Shark Beach Pull-Apart Cupcakes

This beach scene dessert requires no slicing — your guests can just grab a cupcake and dig in.
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 2 hr 15 min
  • Active: 1 hr 45 min
  • Yield: 24 servings
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Ingredients

One 15.25-ounce box vanilla cake mix (plus required ingredients)

Three 6-ounce cans vanilla frosting

Blue gel food coloring, for the frosting

Yellow gel food coloring, for the frosting

1 1/2 cups teddy bear-shaped graham snacks

2 pretzel rods

3 spearmint candy leaves

6 chocolate-covered peanuts

One 6-inch piece striped sour candy strip, such as Sour Candy Belts

2 rolls red fruit leather rounds, such as Joray

One 10-inch piece black licorice lace

4 gummy sharks

Directions

Special equipment:
9 yellow cupcake liners; 15 blue cupcake liners; a pastry bag fitted with a medium petal tip; an offset spatula
  1. For the cupcakes: Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners; fill 9 with yellow liners and 15 with blue liners. Prepare the cupcakes according to the package directions. Transfer to cooling racks and cool completely.
  2. For the frosting: Color 3 cups of the frosting with blue gel food coloring until sea blue (12 to 14 drops). Color 2 cups of the frosting with yellow food coloring until pale yellow (2 to 3 drops). Keep the remaining 1 cup frosting white and transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a medium petal tip. 
  3. Arrange the cupcakes in a 4-by-6 grid on a cutting board or a flat square serving platter, keeping the yellow liners together to make the sandy beach and the blue liners together to make the water. There will be 1 yellow liner in the row where the blue and yellow meet; keep it to the far left. 
  4. With an ice cream scoop, scoop balls of blue frosting on the blue-lined cupcakes and yellow frosting on the yellow-lined cupcakes. Smooth the frosting across the cupcakes with an offset spatula so the blue and yellow almost meet; the line where they touch should be a gradual diagonal that looks like the shoreline when a wave comes in. 
  5. Set aside 6 teddy bears. Put the rest in a food processor and process to crumbs. Reserve about 1/4 cup or so of the crumbs to anchor the palm trees later. Sprinkle the remainder over the yellow frosting to make sand. 
  6. Pipe waves of white frosting along the shoreline where the sand meets the surf. 
  7. Break off one end of the pretzel rods to make two 5-inch rods; discard (or eat) the smaller pieces from each rod. Cut the spearmint leaves in half crosswise and roll them out to flatten slightly. Press 3 leaf pieces into the broken end of each pretzel rod to resemble palm tree leaves. (If you have having trouble getting the leaves to stick, you can brush with a tiny bit of water at the spot where they adhere). Press 2 chocolate-covered peanuts on top of the leaves to make coconuts.
  8. Stick the trees into the sand in the spaces where the cupcakes meet. Spoon the remaining graham cracker crumbs around the bottoms of the trees to anchor them. Add a chocolate-covered peanut under each as a dropped coconut. 
  9. Cut the sour candy strip into 4 equal pieces. Arrange on the sand for beach towels and lay a bear on top of each one. 
  10. For the surfboards, unwrap and flatten the fruit roll up rounds. Fold each into quarters and press to adhere. Cut a 2 1/2-inch oval surfboard shape from each. Cut the black licorice into strips for lines on the surfboards (2 lines per board), but don't stick them on yet.
  11. Place the surfboards on a piece of parchment and microwave just until warm, about 10 seconds. Press on the licorice lines and microwave just until they stick, about 5 seconds more. Press a standing bear on each for a surfer and let cool. (You can put in the freezer to hasten the process.) 
  12. Place the surfing bears on the water. Place the sharks on the water. With the remaining white frosting, pipe waves in front of the boards and in random spots around the rest of the ocean. 

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