March Madness is the popular name for the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship series, which primarily takes place during March every year. The single elimination tournament is so popular that even people who don’t watch basketball the rest of the season get into it, rooting for their alma matter or the college team that is local to their area. Like the Super Bowl, it can be a good excuse to get people together for a game-watching party even if sports aren’t your primary interest, and these March Madness Cupcakes are the perfect treat to serve while cheering on your team.
The cupcakes are swirled with two colors – I choose blue and yellow (for UCLA, my local team – not my alma matter) – and they cupcakes are decorated with a basketball design. At first glance, all you see is the basketball, but the colors of your team are revealed when you take a bite! It’s a fun way for sports fans and bakers to come together during March Madness.
For the cupcakes, I used Pillsbury® Funfetti Cake & Cupcake Mix in Aqua Blue and Neon Yellow. It’s a new kind of mix from my partner, Pillsbury, and I wanted to put it through its paces. The mix is packaged in bags – not boxes – which makes for easy storage and it already has coloring added to it. The mixes are also scaled down to make one 8-inch cake layer or 12 cupcakes, while a standard cake mix makes 2 cake layers or 24 cupcakes. This smaller size makes it very easy to mix-and-match for colorful layer cakes or simply make smaller batches of cupcakes. The coloring is a nice feature because it means that you get exactly the color cake that you’re looking for and you don’t need to add more and more of a liquid dye to try and get it right.
The coloring is what I wanted this cake for, since I needed a bright blue and bright yellow to show my team spirit. The fact that the coloring is already in the mix guarantees that you’re going to get the color you want – not the faded color that can be the result of trying to add in your own coloring to a plain mix – every time. Mix up the batters separately, then simply fill each muffin cup with half one color and half of the other and give them a swirl to combine them before putting them in the oven to bake.
For the basketball design, you can use any vanilla frosting – and it just so happens that there is a Funfetti Orange All Star™ Vanilla Frosting out there that you can use to easily add color. I happen to be a little bit challenged when it comes to creating a smooth, round surface when spreading icing onto a cupcake and I wanted to get some basketball-like texture into my design. I spread a thin layer of icing on top of the cupcakes, then dipped them into orange sanding sugar. The coarse sugar gave them a great texture, a slightly shiny finish and the (light) pressure from dipping them smoothed out any imperfections in the frosting. The lines are a detail that I made with a little bit of frosting that I dyed black (brown or another dark color will also work, or you could even grab an icing pen from the baking aisle at the grocery store).
No matter how you color them, these are a fun and easy way to show your team spirit. And they’re a great project for any kids you might want to try to “win over” to root for your favorite March Madness team! If you’re planning to do some Funfetti-inspired baking, head over to the Pillsbury Baking website and show how you GO BOLD by uploading your colorful creations (baked goods only!) via the Pillsbury Baking Facebook Page or Instagram using hash tag #GoBold and @PillsburyBaking between March 24-April 28, 2014 for a chance to win an assortment of Pillsbury Funfetti products to make your baking projects more fun and more colorful.
March Madness Cupcakes
2 packages Pillsbury® Funfetti Cake & Cupcake Mix (in colors of your choice)
Funfetti Orange All Star™ Vanilla Frosting
orange sanding sugar
black/dark brown food coloring
Preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
Prepare cake mix according to box directions. If using a from-scratch white cake recipe, divide the cake batter into two bowls and tint each portion of the batter a different color.
Partially fill each muffin cup with one color batter, then fill the rest of the way with the second color. Muffin cups should be about 3/4 full. Gently swirl the colors together with a butter knife.
Bake for 16-19 minutes, or according to package directions. Turn cupcakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When cupcakes have cooled, spread with a layer of frosting and smooth it slightly into a dome shape. Set aside a small portion of icing and color it black or dark brown.
Place 1/4 cup orange sanding sugar in a small bowl. Dip the frosted tops of the cupcakes into the sugar and gently press until frosting is completely covered.
Place black/brown icing into a small ziploc bag with the corner snipped off or a piping bag and pipe a basketball design on top of the sugar-topped frosting.
Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container.
Disclosure: I have been compensated by the J.M. Smucker Company to promote its Pillsbury products, but all opinions and ideas expressed are my own. ©/® The J.M. Smucker Company. Pillsbury is a trademark of The Pillsbury Company, LLC, used under license.