vanilla frosting

Dinosaur Cupcake Cake Tutorial

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I offered to make a dinosaur cupcake cake for the daughter of one of my friends back in May, and decided it was the perfect opportunity to do my first baking post on my blog. My friend wanted both chocolate and vanilla cupcakes incorporated, and I also ended up using both vanilla and chocolate frostings in the design. I will be including the recipes for both cakes and frostings, but will give each recipe it’s own post. Otherwise this would be the longest blog post in the history of blog posts.

Click here for my vanilla cake recipe. Click here for my chocolate cake recipe.

**The other recipes are still on my to-do list. I wanted to get this post published, because it’s been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder for weeks and I’m sick of sitting on it. Check back for the chocolate and vanilla buttercream recipes later.**

You will need a total of 20 cupcakes to make the dinosaur, a lot of chocolate frosting, a very small amount of black frosting, and an even smaller amount of white frosting. As you can see from the picture, I added “grass” cupcakes around the dinosaur. In retrospect, I wish that I would have used mini-cupcakes for the grass because, as you can see from the picture, there are empty spots where I couldn’t fit a regular sized cupcake. Or you could always pipe the grass directly onto the cake board, which would really be the only way that you could be sure to fill in every nook and cranny. Let me just state here and now that I am by no means a professional cake decorator, nor do I aspire to be. I’ve never even taken a decorating class. This is my hobby. I’m completely self taught, and therefore make a lot of mistakes because I’m making this up as I go along. But I learn from my mistakes, and get better with each cake I do.

Once you have your cupcakes baked and cooled and your frostings tinted and ready to go, lay out your cake board. I used an 11 x 14 size, but wished I had gone one size up because it was a little difficult to get all of the necessary cupcakes to fit on the board. Live and learn.

A quick tip–when you’re not using your frosting, keep the bowl covered with a damp paper towel so it doesn’t dry out. Be sure that the paper towel is not dripping though, because the extra water will ruin the consistency of the frosting.

The first step is to lay out the cupcakes in the desired shape (in this case, a dinosaur). I based my dinosaur shape off of this pin that I found on Pinterest. I went with a T-Rex because if you’re doing a dinosaur cake, you should pick the most badass dino out there. Plus, the shape is easy to translate into cupcakes.

Can you see the T-Rex?

Can you see the T-Rex?

Once you’re happy with the shape, SECURE THE CUPCAKES TO THE BOARD. This is a very important step. It would be a crying shame to do all this work just to have the cupcakes fall off the board during transit. Frosting is a cake decorator’s glue. Just put a dab on the bottom of each cupcake and place back on the board. Once that frosting hardens, those babies aren’t going anywhere.

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After all the cupcakes have been secured, the fun part begins. The trick to cupcake cakes is making the cupcakes appear to be one surface from the top. To do this, you have to carry your piping from one cupcake to the next. I went with a swirl design because quite frankly, it’s just the easiest to accomplish this seamless look. I chose to go with the Wilton tip #18, which looks like this:

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Oops–skipped a step. If you do not know how to properly insert a coupler into your icing bag, you unscrew the ring and push the coupler as far down the icing bag as you can.

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Then you’ll want to trim the bag where the bottom most groove hits (notated by the black arrow). After the bag is trimmed, gently push the coupler down until it fits snugly at the bottom, put the icing tip on, and secure it with the coupler ring.

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Fold the icing bag down halfway, and fill it with your chocolate icing, being careful not to allow too many air bubbles in. Don’t fill the bag more than halfway because if it’s too full, it will spill out of the top while you’re piping and make a big mess. Do your best to burp out any air bubbles, and twist the top shut tight.

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I decided to make my dinosaur brown instead of green like the picture of my inspiration cake, because I’ve seen Jurassic Park a million times and know that T-Rexs are brown. Plus I hate coloring frosting, and avoid it at all costs. Plus chocolate frosting is amazing.

To do the swirl design, start on a cupcake on the edge (ex: the one that will have the dino’s eye or mouth). Pipe a dot in the center of the cupcake and let it rise, and without releasing pressure, begin to swirl the frosting around that initial dot. Continue to swirl around until you reach the outer rim of the cupcake. You have to be aware ahead of time of which cupcake you are going to next so that you can continue the line from one cupcake to the next.

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As you can see from the picture, the next cupcake’s swirl will start from the outside and work in. Don’t try to connect this cupcake to another cupcake, because you’ll mess up the swirl design. You can only connect two cupcakes to each other. Then you have to fill in the gaps afterwards.

There was a section that got away from me while I was trying to fill in some of these gaps.

Ugly piping

Ugly piping

I took my flat icing spatula and carefully removed the offending sections.

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Then I tried again. I did straight lines from one cupcake to the next to fill in the gap, and made new swirls along the edges of the ones that needed it, doing my best to tuck the ends of the swirls in.

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The frosting “bridges” over the bigger gaps ended up collapsing on me, so I finally wised up and piped frosting down into the gap, filling it from the cake board all the way up, and adding swirls on top of it to make it look like it all flowed together. Of course, I did this fix literally minutes before we left, so I didn’t get a picture of it. But trust me, it looked a lot better. Learn from my mistake, and fill the holes up with frosting. It’s messy when you’re serving those sections but it looks so much better as a cohesive piece.

The Dinosaur after finishing the chocolate frosting layer

The Dinosaur after finishing the chocolate frosting layer

Now it’s time to add the details so that other people can tell that it’s a dinosaur. The detailing for this was actually pretty easy: one eye (since this is meant to be a profile shot), a mouth, claws on the foot and hand, and spine detailing.

I used the #7 Wilton tip for the eye.

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I then piped the outline of the eye, and filled it in. Easy peasy.

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For all of the black frosting details (the pupil of the eye, the outline of the mouth, the claws, and the spine detailing) I used a #3 Wilton tip.

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Tinting homemade frosting to black has proven to be very challenging for me in the past. I’ve only ever tried Wilton’s black icing tint, and honestly I don’t like Wilton’s icing tints. The colors don’t always turn out the way I hoped and they almost always give a funky taste to the frosting. I’ve used AmeriColor before, and I much prefer that brand. But I have to order it online because I can’t find it in any stores where I live. I didn’t have time to order any before this party, so I made life easy on myself and picked up a pre-made black icing from the grocery store and used that. I tried sticking the container itself directly in the piping bag, but it was too hard to squeeze. So I just squeezed it from the container into my bag. It tasted much better than the Wilton stuff and the color was a perfect black, unlike the purple-ish black you get with Wilton.

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For the mouth I piped a large V on one of the cupcakes, and then piped some short, straight lines in white (also using #3 Wilton tip) for the teeth. Easy.

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The claws were just triangles that I piped and then filled in. Easy.

Hand claws

Hand claws

Foot claws

Foot claws

I did all of the decorating work for this cake the morning of the party, so I was really pressed for time (we ended up being half an hour late to the party). In the moment, it seemed best (and by best I mean easiest) to just continue using the same tiny icing tip to pipe the spine detail rather than take the 30 seconds to switch it out for one with a larger opening. In truth, I’m not entirely happy with how this part turned out. It would have looked much better if the lines were bigger. Live and learn. I just piped a zig-zag going from one end to the other over and over again until it was completely filled in.

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And voila! Your dino is done.

On to the grass cupcakes. Like I mentioned earlier, I hate coloring frosting. It’s hard to get the color just right, and for whatever reason, it tends to separate on me (meaning that the frosting has white streaks through the color). Food coloring never streaks on me, and never gives my frosting a funky taste. But it’s tricky using it with frosting because of it’s liquid form; it will quickly make your frosting runny. So even though I knew I would get a better grass color using proper frosting tint, I chose taste over color and went with food coloring. So my grass was far from the perfect green, but it was still green and it tasted good. To pipe these I used the Wilton grass tip #233.

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The face of the cupcake shows through the grass piping, so you have to ice a thin layer with an icing spatula before you start piping.

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Starting from the outside, I piped little “tuffs” of grass in a circle around the cupcake, working my way in. Start your tip right on the cupcake and quickly pull up, releasing pressure fairly quickly. I never worry about every tuff looking exactly the same because it’s supposed to be grass for goodness sake. Don’t over think it.

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Once all of your grass is done, secure those cupcakes on the board, doing your best to fill it in.

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And just like that, you have an awesome dinosaur cupcake cake! And honestly–it’s not that hard. But it is sure to impress your guests! Mine was a hit at the party : )

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I know what you’re wondering: how did I manage to get all of this done with the kids? Answer: let them terrorize the house while I plugged away working.

Baby Ary sitting in my cookie cutter drawer.

Baby Ary sitting in my cookie cutter drawer.

You’ve gotta pick and chose your battles, folks.

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