Cupcake Cakes

Birthdays and other celebrations are something to be treasured. Time spent with friends and loved ones resides at the center of such gatherings and usually there's cake. And who doesn't love cake? However, if you're tasked with creating the cake in question, you might find yourself feeling more than a little overwhelmed. Have no fear! Instead of rushing out to specialty shops to load up on unique baking pans and special tools, reach for your muffin tins and make some cupcakes. Then put on your thinking cap and something as adorable as this might wander into your birthday party:

That's 24 chocolate-fudge cupcakes frosted with creamy peanut butter icing and arranged to make the cutest little birthday caterpillar you've ever seen! The legs and mouth are made from pieces of fruit roll-ups that I sliced into strips using a pair of kitchen shears. The nose is a piece of crunchy candy and the antennae are a pair of grape lollipops. The eyes are made entirely of sugar and food coloring. Hooray for an edible bug! The key to making this particular cake isn't the flavor of cake or icing — choose whichever flavors work for you — and the items used to make legs and facial features could also be mixed up to suit what you have on hand or favorite candies. What makes this work is a big space to arrange your bug and frosting that's sticky enough to mostly hold the bits together, or at least not have them slip apart as you move it.

I began arranging the bug from the back and tilted each cupcake slightly to give it a convincing wiggle. If you don't do that, you'll have a straight-line caterpillar and that ends up not looking very convincing when it's been assembled. The wiggle gives it the impression of movement, which can be fun. If you are using a dozen cupcakes, you'll probably only get one turn in the bug's body before you're out of cupcakes. I made two dozen cupcakes and a large serving tray covered in waxed paper to act as my base and I got the double turn you see above. I liked that look best and, besides, that gave us extra chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes!

Fairly simple cupcake liners are also recommended. If you skip liners, be ready for a very messy assembly! I'd avoid liners with complex patterns or characters on them, as that just tends to distract from the cute presentation. I chose simple liners in orange and white basic geometric patterns. I liked the orange since it reminded me of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and that was the flavor combination I used.

If you do not enjoy all of the cupcakes in one sitting, you can disassemble the bug and store the remaining cupcakes in a sealed container for a couple of days. Remove the candy decorations before storing, though, as they tend to "melt" a bit after a while. Also, when adding those candy decorations to your cake, be sure to wait until shortly before serving so that they don't deteriorate before it's time to serve it. No one loves a weeping caterpillar!

If birthday bugs aren't your thing, the same basic concept — using cupcakes to build a festive larger cake — applies to many, many birthday themes. For a fun stroll through cupcake cake land, spend a little time with Cupcake Cakes by Melissa Barlow and Lisa Anderson. Everything from ice cream cones to dinosaurs are covered in this whimsical book about making cupcakes the center of your next big celebration!

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