My little man recently turned three and I made him a birthday cake. My original plan was to use my kid’s birthday as an occasion to try out the Halekulani coconut cake recipe I found, but hubby pointed out that a three year old cannot have a plain, simple, all-white cake and the birthday cake needed to be something fun. Wanting to avoid colored frosting in a can and knowing my own limitations when it came to pastry bag decorating, I made the mistake of going on Pinterest, the place to go if you’re ever feeling like you need to feel inadequate in life. First of all, who are these people who make fondant at home!?! Also, it is ill-advised to go on Pinterest the day before an event.
After some searching, I found these “Easy Little Pandas” on a great baking blog called Bakerella and figured I can make mini chocolate cupcakes instead. I didn’t use the cupcake recipe from Bakerella but used the Barefoot Contessa’s chocolate ganache cupcake recipe instead.
Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
From the Barefoot Contessa Parties Cookbook
- 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 16 oz can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup
- 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add flour and mix just combined – do no overbeat. Pour batter into lined mini-muffin tins and bake for 30 min or until set in the middle. Let cool thoroughly in the pan.
While I usually frost these with chocolate ganache, for the pandas, I made the swiss buttercream recipe from Smitten Kitchen.
From Smitten Kitchen
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 large egg whites
- 13 tbsp of unsalted butter softened (1 stick and 5 tbsp)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers. Transfer mixture to a big bowl and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. Mix in vanilla. Add the butter a stick at a time and whip for about 10-15 min until it reaches frosting consistency. During the whipping process, this frosting will look like it might curdle but just keep whipping and it will come together.
To decorate, I piped a glob of frosting onto the top of each cupcake. I did not having “sanding sugar” and found that unless you go to some specialty baking supply store or order it online, you cannot find such a thing at your local grocery store. Since this was a night-before-the-party kind of baking project, I used white sparkling sugar I found at Safeway and powder-fied it with a couple pulses in a coffee grinder. I also had a hard time finding edible ink pens so I used black frosting in a tube to create the eyes.
Although these were not completely impossible to recreate like most other things on Pinterest, between dividing out the white confetti pieces from the rest of the colors, separating out individual tiny flakes of chocolate jimmies and carefully placing the three parts that make up the panda eyes and mouths onto a million tiny cupcakes, I would not exactly call it “easy.”
In the end, I wanted little man to have a real cake so I made the Halekulani cake without the coconut. The sponge cake was light, springy and delicately flavored and the pastry cream was amazing. I frosted it with the whipped cream frosting from the recipe and used the same cupcake decorating technique to put two more panda faces on the cake.
Little Miss came out to Davis to help celebrate and everyone had a choice of chocolate panda cupcake or a piece of delicious birthday cake or both. The birthday boy was beyond excited about his birthday cake and his little face when he saw the cake made all my fretting totally worth it.