How to Make Sunflower Cupcakes

For a treat that's pure happiness, try these cupcakes decorated like sunflowers. They may look all fancy-schmancy, but they're actually easy enough to make, even for the beginner. If you've never used a piping bag and decorating tip for your frosting, don't be nervous. I, too, was once intimidated by the idea of using a piping bag. What supplies do I need to buy? What if I do it wrong? It turns out these decorating tools are here to help you succeed, not mess you up. So put on your apron and get in the kitchen–we're making sunflower cupcakes!

sunflower cupcakes
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Things You'll Need

  • Baked cupcakes, your recipe or from a box

  • Oreo Thins

  • Chocolate candy melts

  • Chocolate sprinkles

  • Frosting, your recipe or from a can

  • Yellow, orange and green icing color

  • Disposable piping bags

  • Piping couplers

  • Piping tip for leaf shape (Wilton 352)

materials
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 1: Make the Cupcakes and Frosting

Bake cupcakes using your own recipe or from a box of cake mix. Any flavor will be fine, as the top will be covered by the sunflower frosting.

cupcakes
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

You will need a white or off-white icing with a stiff consistency to make the sunflower. The most popular icing for this purpose is buttercream frosting. The basic recipe is to beat one cup of softened unsalted butter, and then mix in three cups of powdered sugar. Then add two tablespoons of heavy cream and a teaspoon of vanilla. It's as easy as that. You can reduce the cream or increase the powdered sugar to make the frosting more stiff if you'd like.

If you don't want to make frosting from scratch, try a tub of Wilton's Decorator Icing, which is specially formulated for piping flowers and leaves. It doesn't taste as good as homemade, but it does the trick and requires no work. Avoid the pre-packaged tubs of frosting you can buy at supermarkets—they are not stiff enough to hold the shape of the sunflower.

frosting
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 2: Assemble the Sunflower Center

For the center of the sunflower, start by melting some chocolate candy melts in a microwave oven. Be sure to use a microwave safe bowl. Microwave the candy melts in 40-second intervals, stirring the chocolate each time until you have a creamy consistency.

candy melts
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Using a spoon, spread a layer of melted chocolate on top of an Oreo Thin cookie.

Oreo Thin
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Pour chocolate sprinkles on top of the melted chocolate. Make as many of these as you have cupcakes, and place them in the refrigerator so the chocolate hardens.

sprinkles
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 3: Dye the Icing

You will want two colors of icing: golden yellow for the sunflower petals and green for the leaves. To dye the frosting, mix in either gel food coloring from the supermarket or gel icing color, which is available at crafts and party stores in the cake decorating aisle. The colors are very concentrated, so you will not need a lot. For the sunflower petals, I recommend using mostly yellow with a few drops of orange to make them more golden.

icing colors
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 4: Prepare the Piping Bag

Okay, this is the step that used to make me nervous. Now it's a breeze, and after you do it once, you'll see what I mean. Start with a disposable piping bag and a coupler (both available at crafts and party supply stores in the cake decorating aisle). The coupler comes in two pieces. Unscrew it, and you'll see a main section and a smaller ring. Insert the main section of the coupler all the way into the tip of the piping bag, and note where the first thread of the coupler is. Cut off the tip of the bag where the first thread is, and push the coupler through the hole so about two threads are exposed.

coupler
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Tip

There are hacks in which you can use a ziplock plastic bag instead of a piping bag, but don't do that. Piping bags, couplers and tips are so cheap and readily available. They are fool-proof. Plastic bag hacks are not.

Next, slide your piping tip onto the coupler. For the sunflower petals and leaves, I used Wilton's leaf tip #352. It looks like a bird's beak.

tip
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Then screw the ring of the coupler over the tip to secure it in place.

coupler ring
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Tip

Some people use the tips without a coupler. I always use a coupler because frosting can squeeze out of the gaps between the bag and the tip. Also, using a coupler means the coupler — not the tip — is in the bag with all the frosting. This means I can easily remove the tip and use it on another bag with a different frosting color.

Step 5: Fill the Bag with Frosting

Place the bag in a glass, and fold the bag down to form a cuff around the glass. Then fill the bag about halfway with frosting.

Twist the open end of the bag so frosting doesn't go out that end, and squeeze the frosting down to the tip. I prepared separate bags for the green and yellow frostings.

frosting bag
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 6: Center the Cookie on the Cupcake

Now it's the fun part: decorating the cupcake. Put a dab of frosting on the center of the cupcake.

dab
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Place the sprinkle-covered Oreo Thin in the middle of the cupcake, using the frosting as "glue" to secure it. You may be thinking that the cookie dominates the cupcake so there won't be room for petals. Actually, it is the perfect size. When you look at real sunflowers, the center is much larger than the petals.

cupcake center
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 7: Practice Making Petals

Lay out a piece of wax or parchment paper on your work surface so you can practice making petals. Position the piping tip with the pointy ends vertical, like the beak is going to bite something. As I pipe the frosting, I recite a four-step mantra: squeeze, shape, release, lift. Squeeze to allow the frosting to come out. Shape by going back and forth to make a wider petal, and extend it out to make a longer petal. Release, and the frosting stops coming out of the tip. And lift so the the petal points upward. Believe me, reciting these steps as you go really helps.

practice petals
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 8: Create Three Layers of Petals

Once you feel confident in forming practice petals, you can move on to the actual cupcake. The first layer of petals goes around the bottom of the cookie. Don't feel that every petal needs to be perfect or identical. Sunflower petals in nature are gloriously imperfect.

first layer
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Apply the second layer of petals, spacing them so they are between two petals on the layer underneath.

second layer
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Add the third layer of petals, again, spacing them between the petals of the second layer. This third layer should hit the top of the cookie, and even overlap it.

third layer
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 9: Add the Leaves

With the same leaf tip that was used for the petals, but now with the green frosting bag, add three green leaves to the bottom layer. You can just place them on top of existing petals. And your sunflower cupcake is done!

leaves
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

Make a whole bouquet of cupcakes, and let the sunshine in.

sunflowers
(Image: Jonathan Fong)

They also look adorable displayed in miniature clay pots.

clay pots
(Image: Jonathan Fong)