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Mardi Gras Cupcakes

Mardi Gras Cupcakes
There are lots of traditions surrounding Mardi Gras, but one of my favorites is King Cake. King cake is a braided pastry made with a rich yeast dough that is filled with a sweet cinnamon mixture and topped with brightly colored gold, green and purple icing. The recipe varies from place to place, but the overall effect is quite like a large danish or cinnamon bun (flavor-wise, at least). I’ve made both more traditional and less traditional versions of king cake. This year I wanted to play with those bright colors a little bit more and decided to make a batch of brightly colored Mardi Gras Cupcakes.

These cupcakes start out with my favorite buttermilk cupcake recipe and get a splash of food coloring to brighten them up. The cake is moist and tender, with a flavor that is a good combination of vanilla and butter. It’s also not too sweet, so it goes well with just about any kind of frosting. I used the same technique that I use for zebra cake, layering colored batter inside of my muffin tins to get striped cupcakes. Gold, purple and green make for a very festive, Mardi Gras themed finished product!

I used a classic vanilla buttercream on these cupcakes, partly because I like vanilla and partly because I wanted a neutral color that wouldn’t draw attention away from the colorful cake. A quick vanilla buttercream would work very well, too. Brightly colored pearl sprinkles would be a nice garnish here and look like mardi gras beads, if you have some.

If you don’t want to use regular food coloring, keep in mind that there are some natural food coloring options out there. And if you want to skip the food coloring step altogether because you’ve run out of it, you can bake the batter as-is (no layering and no coloring) and top the cupcakes with colorful sanding sugars in gold, purple and green.

Mardi Gras Cupcakes

Mardi Gras Cupcakes
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
yellow, green and purple food coloring

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually incorporate one third of the flour mixture followed by half of the buttermilk. Add another third of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining buttermilk and the last of the flour. Mix just until no streaks of dry ingredients remain.
Place just less than 1 cup of batter in each of 2 small bowls. Add yellow food coloring to one, green to another and purple to the batter remaining in the mixing bowl. Stir in food coloring until batters are uniformly dyed.
Divide yellow batter evenly into prepared muffin cups, then evenly divide the purple batter on top of that. Do not attempt to spread the purple batter, just drop a dollop on top of the yellow. Evenly divide green batter on top of purple, again not spreading the green batter, just dropping it down.
Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Turn cupcakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Makes 12

Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tablespoons milk
3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Cream butter with an electric mixer until soft. Add vanilla and milk, then gradually blend in sugar until frosting reaches a fluffy, spreadable consistency. The amount of sugar necessary will vary according to the weather and season, so you might need a bit extra if it’s humid out and a bit less if its dry.

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  • Sarah
    March 4, 2011

    These look amazing! So unique.

  • Cheryl
    March 4, 2011

    These were fun to look at, but I’m trying the traditional bread this year for the first time to serve at a Brunch. Picked up the sanding sugars at Williams-Sonoma today. These cupcakes would be great for an evening celebration.

  • Heather
    March 4, 2011

    love these! now i want cupcakes!

  • These look great! Love all the different colors!

  • Angie
    March 5, 2011

    Too cute, I was planning some mardi gras cupcakes, but haven’t done them yet, these are so much cuter than what I was thinking!

  • Tricia
    March 5, 2011

    I am so glad I saw this before I made the cupcakes I was going to make for Mardi Gras. I LOVE the idea of the mardi gras colors inside. Your cupcakes look beautiful.

    The recipe I have has the icing swirled with sanding sugar in the three colors. Hmmmm…I might do both!

  • Jenn@eatcakefordinner
    March 5, 2011

    I have always wanted to try a king cake, they sound yummy and they always look so pretty. I love your cute colorful cupcakes. Your frosting looks like it has vanilla bean specks in it?

  • Jenn@eatcakefordinner
    March 5, 2011

    Nevermind, I just read your post and saw you used a different frosting recipe, which sounds amazing by the way. I am going to try that cooked version next time I make a cake!

  • Wow, these look so amazing! I love that they dont’ incorporate too much butter and BUTTERMILk. I love most of your recipes, you definitely bake on the healthier side. Great job with the site.

  • Shaz
    March 6, 2011

    Just made these today, and they turned out WONDERFULLY, just like the picture! Plus they’re fluffy and delicious 😀

  • Carolina
    March 7, 2011

    What a great idea for Mardi Gras! Thank you so much for this idea. It’s great for those who don’t love all of the flavors of a Kings Cake but still want to be festive.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I added your recipe to my list of the top 5 recipes for Mardi Gras! If you’d like to check it out, feel free…


  • Tara
    May 4, 2011

    I wanted to let you know that I made a batch of these as Easter cupcakes–never having tried coloring batter before–and they came out fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing this new technique. I’ll definitely be using it again. 🙂

  • Kathleen
    February 21, 2012

    Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe! This is the second year I have made King Cupcakes for Fat Tuesday and again they were a hit! Everyone is impressed with the coloring and then blown away by the yumminess!

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