How does an incompetent baker make dye-free birthday cupcakes for school? The hard way, apparently!
Since she was still in school around her birthday for the first time ever (the co-op preschool we've gone to the last 3 years ends mid-May, so was done by the time her birthday rolled around. The drop-off preschool we started this year ends mid-June,) I signed up to bring snack that week. And since her actual birthday was on a school day, I decided we'd bring mini cupcakes as part of our snack. And because none of the kids in her class (other than her, now) have any dietary restrictions due to allergies, lifestyle choices, or diabetes. Plus with only 16 kids in the class, it's not like they've been having a birthday every week, like in a 30-kid classroom. And I just made mini ones, since they don't really need to fill up on an adult-sized cupcake!
I got dye-free cake mix and frosting mix from Trader Joe's, and natural food-based food colors. But I wanted something on top. I did get some natural-colored sprinkles, but at $5 a jar, I'm pretty stingy with them. I rooted around in my new dye-free treats cupboard, and came up with dye-free gummy bears, dye-free Annie's gummy bunnies, and Trader Joe's Fruit Jellies squares. Hmm... In hindsight, I should have slapped a gummy bunny on them and called it good!
I started off by pouring some granulated sugar out onto a plate. Then I cut some Fruit Jellies in half, lengthwise, to make them thinner. After pressing the freshly-cut, now-sticky-sides into the sugar, I got out a tiny flower fondant cutter and cut out about 4 flowers per fruit jel half. Since the fruit jels only came in red, orange, yellow and orangy-pink, I chose red for the flowers and orange for the "leaves." Since there are 16 kids in the class plus 2 teachers, I'd need enough for 18 cupcakes. So knowing how incompetent I am, I made enough for 24. Because if I hadn't, you just know that a few of them would have hit the floor later when I was trying to put them on the cupcakes! Or I'd somehow manage to roll them in icing and ruin them. Whatever. I would have had to get everything back out and make more.
heart-shaped fondant cutter.
Since I was making these a few days in advance, I scooped them all into a resealable container and put them in the dye-free treats cupboard (dark and cool area. Perfect!)
The cupcakes were baked two nights before her birthday, since I knew they'd keep for a day in an airtight container, no problem. Instead of the 1/2 cup oil or butter called for in the recipe, however, I added a pouch of Plum Organics Spinach, Peas and Pear baby food puree. It wasn't quiiiiite half a cup, so I topped it off with less than a tablespoon of oil. I knew from past experience that with the chocolate cake, at least, you don't taste the veggies, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that the cupcake wrappers weren't all oily and see-through after baking, like they always are with oil.
I know you can freeze baked cupcakes for a while, which is my plan to have on-hand to substitute for cake at birthday parties (and her preschool agreed to store some in their freezer for her next school year, in case school chums bring some for snack!) But I used maybe 1/3rd of the batter to make 24 mini cupcakes. I do SO not need 48 extra mini cupcakes in my freezer! Or even 24 regular ones! So I divided the remaining batter in half and froze it in freezer baggies! Much less room, and I can just bake smaller batches once the extra mini cupcakes from this batch are used up.
Using a special set of long-handled bento tweezers I got at Daiso, I carefully placed one flower and two "leaves" on each cupcake. They looked a little funny, since there was no green. But the birthday girl wanted purple, and purple she shall have! My husband thought that my candy flowers and leaves looked weird. Like Aplets and Cotlets. Hmph. Although the way I placed the "leaves" on most of them, they looked more like weird little animal heads. Oh well.
cupcake carrier. I felt safer with the extra ones in the spaces between the circles, rather than in another tray. Less room to bounce if they got jostled around. Hmmm. 1 left. Should I send it in case of a parent-volunteer, or for the administrative teacher upstairs in the office? Naw. So Mama got to taste-teste. *buuuurp*
As it turns out, there was a parent-volunteer that day. Or at least I caught a quick glimpse of another adult in the room as I dropped off snack. Tough nuts for her! And the head teacher didn't think my cupcakes looked funny. She said they looked great! So THERE!
At pick-up, the teacher who brought Z out said that they had been really tasty, and a little fruity. I'm betting it was the fruit jellies, since I couldn't taste the spinach-peas-pear when licking batter off my fingers. And they had a fairly strong flavor. Although that vibrant fruity-looking purple could be having a psychological effect as well. We'll never know...