Whip up a batch of these basic cupcakes and let them be the canvas for your child's imagination. With a little inspiration, your little ones can decorate them to their heart's content with sprinkles, frosting, and candies galore.
How kids can help: Mix up batter for cupcakes and spoon into liners. Choose and arrange topping ingredients. Decorate like crazy!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking soda. Add milk, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer just until smooth.
Spoon batter into prepared pan, filling each cup no more than 3/4 full. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven, take cupcakes out of the pan and let cool completely on a rack.
When cool, frost with homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought icing and decorate to your heart's content. Ideas galore below.
Creamy vanilla icing: In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat at high speed until smooth and fluffy.
Add milk, one drop at a time, only if the icing is too thick. Makes about 3 cups (750 mL) icing, more than enough to produce a whole bunch of crazy cupcake creations.
Divide this icing up into several bowls and tint each one a different color. If possible, use paste food coloring, as it'll give you a deeper color and won't thin the icing.
Crazy Cupcake Ideas: You can just go crazy with bowls of candies, sprinkles and icing. Or you can make these slightly more coherent creations, or maybe a little of each.
Bunny: Spread white icing on top of cupcake. Cut a ladyfinger cookie in half crosswise to use as ears. (Optional: Put a think layer of pink frosting on the ears.) Use two brown M&M candies for eyes and a red or pink one for a nose. Turn black licorice string into whiskers and red licorice string for a small mouth.
Kitty: Same as Bunny cupcake, but use graham cracker cut diagonally into two triangles for ears.
Octopus: Peel paper off cupcake and turn upside down. Spread tinted icing (choose your color, as they're very clever at changing colors) over the whole cupcake. Stick eight gummy worms into the cupcake around the bottom and add two candy eyes to the front of the octopus, as well as a small piece of red licorice for the mouth.
Butterfly: Cut a slice off the top of the cupcake so that the top is flat. Save the part you cut off (don't eat it). Frost the flat top of the cupcake with whatever color you like. Cut the cut-off cupcake top in half, making two semicircles. Stick these into the frosting to make wings. You can put spots or stripes on the wings if you like, or just leave them plain. Add two candy eyes and two licorice antennae.
Survivor Island: Frost the top of the cupcake like so: cover most of the top with tan icing for your island and surround with a border of blue water. Now add rocks (candy pebbles are cool) and tinted coconut grass. Cut a gummy spearmint "leaf" candy in half to make palm fronds and stick these on a pretzel stick to make a palm tree. Poke into the top of the cupcake for a tropical paradise.
Jackson Pollock-Inspired Cupcake: Spread white frosting over the top of a cupcake. This is your canvas. Fill several small plastic bags with various colors of icing. Cut a tiny (I mean tiny) hole in one corner. Use these for piping squiqqly lines all over the cupcake. Throw on a few sprinkles and candies.