These rainbow cupcakes are, hands down, some of the cutest cupcakes I’ve made in a very long time. The colors make the cupcakes vibrant and fun – and, frankly, they’re just too cute NOT to eat!
Although they look complicated, the cupcakes are actually very easy to make. First, you need to mix up the batter for plain vanilla or white cupcakes. Divide it evenly into 5 small bowls, then add a generous amount of food coloring to each one to create the batters for the red, orange, yellow, green and blue layers. Vibrant colors are the best thing about these cupcakes, so don’t be afraid to add a little bit extra food coloring if you don’t think that yours are strong enough. The colors should be added to the cupcake cups one at a time, working one spoonful at a time. It’s a little tedious when you compare it to a single-color cupcake, but it still only takes a few minutes to get everything into the pans.
I used a cupcake recipe that calls for oil, instead of butter, and has a fairly thin batter. I like to use this cupcake recipe for a few different reasons. First, the cupcakes are very moist. Second, since there is a relatively high ratio (compared to some, but not all other cupcake recipes) of fat to flour, you don’t need to worry too much about overmixing and making the cupcakes tough when you stir in the color. Finally, these cupcakes don’t brown too much in the oven, letting those rainbow colors really shine through. I also did not use paper liners for these cupcakes so that their colors would immediately be apparent when you looked at them. Paper liners will work fine, of course, but I would opt to grease the pan and go without, or to use silicone cupcake liners instead.
Although it has nothing to do with the color, it’s also worth mentioning that these are not too sweet, so you can pile on the frosting to top off the rainbows.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil (or melted butter)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
red, yellow, green and blue food colorings
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 10 cups from a 12 cup muffin tin (or line with paper cups).
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk and vanilla extract. Pour in dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Divide batter evenly into 5 small bowls; each should have a little more than 1/3 cup batter (approx 6 tbsp or so for each).
Add about 1/2 tsp food coloring to each bowl to make red, orange, yellow, green and blue batters. Stir well, so no streaks of plain batter remain. Add additional food coloring if necessary.
Starting with the blue batter, add a small spoonful to each of the 10 grease muffin cups (just over 1/2 tbsp in each). Repeat with all remaining colors, working from green to yellow to orange to red, adding each subsequent spoonful on top of the previous color. Do not attempt to spread the layers of color out (as it can cause layers to combined), but allow them to spread on their own.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool cupcakes on a wire rack before frosting.
Quick Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
approx 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
In a large bowl, beat together butter, milk and vanilla. Gradually add in the confectioners sugar until frosting reaches a thick, spreadable consistency. You will probably use 2 1/2-3 cups.
Pipe or spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes.
KayMay 4, 2009
My 5 year old daughter, who is currently crazy about rainbows, will LOVE these. We’ll be making them this weekend. Thanks!
KrissyMay 4, 2009
Awww. I think my heart just melted! How springlike and happy!
meganMay 4, 2009
Those would make me pretty happy! 🙂
ElyseMay 4, 2009
These cupcakes are just precious!! I love the rainbow colors; perfect for so many occasions!
aletaMay 4, 2009
Oh the rainbow cupcake. Always a day-brightener.
katyMay 4, 2009
these rainbow cupcakes are soooooooooooo cute!
DaniMay 4, 2009
SO fun 🙂
LindaMay 4, 2009
How cute these are! They would brighten anyone’s day!
JenMay 4, 2009
These are adorable! Thinking of trying these for my Share Our Strength bake sale this weekend!
JulianaMay 4, 2009
Wow, great idea…they look so cute and the kids will love it!
KatrinaMay 4, 2009
Who wouldn’t like those! Way key-ute!
AnaMay 4, 2009
You are turning me into a baker! I love this idea, but I have one question. Do you need to use the food coloring gel so that the batter doesn’t have too much liquid or will regular food coloring do?
NicoleMay 4, 2009
Ana – Either will work. I find that gels give a slightly richer color in the end, but the small amount of extra liquid from regular food coloring will not negatively impact the recipe at all. Good question!
RosaMay 4, 2009
Oh, these are so pretty! A wonderful idea!
Baking MonsterMay 4, 2009
These are the adorable cupcakes, I was just looking for a idea for my friends birthday and this is perfect. thanks so much.
leemzMay 5, 2009
God i love them, thanks a gazillion girl 🙂 I’m glad i found you on twitter. 😀
You rock! 🙂
JenMay 5, 2009
Darling cupcakes! Your photo brightened my rainy day!
JenniferMay 5, 2009
These are AMAZING! So much fun. I may make these this weekend!
Jen T.May 5, 2009
Wow, these are too cute! My birthday is this week, and I’ve been trying to decide if I’m going to make anything. Stop making my decision harder than it has to be!
UlricaMay 5, 2009
As someone who bakes mainly for children under 5 (playgroups and such things) about once or twice a week these made me smile. I will definitely make them next time I bake.
Love the blog since it always has great recipes. Thanks
GraceMay 5, 2009
These are such a great idea! My daughter will love them! Have you ever tried substituting an instant pudding for some of the flour? It can also make very moist cupcakes and cakes.
www.dillmypickle.comMay 5, 2009
These are so cute! I have seen tie-dye cupcakes before but yours turned out much cuter!
Love your blog!
AshleyMay 5, 2009
These look AMAZING!!! And I’ve been wanting to try silicone liners for a while but haven’t yet. This is the perfect excuse to go buy some 🙂
Great post, and wonderful photos!
AnaMay 5, 2009
Thanks so much Nicole. I appreciated your response and your recent blog explaining the difference between the two coloring options!
CrystalMay 6, 2009
Wow, these look so beautiful. I’m definitely trying over the weekend. FYI: There’s a small bakery in NYC called Baked By Melissa and her specialty are tie-dye mini cupcakes:-)Haven’t tasted them yet though.
LilivatiMay 7, 2009
I studied a lot of geology in college, and we would always make cupcakes exactly like this to demonstrate rock layers or crust/mantle/core to school kids. With a wrapper on the side the kids can’t see the layers immediately, but they can take “core samples” with clear drinking straws or excavate with a spoon! And of course they loved getting to eat a tasty cupcake afterwards.
Richard TMay 7, 2009
Lots of food colouring.
BillMay 7, 2009
Wow that looks very pretty. Almost so good, I don’t want to eat them! They make a wonderful decoration for colorful parties.
BlakeMay 8, 2009
Wow, those are some crazy looking cupcakes! Just stick those on a table and go easy on the decorations.
AceMay 11, 2009
just made a batch for a Minnesota party I’m going to tonight (apparently there are a lot of displaced Minnesotans in NYC) and I’m super excited to try them, they smell delish! I whipped up a batch of my favorite cream cheese icing to put on top in little cloud shapes 🙂
TylerMay 19, 2009
I really like these cupcakes. They are moist and delicious! I got 12 out of one batch though, which is a good thing. I think next time I will up the sugar and vanilla, as I think they might just taste a tad sweeter.
KeishaMay 21, 2009
I’m new to baking, and I was really excited to try these cupcakes but I think I must have done something wrong because they tasted kind of ‘floury.’ Do you have any ideas on what I may have done wrong? I followed the directions exactly, but I do admit that I substituted 1/2 the oil with applesauce, but I wouldn’t think that would make the cupcakes taste like flour.
StephMay 24, 2009
The colours are so vibrant! I would love to try this recipe because of how moist you describe them.
SallyJune 1, 2009
These are great to look at and delicious as well. I tasted them without the frosting first . . . yum! I ended up getting only 9 because I used 2 teaspoons of each color (I happen to have a 2 teaspoon measuring spoon). Thanks for the great recipe!
RecaJune 15, 2009
Mine did not come out like the picture above. They were pretty! But they didn’t look the way I expected them to.
ReenaJuly 12, 2009
can i substitute buttermilk with other ingredient?
AngelaJuly 16, 2009
Keisha- I wouldn’t think that the applesauce did it…because I used applesauce too, and they turned out okay!
Reena- You can add 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice (or vinegar, I think) to the 1/2 cup of warmed milk instead of using buttermilk. Just let it sit for 10-15 minutes before using!
I finally made these, but found it really difficult to keep the colors separate and prevent them from forming a mound in the cupcake tin instead of going all the way to the edges. So I ended up with lots of swirled rainbow cupcakes, which looked pretty too!
Could my difficulties stem from the fact that I made mini cupcakes instead of regular sized ones? I have a not-so-great photo on my blog and flickr account- mini cupcakes are hard to photograph!!
KristieJuly 17, 2009
If I were to use normal low fat milk to replace buttermilk, how will it affect the quality/appearance/consistency of these cupcakes?
powershotJuly 22, 2009
What a colorful cupcake? Also, you took excellent photos of them. Great job!
Tracey JoyJuly 28, 2009
What a fantastic idea. I think I will give these ago for my daughters 6th birthday. Thank you!
porcupineJuly 28, 2009
i tried making these twice and they didn’t turn out like yours at all. I thought the batter was too thin. The cupcakes were moist but too dense for my liking; the texture was like Asian steamed cakes. I threw away the first batch because the Wilton color gels gave them a weird chemical smell and taste. I tried using less color in the second batch and they turned out ok.
MarissaAugust 18, 2009
I made these and they were so great! I used gel food coloring and the colors were so incredibly vibrant!
chinese food recipesAugust 26, 2009
the cupcakes look so cute! i cant wait to try some tonight!
seo servicesNovember 10, 2009
Well, Rainbow cupcake is looking good. The recipe is somewhat long, but it sounds to me it will be delicious. thanks for the post.
wood burning fireplacesNovember 13, 2009
I think The cupcakes were moist but too dense for my liking; the texture was like Asian steamed cakes.