Butterfly Cupcakes

My lifelong friend Jenna was planning a 2nd birthday party for her little girl, Ella.

She was asking me about food and planning for the lunchtime party she would be hosting, and I offered to make the cupcakes for her. Now, I’ve never actually made the grand cupcakes I was offering, and in hindsight, it was questionable of me to offer, and even more so for her to accept, but accept she did, so I went to planning. I was informed that Ella was currently into butterflies, monarchs to be exact. However, given my limited skills for baking and decorating in the first place, I let Jenna know that I would be going a little more abstract.

I proceeded to Google “Butterfly Cupcakes”, and came upon this picture from Martha Stewart:

This became my inspiration for the entire project. Immediately, I thought they could be brightened up, as this is a little too “Martha” for a 2 year old’s birthday. Also, who wants brown wings when you can have sparkly ones?

Butterfly Wings


  • Mini pretzels
  • White chocolate candy melts
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil per 12 oz. of chocolate
  • Sanding sugars in various colors


  1. Place a wire cooling rack onto a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. This will make clean up easy, and also allow you to reuse the sugar that doesn’t stick to your pretzels.
  2. Pick out however many pretzels you will be dipping. I did this ahead of time so that I could be sure I was dipping whole pretzels and not pieces. Also, your hands get messy, so it’s nice to have this all set and ready to go.
  3. Melt chocolate according to package directions. When melted, stir in oil until combined.
  4. Dip pretzel loops into chocolate leaving the end “point” as clean as possible. This will make it easier to stick into the buttercream later.
  5. Place onto rack and sprinkle with sugar. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, you should be able to dip 6 to 10 pretzels between sugaring.
  6. Let cool and move to airtight bag or container.

Chocolate Antennae

Note: Make about twice as many as you think you’ll need, as they are very delicate, and you’ll break more than a few.


  • Chocolate candy melts or chips
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil per 12 oz. of chocolate


  1. Lay out waxed paper onto cutting board.
  2. Melt chocolate according to package directions. When melted, stir in oil until combined.
  3. When slightly cooled, but still liquid, pour chocolate into a piping bag or squeeze bottle.
  4. Pipe or squeeze elongated V shapes onto paper. If you can, try to make the points of the V a little more of a dot shape.
  5. Allow to cool until ready to use.


Chocolate Cupcakes
(makes 24)

I used Pink Parsley’s recipe and will continue to make it my “go to” for all chocolate cupcakes.

Note: Use a good quality cocoa powder for this. I used Penzey’s Dutch Process Cocoa Powder, and was thrilled with the flavor.


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup unsweetened Cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot, strong brewed coffee


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners, and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of stand mixer.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract.
  4. Add to mixer, and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in hot coffee, and pour into muffin tins, filling about 2/3 to the top.
  5. Bake 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.


Yellow Buttermilk Cupcakes
(makes 36)

This was Martha Stewart’s recipe, and we really liked it. It wasn’t too sweet and had a great texture.


  • 3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 ¼ cups sugar
  • 5 large whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Sift together both flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium. Add whole eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add yolks, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low.
  4. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and beating until combined after each. Beat in vanilla.
  5. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until cupcakes spring back when lightly touched and a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
  6. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.


Swiss Meringue Buttercream
(makes about 9 cups, enough for about 28 cupcakes)

Another Martha Stewart recipe

Note: This is a little time intensive, I think it took almost an hour start to finish, but the result it worth it. Also, I added additional sugar, as I thought the result was a little too buttery for my tastes. This addition is reflected in the recipe below. Also, I think this recipe makes enough for way more than 28 cupcakes. I frosted all 48 of the cupcakes for this project, and still have about 1/3 of the batch leftover.


  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 10 large egg whites
  • 4 cups (8 sticks or 2 pounds) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • Gel icing colors


  1. Place sugar and egg whites in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, and whisk until sugar has dissolved and egg whites are hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. Test by rubbing the mixture between your fingers; it should feel completely smooth.
  2. Transfer bowl to mixer stand. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture has cooled completely and formed stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated after each addition. Don’t worry if the buttercream appears curdled after all the butter has been added; it will become smooth again with continued beating. Add vanilla, and beat just until combined.
  4. Switch to the paddle attachment, and add in powdered sugar to taste. Continue to beat on the lowest speed to eliminate any air pockets for about 5 minutes.
  5. If using buttercream within several hours, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature in a cool environment. Or transfer to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator, up to 3 days. Before using, bring buttercream to room temperature, and beat on the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 5 minutes.
  6. To color, mix in gel icing tints until you achieve the desired shade, keeping in mind color will darken slightly as it sets.


Royal Icing
(This makes a large batch, but keeps really well in the refrigerator for over 2 months.)

This recipe is one I found on CakeCentral.com, and is my go to for decorating sugar cookies as well.

Note: Even a drop of oil or grease will affect this icing, sometimes causing it not to set hard…so clean all your tools beforehand.


  • 5 Tablespoons of meringue powder, or powdered egg whites
  • 6 ounces (3/4 cup) of warm water
  • 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • 1 kilogram (2 lbs 4 ounces) of icing sugar (also known as “powdered sugar”)


  1. In mixer bowl, pour in the warm water and meringue powder. Using a hand whisk only, mix 30 seconds until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and mix for 10 more seconds.
  2. Add all the icing sugar at once and put the bowl on the mixer with the paddle attachment. At the slowest speed, mix for 10 minutes until the icing is stiff, thick and creamy.
  3. This is your stiff icing consistency, which is perfect for assembling gingerbread houses, outlining cookies and making royal icing flowers. To protect it from crusting, always cover the bowl with a semi-damp cloth, i.e. wet the cloth and then wring it out as much as possible. Do not let it touch the icing directly.
  4. To color, mix in gel icing tints until you achieve the desired shade, keeping in mind color will darken slightly as it sets.



  1. Once all of your parts are made, place your cupcakes onto wire racks or onto workspace where they can set.
  2. Pipe dyed buttercream onto cupcake. I used a round tip and spiraled from the outside in.
  3. Pipe 3 dots, one slightly larger than the next, onto middle of cupcakes, this is your body.
  4. Place pretzel wing into buttercream on each side of body.
  5. Place M&M at large end of body for a head.
  6. Push antennae into buttercream under head.


8 thoughts on “Butterfly Cupcakes

  1. Rhandi says:

    How fun, these are beautiful and perfect for a little girls birthday party. I have 2 little boys, but I am remembering (and saving this recipe) for someday in case I have a little girl or throw the right party for the occasion of butterfly cupcakes. Thanks for the great idea!

    • jaimeleben says:

      Thanks! I appreciate all of the feedback. I have to add in that these were not difficult at all. Time intensive? Yes, they took about a week for all of the parts and assembly, but none of the individual components were too difficult to do.

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