpful tools you’ll need to frost unicorn cupcakes like the ones pictured:
- Piping Bags and Couplers – For this cupcake tutorial, I recommend 12-inch piping bags. A coupler also comes in handy for seamlessly changing out the frosting colors. Check out my post on how to use a piping bag with loads of helpful info. I go over how to fill a piping bag, fit it with piping tips and couplers, and more.
- 1M Piping Tip – Use the 1M tip from Wilton for the large pink roses.
- Open Star Tips – I recommend Wilton’s #21 or #18 tips for smaller swirls.
- French Tip – Use the #199 piping tip from Wilton for the small rosettes.
- Petal Tip – I created the squiggly ribbons using the Wilton decorating tip #104.
- Sprinkles – No unicorn-fabulous cupcake is complete without sprinkles! I use sprinkles from Sweetapolita , they’re my favorite!
How to Decorate Unicorn Cupcakes
I borrowed the decorating technique that I used for my frosted sugar cookies for these magical unicorn cupcakes. Have you ever seen a prettier cupcake?
If you’re new to decorating with buttercream frosting, I have a handy tutorial on how to use piping tips that can get you acquainted with the techniques we use in this tutorial. You’ll be a piping pro in no time! Here’s how to create your unicorn designs:
Create the Roses
- Using a 1M tip and your pink frosting, pipe the large roses. Starting from the center of the rose, slowly pipe in a circular motion outwards.
Create the Ribbons
- Using a petal piping tip and teal frosting, hold the piping bag so that the long edge of the piping tip is perpendicular to the top of the cupcake. Press gently while moving the tip back and forth over the cupcake.
Add the Rosettes
- Use an open star tip with purple frosting to pipe out the small tight swirls, starting in the center and swirling out.
- Using a French tip, press out the small purple rosettes by placing the piping tip over the cupcake and squeezing out the frosting before lifting it up and away.
Each cupcake is unique, so feel free to get creative. And don’t forget to finish with plenty of sprinkles!
Helpful Tips and Variations
You’re going to love baking and decorating these fancy unicorn cupcakes. Here are my final tips for perfect frosted cupcakes, along with some fun variations to try:
- Practice beforehand. New to piping frosting? Practice your technique on a piece of parchment paper before you start! You can always scrape any practice frosting back into your piping bag, for less waste.
- Add a filling. For even more unicorn magic, fill your cupcakes with sprinkles before you frost them. It’s easy enough to do by carving out the middle of the cupcake (not all the way to the bottom) and filling the hole with sprinkles. Replace the carved-out cake piece afterward to seal the sprinkles inside.
- Add sprinkles just before serving. If you’re preparing your cupcakes and frosting them ahead of time, I recommend leaving the sprinkles off until you’re ready to serve (although it’s harder to stick them to the cupcake as the buttercream will crust). Some of the metallic sprinkles start to melt when left for prolonged periods of time. The cupcakes can be frosted up to 2 days in advance, see below for detailed storage instructions.
How to Store Decorated Cupcakes
- Storing. These frosted cupcakes stay fresh for up to 2-3 days when stored airtight at room temperature. I only recommend refrigerating cakes and cupcakes if you live in a hot and humid environment. In this case, take the cupcakes out of the fridge ahead to serve at room temperature.
- Freeze. If you’d like to freeze cupcakes, it’s best to do so before they’re frosted. Store unfrosted cupcakes airtight and keep them frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost the cupcakes in the fridge before frosting.
More Cupcake Decorating Ideas
- Frosted Football Cupcakes
- Green Velvet Cupcakes
- Candy Corn Cupcakes
- Christmas Tree Cupcakes
- American Flag Cupcake Cake
- Easter Bunny Cupcakes
Learn how to make easy unicorn cupcakes for your next birthday party! Just a few piping tips, some colorful frosting, and sprinkles are all you need to make the most magical frosted cupcakes.
For the cupcakes
- 2 cups (380g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (118 ml) vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon (14.8 ml) vanilla extract
- ½ cup(118 ml) sour cream, at room temperature
- 2 ½ cups (350 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
- 3 teaspoons (11.2 g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- 1 ¼ cups (296 ml) milk (any type), at room temperature
For the frosting
- 1 1/2 cups (339 g) (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold.
- 5 cups (650 g) powdered sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) heavy whipping cream (or milk)
For the cupcakes:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake liners.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until the eggs and oil are well incorporated and the batter is lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
- Next mix in the sour cream and beat until well combined.
- Add half the flour followed by the baking powder and salt, and beat on low speed while pouring in half of the milk and mix just until the flour starts to incorporate.
- Finally add the remaining flour, mixing on low speed while pouring in the remaining milk and beating until all of the ingredients are well combined.
- Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir the batter from the bottom to the top to ensure it’s well mixed.
- Using a large cookie scoop, divide the batter evenly, filling each liner 2/3 full. Careful not to overfill.
- Bake at 350°F for 14-16 minutes. Test the cupcakes for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cupcake. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cupcakes are done. Cool Completely.
For the frosting:
- Cut the butter into pieces. Using the paddle attachment, whip the butter for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally, and beating until the butter look light in color.
- Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix on low speed until incorporated into the butter then add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Beat for about 60 seconds.
- Next, add an additional 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat on low speed until sugar is incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes.
- Add the last 1 cup of powdered sugar along with the heavy whipping cream. Beat on low until the ingredients start to mix together. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for another 3-5 minutes to whip additional air into the frosting.
- The batter will be quite thin. It’s important that you stir the batter after mixing, to ensure everything on the bottom of the bowl is well mixed.
- Sour cream substitute: You can substitute light sour cream for Greek yogurt
- To make 12-14 cupcakes: halve all the dry and wet ingredients, but use 2 whole eggs, and 2/3 cups of milk.
- Category: Cupcakes
- Method: Oven
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: unicorn cupcakes, unicorn cake ideas, cupcake decorating ideas