For these adorable cupcakes in holiday shapes, you don’t need to buy fancy molds or cutters. Simply roll foil into balls and tuck them into standard muffin cups. Using a box mix batter makes them even easier. This recipe makes a pair of the following six iconic holiday shapes: reindeer, gingerbread men, mittens, snowmen, angels and snowflakes. After baking, go to town decorating the cupcakes with frosting, candies and sprinkles. The results are very achievable and oh-so impressive!
Aluminum foil, two 6-cup jumbo muffin pans, 12 jumbo cupcake liners, 2 large round piping tips (such as 805 or 806), 2 small round piping tips (such as 801 or 5), 2 small fluted piping tips (such as 821 or 15), piping bags
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two 6-cup jumbo muffin pans with cupcake liners. Cut some aluminum foil into fifty 1-by 2-inch rectangles; roll each into a small ball. Cut more foil into four 2-by-4-inch rectangles; fold each into a 1-inch square. Set aside.
Prepare the cake mix according to the package directions and divide the batter in the prepared muffin pans (about 1/3 cup batter in each liner). Tuck the foil balls between the liner and cup in one muffin pan to make each shape for the cupcake using the following clock configurations:
Reindeer: 1 foil ball at 12 o’clock, then 1 foil ball each at 2 and 10 o’clock, to shape the ears.
Gingerbread man: 1 foil ball each at 1, 4, 6, 8 and 11 o’clock, to shape the head, arms and legs.
Mitten: 1 foil ball on each side of 3 o’clock to shape the thumb, then a 3rd foil ball at 7 o’clock to complete shaping the cuff.
Snowman: 1 foil ball each at 2, 4, 8 and 10 o’clock, to shape the head, torso and base. Slide 1 of the foil squares on each side of the torso to press it in slightly.
Angel: 1 foil ball each at 1, 4, 8 and 11 o’clock, to shape the head, wings and skirt.
Snowflake: 1 foil ball each at 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 o’clock.
Repeat shaping the cupcakes in the second muffin pan. Bake until golden brown and the cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed, 21 to 24 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the frosting: Meanwhile, mix the butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, mixing on low speed, until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and salt, increase the speed to medium high and mix until smooth, fluffy and lightened in color, about 3 minutes. Adjust the consistency with milk as needed.
Transfer 3/4 cup of the frosting to a small bowl and tint with the brown food coloring for the reindeer and gingerbread men; 1/2 cup of the remaining frosting to a second small bowl and tint red for the mittens; and 1/3 cup of the remaining frosting to a third small bowl and tint yellow for the angel wings and halos. Combine 2 tablespoons of the remaining white frosting with 1 tablespoon each of the brown, red and yellow frosting in a small bowl, adjusting the color as desired, for the angels’ skin tone.
Transfer each color of frosting to its own piping bag and fit with a tip as follows:
Brown frosting: large round tip (such as 805)
Red frosting: small fluted tip (such as 821)
Yellow frosting: small fluted tip (such as 15)
Skin-tone frosting: small round tip (such as 801)
1/2 cup of the white frosting: large round tip (such as 806)
Remaining white frosting: small round tip (such as 5)
For decorating each pair of cupcake shapes:
Reindeer: Following the shape of the cupcake, pipe the brown frosting in 1 large mound for the center of the face and 2 smaller mounds for the cheeks. Pipe 2 brown ears. Pipe the white frosting with the larger tip in 2 large mounds between the cheeks, creating a snout. Pipe 2 smaller mounds above the snout for the eyes. Place 2 brown mini candy-coated chocolates in the center of the eyes for pupils, 2 red mini candy-coated chocolates each set on its edge to create the center of the ears, and 1 red (full-size) candy-coated chocolate in the center of the snout for the nose. Carefully break apart a pretzel to create 2 antlers and insert them next to the ears. Repeat with the second reindeer.
Gingerbread men: Following the shape of the cupcake, pipe the brown frosting in 6 large mounds for the head, limbs and body. Use an offset spatula to smooth the surface (you may need to carefully clean up the sides). Pipe the white frosting with the smaller tip to outline the gingerbread man just inside the perimeter of the brown frosting, then pipe eyes, a smile and a zig-zag cuff for each limb. Place 2 red or green mini candy-coated chocolates in the center of the body to make a column of buttons. Repeat with the second gingerbread man.
Mittens: Following the shape of the cupcake, pipe the red frosting in a basketweave pattern across the top of the mitten, leaving the cuff empty. Pipe the white frosting with the smaller tip in lines across the cuff, then in a dashed line to outline the mitten. Decorate with some white sugar pearl sprinkles. Repeat with the second mitten.
Snowmen: Following the shape of the cupcake, pipe the white frosting in 3 large mounds to create the body of a snowman. Place 3 brown mini candy-coated chocolates in the center of the body, to create a column of buttons and 2 more on the head for the eyes. Set an orange mini candy-coated chocolate on its edge between the eyes to create a carrot nose. Carefully break apart a pretzel to create 2 arms and press them into the sides of the torso. Repeat with the second snowman.
Angels: Following the shape of the cupcake, pipe the yellow frosting in small downward swipes, across in rows, to create feathers for the two wings. Pipe the white frosting with the smaller tip in vertical lines to create a skirt, then three rows of small mounds to make the torso. Pipe a line, separating the two, to create a waistband. Pipe 1 line down from each shoulder to create arms. Pipe the skin-tone frosting in a mound for the head, then 2 smaller mounds for the hands. Pipe the yellow frosting in a ring over the head for the halo. Repeat with the second angel.
Snowflakes: Following the shape of the cupcake, pipe the white frosting with the smaller tip in double lines to draw an asterisk in the center. Pipe a small downward arrow on each pair of lines, then between the pairs of lines to connect them in a snowflake pattern. Pipe small dots to decorate the empty space and top with white sparkling sugar. Repeat with the second snowflake.
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