Christmas Cupcakes are the perfect dessert to impress for the Holidays! I made them with chocolate and vanilla cupcakes and vanilla American buttercream but they can be made with a variety of flavors for a more festive treat.
I’m not a huge cake decorator or cookie decorator. I don’t really love the idea of using so much food coloring and it’s just so tedious and time consuming and honestly can be quite difficult. Then after all that work, I’m usually left a little disappointed in myself lol.
I generally like my desserts to represent what’s inside so if I’m making a s’mores cake, I love for it to look like a s’mores cake on the outside as well. HOWEVER, Christmas is Christmas and I wanted festive cupcakes that are QUICK AND EASY to make.
Why you’ll love these Christmas Cupcakes
- I promise, these are so simple and quick to make. If you look closely I only dyed the frosting green and black and to be honest, the green could’ve been used in place of the black as well.
- You only need three piping tips, that you likely already have or are cheap and easy to find.
- No expensive sprinkles involved but if you want, you certainly can add some. I used just mini M&Ms to keep it simple.
- They’re not obnoxiously bright and colorful; they’re festive but muted so they’re on brand for me lol.
Pro Tip: you can literally follow this exact recipe and tutorial to frost cookies as well! & make sure to see how I decorated my Christmas Macarons.
Ingredients & Substitutions:
- Butter: I prefer salted butter for the cupcakes and unsalted for the frosting but unsalted works for both too. Make sure it’s softened to room temperature so it creams well with the dry ingredients.
- Flour: I use all purpose flour in most of my recipes BUT you cannot beat the texture of cake flour in cupcakes so I highly recommend King Arthur’s Cake Flour. It is far superior to some alternatives in the grocery stores.
- I have used the “homemade cake flour” trick by replacing 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour with cornstarch. The cupcakes will work if you make them this way but they won’t be quite as soft and tender.
- I HIGHLY recommend using a digital scale, as flour is so often over measured.
- Baking Powder: to leaven the cupcakes.
- Cocoa Powder: I used dutch-processed cocoa powder for the chocolate cupcakes but any unsweetened cocoa powder will work fine.
- Sugar: I used granulated sugar and I don’t recommend cutting any out or swapping it.
- I use powdered sugar for the frosting and I don’t recommend swapping that. You can use less sugar than I did in the frosting, however that will depend on the temperature/consistency of the frosting and how much heavy cream/milk you add. If you add less sugar, you might not need to thin it out with cream. Just make sure you get a pipeable consistency – not too stiff and not too runny.
- Oil: I usually use a combination of butter and oil in my cakes because I like the texture from both. I recommend a neutral oil like vegetable oil, canola oil or sunflower oil here.
- Eggs: In the original recipe, I used two large egg whites to keep these cupcakes as pale as possible. I wanted that for aesthetic purposes because I wanted white cupcakes to decorate.
- However, for this recipe I went with one large egg to eliminate the waste of yolks. The color is still pretty pale but slightly more yellow. Both options work well.
- Sour Cream: I’ve used greek yogurt and sour cream in this recipe and they both work well. You can also use plain yogurt, just make sure it’s unsweetened. However, if you sub the sour cream for extra milk, the cupcakes might shrivel up a little when cooling.
- Milk: I use whole milk or two percent but any milk will work here, even dairy free.
- Vanilla: vanilla is a subtle flavor so when I’m making something plain vanilla, I like to really pack a punch but by using at least two forms for a stronger vanilla flavor. My favorite is combining pure vanilla extract with vanilla bean paste.
- You can also mix artificial vanilla extract with vanilla bean paste or with actual vanilla beans or vanilla bean powder.
- If you only have vanilla extract, you can absolutely still make these with just that.
- Heavy Cream: I use heavy whipping cream in the frosting to thin it out a little. I like to whip it as I’m adding it so it makes it fluffy and smooth. You can also just use milk but you’ll need a little less.
How to decorate cupcakes for Christmas
What kind of buttercream to use
Generally I would opt for my meringue based buttercream because it’s less sweet and easier to work with in my opinion.
However, I decided to use American Buttercream because I needed the decoration to dry. Once batch should be enough for a batch of cupcakes (12-14 cupcakes)
When American buttercream is set, it creates a “crusts”, as in a firm shell on the outside due to the powdered sugar. You need this to happen so that we can create that white flat base of frosting on the cupcakes.
What kind of food coloring to use
The main color I went with was green. You obviously could do more colors if you prefer but to keep it simple, just choose 1-2 colors. I used green for the Christmas trees and the wreaths and black for the ‘joy’ and string lights.
To be honest, you could get away with just the green color though. You could do green for the string lights and green or white for the ‘joy’.
I like using gel food coloring like Americolor. Oil based food coloring like color mill also work but because the colors are more muted and the base is oil, I find that you’ll need to use a lot more and it can make the frosting less stable. It’s also more expensive lol.
For the green color, I added almost equal parts green and black to get that muted green color. I used about 3-4 drops of each and dyed about ⅓ of the frosting recipe.
For the black, I just dyed about 3 tablespoons of frosting with 3 drops of black food coloring and about a teaspoon of cocoa powder (black if you have).
What kind of piping tips to use
I used a large round piping tip to pipe the white base and the Snow Man body. A tiny round piping tip (the middle one in that link) to pipe the String Lights and the Joy any small/medium star tip works for the Trees and the Wreaths. I used a medium sized French star tip.
How to pipe the decorations
For starters, you’ll want to use the large round piping tip to pipe a circle of white frosting onto all the cupcakes (don’t have to do this for the snowman one but you can if you want to). Then flip them over, so they’re buttercream is face down flat onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
Place the cupcakes in the freezer for 30 minutes, or until the buttercream is firm and you can easily peel the cupcakes off the parchment paper.
For the wreath
The wreath is quite simple. I just LIGHTLY pipe poofs in a circle. Apply pressure once your piping tip is on the cupcake and lift as you’re releasing the pressure. Place two or three red mini M&Ms at the top of my wreaths.
For the trees, pipe the bottom of the tree first. Start with your piping tip at the bottom of the cupcake and hold it at an upwards angle. Apply pressure and as you release pressure, drag your piping tip slightly upwards to create an elongated poof. Do three lines in a row across the bottom of the cupcake.
Then you’ll do the same thing for the second layer but do it between the three lines and slightly overlapping the top of the first tree. Repeat with one more on top.
Top with a yellow mini M&M or a star sprinkle or pearl sprinkles.
For joy, I just use a tiny round piping tip with black buttercream to write it out the same way I would if I was writing with a pencil (that’s literally what my handwriting looks like lol). I recommend practicing this on a plate beforehand. I also recommend doing this one first because if it doesn’t work out and you don’t like your writing, you can just cover it up by doing a tree or a snowman.
For the string lights, use the tiny round piping tip with black buttercream to pipe a little swirl. I like to throw in a loop here or there because you know our lights are always tangled lol. Place different colored mini M&Ms across the string in different directions. Make sure the ‘M’ isn’t facing upwards.
For the snowman, use the large round piping tip with white buttercream to pipe a nice round bug blob. Then top with a large marshmallow. Use the tiny round piping tip with the black buttercream to make eyes and a nose (and mouth and buttons if you want). Place an orange mini m&m on top of the nose before the frosting dries.
I topped mine off with a dusting of powdered sugar, gold dust and some translucent sprinkles. If you don’t have all of those, the powdered sugar still gives a nice ‘frosted’ feel.
Other Decorating Options
I stuck to five main decorating options but there are a few more I thought of as well. Some are similar to the ones I did for Christmas Macarons.
- Use the black frosting with the small round tip to pipe snow flakes and then dip it in sprinkles.
- Do all of these with just white frosting and top with gold dust.
- Color some frosting red (or use white and green) to pipe a candy cane…dip it sprinlkles?
- Use the black frosting with the small round tip to pipe cute little bows!
- The iconic santa’s hat with red and white frosting.
How to make Christmas Cupcakes with Different flavors
These cupcakes can be made with any flavor you want, as long as the buttercream is still white!
The cupcake base doesn’t matter so literally any of my cupcakes are fine for this. Some good festive options are:
- Vanilla Latte
- S’mores – do a marshmallow fluff filling inside the cupcake or marshmallow extract in the frosting.
- Gingerbread – coming soon *wink*
Since you’ll need a white frosting, you can’t really add too many things besides white chocolate, and extracts. My hot chocolate cupcakes and peppermint cupcakes are PERFECT for this recipe but you could also do almond extract, lemon, or whatever extracts you like.
If you’re not making peppermint cupcakes, I would prefer to leave the frosting as vanilla and then use a cupcake filling like I did in my biscoff, nutella, etc.
It’s a little bit harder to work with but you can make these with a cream cheese frosting by replacing one stick of butter with a brick of cream cheese and skipping the heavy cream (or using a tiny amount). Make sure to keep the cupcakes refrigerated if using cream cheese.
How to store Christmas Cupcakes
You can store the cupcakes at room temperature, in an airtight container for a couple of days or in the refrigerator for up to a week or the freezer for up to a couple months.
If you freeze them, place them in an airtight container and place the container in a freezer bag, squeezing out all of the excess air. When it comes time to serve them, they are best served at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Thanks so much for reading today’s post! If you have any questions just comment down below, I’m happy to answer!
If you make these Christmas Cupcakes I would love it if you left me a review or a star rating below. & make sure to check out my cookbook, Frosted – it’s a great holiday gift for the baker!
As always, have a blessed day and happy baking!
Christmas Cupcake Recipe
- 1 tiny round piping tip (middle one)
- 1 1/2 cup (172g) cake flour spooned and leveled
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (60mL) canola oil
- 1/4 cup (56g) unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 large egg 60g, room temperature (or 2 large egg whites if you want whiter cupcakes)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 1/2 cup (113g) sour cream
- 1/3 cup (80mL) whole milk room temperature
- 1 1/4 cup (150g) all-purpose flour spooned and leveled
- 1/2 cup (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder (I used dutch process), spooned and leveled
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 2 tsp (6g) baking powder
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup (120mL) vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1/2 cup (113g) sour cream
- 1/2 cup (120mL) milk room temperature
- 1 1/2 cup (340g) unsalted butter room temperature
- 6 cups (720g) powdered sugar spooned and leveled
- 4-6 Tbsp (60-90mL) heavy whipping cream
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 350F/177C convection (325F/163C conventional) and line 13 muffin tins with cupcake liners (preferably a light colored pan).
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, salt and sugar until they're evenly distributed (whisk well).1 1/2 cup (172g) cake flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp fine sea salt, 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- Add the oil and butter to the dry ingredients and beat together until they're combined.1/4 cup (60mL) canola oil, 1/4 cup (56g) unsalted butter
- Add the egg and vanilla extract and paste and mix until they're fully combined.1 large egg, 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- Add the sour cream and turn the mixer to low speed, while streaming the milk in. Scrape the edge of the bowl and mix just until the cupcake batter is smooth.1/2 cup (113g) sour cream, 1/3 cup (80mL) whole milk
- Fill each cupcake liner about 2/3-3/4 full, about 50-55 grams of batter per cupcake.* You will have enough batter for about half a cupcake leftover. DO NOT BE TEMPTED to distribute that among the cupcakes, they will sink if they’re overfilled.
- Bake for 16-18 minutes. They are done when you press on the center of the cupcake and it springs back or when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Remove them from the oven and let them cool in the cupcake pan for 10 minutes, then move them to a cooling rack. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
- Preheat the oven to 350F/177C convection (325F/163C conventional) and line 13 muffin tins with cupcake liners (or 12, the batter for the 13th can wait).
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, and salt.1 1/4 cup (150g) all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar , 2 tsp (6g) baking powder, 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- Add the oil to the dry ingredients and whisk together until it’s combined.1/2 cup (120mL) vegetable oil
- Add the eggs and mix until it’s fully combined.2 large eggs
- Add the sour cream and milk and mix just until the cupcake batter is smooth.1/2 cup (113g) sour cream , 1/2 cup (120mL) milk
- Fill each cupcake liner about 2/3-3/4 full. Bake for 16-18 minutes. When you press on the center of the cupcake it should spring back.
- Remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then move them to a cooling rack.
- Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
- Place the butter in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and use the whisk attachment to beat at full speed for 2-3 minutes. Make sure to scrape the edge of the bowl every so often.1 1/2 cup (340g) unsalted butter
- Add the powdered sugar, salt and vanilla and turn the mixer on to low speed, just until the powdered sugar is incorporated. Then turn the speed up to high for 2-3 minutes.6 cups (720g) powdered sugar
- With the mixer on medium speed, stream in half of the heavy whipping cream slowly and beat for another 2 minutes on high speed. If the buttercream is too firm, stream in the rest of the heavy cream but it at any point it gets too soft to frost, refrigerate it for 10-15 minutes before frosting.4-6 Tbsp (60-90mL) heavy whipping cream, 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract, 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- Use a piping bag fit with a large round tip to pipe an even layer of frosting on top of each cupcake. It doesn't have to be perfect but leave a little bit of room on the edge so it has room to squish down.
- Place the cupcakes upside down onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze for 15 minutes.
- Once the frosting feels firm, remove them from the freezer and peel them off the parchment paper.
- Remove about 3 Tbsp of the frosting into a small bowl and use 2-3 small drops of black food color (can also add a tsp of cocoa powder to it to make it darker) to make it black.2-3 drops black GEL food coloring
- Place the black frosting in a piping bag fit with a tiny round piping tip and use that for the Joy and String Lights cupcakes. I wrote joy in my normal handwriting so it may look different for everyone. I recommend practicing on a plate first (make sure to watch the video in the blog post).
- For the string lights, pipe a squiggle of black frosting across the cupcake and throw in a loop if you want. Place the M&Ms randomly in different directions so they look natural and do this write away before the frosting dries.
- Remove about 1/2 of the left over frosting and use the green and black food coloring to make a muted forest green color. Place that frosting in a piping bag fit with any medium sized open star tip for the Christmas Trees and Wreaths.3-4 drops green GEL food coloring, 2-3 drops black GEL food coloring
- For the Christmas Trees, pipe the bottom of the tree first. Start with your piping tip at the bottom of the cupcake and hold it at a downward angle (so the tip is towards the bottom and the bag is coming up across the cupcake).
- Apply pressure and as you release pressure, drag your piping tip slightly upwards to create an elongated poof. Do three lines in a row across the bottom of the cupcake. Then two poofs between but slightly higher than the three and then one more on top (watch the video and see photos in blog post). Place a yellow M&M at the top of the tree.handful mini M&Ms
- For wreaths, just piping a circle of poofs around the edge of the cupcake. Apply pressure once your piping tip is on the cupcake and lift as you're releasing the pressure. Place two or three red mini M&Ms at the top of my wreaths.handful mini M&Ms
- For the snowman, use the piping bag fit with a large round tip to pipe another layer of white frosting on top of the cupcake. Then top with a large marshmallow. Use the black frosting to pipe two eyes and a nose and place a orange M&M on the nose.handful mini M&Ms
- Dust with powdered sugar or glitter or shimmer sprinkles to make it look a little frosted.dusting of powdered sugar or sprinkles or glitter
- *I weigh 55g of batter for each cupcake. If it’s less, they’ll be short and if it’s too much, they may sink.
- I recommend a light colored metal cupcake pan if you want the the vanilla cupcakes more uniform in color.
- Store in an airtight container, at room temperature for 2-3 days or refrigerated for 7-10 days or frozen for a few weeks.