24 flat-bottomed ice cream cones
One 18.25-ounce box vanilla cake mix
3 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Two 16-ounce tubs vanilla frosting
1/2 teaspoon blue food coloring, plus more as necessary
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
Blue rock candy crystals
Flat taffy-style candy or fruit strip candies in several colors, such as Airheads or Fruit Roll-Ups
Bear-shaped graham cracker snacks, such as Teddy Grahams
1 pretzel rod
2 lime fruit slice candies
Granulated sugar, for rolling
Gummy candies in the shapes of fish, turtles, sharks, whales, starfish and other sea creatures
Gummy candy rings, such as Lifesaver Gummies
1 wrapped soft caramel candy, such as Goetze's Caramels
For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set the ice cream cones in the cups of in two 12-cup muffin pans so they stand upright.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cake mix, eggs, oil and 1 cup cold water. Beat on low speed just to combine, then increase the speed to high and beat until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Divide the mixture among the ice cream cones. Bake until the cupcakes rise above the edges of the cones and a tester inserted in the center of 1 comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks and cool completely.
Set aside about 1/4 cup vanilla frosting in a small bowl. Put the remaining frosting in a clean mixer bowl and add about 1/2 teaspoon blue food coloring. Beat and continue to add food coloring, if necessary, to get a sea blue color.
Dollop a tiny bit of frosting on the bottom of a cone (this will help anchor it to the serving tray) and then dollop a generous amount on top. Anchor the cone to the serving tray and repeat with the remaining cones, arranging them in a 4-by-6 cone grid, with the edges touching.
Using an offset spatula, smooth the blue frosting across the tops of the cupcakes, adding more as necessary, so it appears as 1 layer and the individual cupcakes are no longer visible. Smooth the remaining blue frosting on the sides to cover the cupcakes but not the cones.
Pat the graham cracker crumbs onto one half of the cake, creating a wavy pattern along one edge where the water meets the sandy beach. Put the reserved white frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a large leaf tip. Pipe the white frosting along the edge where the water and sand meet to make breaking waves.
To decorate the beach half of the cake, arrange the blue rock candy just behind the breaking waves to create the crashing surf. Stick some beach umbrellas in the sand, making sure you stick them into the cakes and not the frosted spaces between them. Cut the taffy into beach towels and arrange some cookie bears on the towels on the beach. Arrange some piles of candy rocks on the beach.
To make palm trees, sprinkle your work surface with a little sugar and roll or flatten the lime fruit slice candies. Cut into 5 palm leaves. (If you have time, let the leaves dry and harden for 1/2 hour or so, they will stick up straighter on the finished tree). Break the pretzel rod in half and stick the leaves on top to make a palm tree. Stick the tree into one of the cupcakes on the beach.
Attach one end of the twist tie to a gummy candy fish and wrap the other end around the remaining half of the pretzel rod to make a fishing pole. Stick the pole in the sand and add a cookie bear as a fisherman.
To decorate the ocean half of the cake, arrange gummy candy sea creatures in the water. Stick some cookie bears into gummy candy rings and set them in the ocean to float. Press or roll the caramel candy to flatten and then crimp the edges to make a boat. Attach a square sticky note to a toothpick to make a sail. Stick it in the boat, along with a cookie bear as a sailor.
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