I scream, you scream, we all scream for…CUPCAKES!
My little girl turned 12 last week – TWELVE! There’s just something different about that age isn’t there? She isn’t young enough to want to play with toys and watch cartoons all the time. In fact, not a single thing on her wish list would qualify as a “toy” – it’s all clothes, athletic equipment, and technology. She’s not old enough to fully qualify as a teenager – she still watches the occasional episode of My Little Pony and isn’t into boys yet (thank goodness!) So she’s in this strange but totally awesome in-between stage where she is Independent enough to be relied on to do most things herself and can happily carry on almost-adult-like conversations and will enthusiastically go shopping or run errands with me instead of staying home to play but still enjoys spending time with the family instead of wanting to always be off with her friends.
This age calls for a slightly different birthday party than the ones I’m used to throwing for my kids but it wasn’t hard for Miss Kate to settle on Cupcake Wars for her party theme after doing an impromptu version at a friend’s house this summer. It was the perfect choice with just enough of a theme that it got the creative ideas flowing but enough independence and self-directed activity for the girls that I wasn’t having to plan a bunch of party games to keep them busy. And the bonus – I didn’t have to make or buy the cake! 😉
The invitations came together pretty easily. You can see more details about them in an earlier blog post HERE. Kaitlyn wanted to have a slumber party so we purposely kept the guest list small, inviting only three of her friends. This worked out great because not only did the numbers work out well for the small kitchen, but we were able to verify that everyone would be able to make it well ahead of time so we could ensure that our cupcake baking teams would be evenly matched.
The party set-up was pretty easy. We had actually run across the pastel chevron printed plates and napkins long ago and used those as the basis for the colors for the party. I wanted to use a plastic tablecloth for easy clean up so I was happy to find one in a great pink quatrefoil print. For some reason I kept putting off deciding on/working on the centerpieces and the afternoon of the party found me quickly running into to town praying that the tiny hardware store would still have flower pots in stock. They did! At only $1.25 each, I grabbed three plastic pots and quickly covered them in teal spray paint that I had leftover from a previous project. Then I used a tissue paper flower technique to make some tissue poufs to top the flower pots, turning them into giant cupcakes. They’re a little interpretational, but for under $5 and less than 30 minutes of work, they make a spectacular centerpiece.
I added a little bit more interest to the table with some funny cupcake quotes I found on Pinterest and printed out. (You can find links to all of them plus some of the inspiration for the party on my Pinterest Board)
I printed out a few more of the party logos and attached them to the soda bottles, using a strip cut from the napkins as the band around the bottle. *Of note: the party supplies are relatively inexpensive and simple, which is how I like to do it. The wow factor isn’t about how much money you put into it, it’s the attention to detail and repetition of a theme that makes the party special.
And I rounded out the decorations with my trademark beadboard pennant banner. This guy gets used at pretty much every birthday party. All I have to do is change out the fabric strips/ribbon to match the party theme and I’m all set. I also have banners with the kids’ names, but I didn’t have a good space to put Kaitlyn’s so I just stuck with the Happy Birthday.
Dinner was pretty simple too. Kaitlyn loves tacos but was concerned they didn’t “go” with her party theme. A-ha! We found an easy “taco cupcake” recipe idea, which made them work perfectly with the theme. All it took was baking some corn tortillas in a muffin tin to make the “cupcake” shell, then the guests assembled their tacos with whatever ingredients they preferred. I have to say, they were kind of hard/messy to eat in this form but the fun-factor outweighed that.
The tacos were served with individual fruit cups and the strawberry sodas.
After dinner and gifts it was time for the main event!
I’ll show you a peek at the party favors at this point because they come into play now. The weekend before the party, Kaitlyn, my mom and I had a little sewing party and created my favorite thing for the party – the aprons! These were key because not only are aprons a no-brainer when it comes to a baking party, but I wanted to use them to designate teams for Cupcake Wars. We made pairs of matching aprons with just slightly different color variations, then I rolled them up so you couldn’t tell what they looked like. The girls each grabbed an apron and unwrapped them and their partner was the person that had the apron that matched their own.
Isn’t the glitter embedded in some of those fabrics just so much fun?!
A little more detail on the aprons: I wanted something girly and ruffly that worked with the cupcake theme but could be taken home as party favors and used over and over again. So I bought simple white aprons from the craft store that we dressed up with some fabric ruffles and a cupcake applique. The pattern for the applique was just clipart I found online in a shape that mimicked the cupcake we used on the party logo. We traced the pattern onto the heat-and-bond and with an iron, used it to adhere the fabric to the apron. It held pretty well just like that but I noticed one of the corners of Kaitlyn’s was peeling up afterward so I did go back and top-stitched around the edges after the party.
I completely love how they turned out and the girls were in love with them too.
Once the girls had their aprons on and teams all set I showed them their supplies and explained the rules. Each team had a set of mixing bowls, utensils, measuring cups, etc as well as a basic vanilla cupcake recipe to get them started and a list of baking tips. The recipe and the tips were important because I had no way of telling how experienced the girls were with baking, but assumed none of them would be experts or have a recipe memorized – they are 11 and 12 after all.
The recipe we used can be found HERE and I copied the great tips from HERE (including that really helpful photo of the frosting designs and which decorating tips were used to make them). We had made sure to test out the recipe ahead of time, purposely splitting it in half and seeing how it reacted to adding other flavors and mix-ins so the girls would have a pretty good chance of success. This one was perfect for our purposes.
Look closely at the recipe – do you notice anything different about it? I didn’t either until the girls started cooking and we realized I had left the sugar off the ingredients list! Luckily I had the original recipe sitting on my craft table and could give them the correct measurements for that. I made sure to add that and reprint the recipes as soon as I had the chance.
The girls had access to the “baking pantry” items as well.
I also pointed out the basket full of craft supplies I had pulled together. In the “real” Cupcake Wars TV show in the final round the bakers have to design a display for the cupcakes to fit the theme of the event they are making the cupcakes for and I thought this was a great detail to add to the party. Included in the basket were tin cans, cardboard circles, patterned scrapbook paper, ribbon, scissors, decorative edge scissors, and a hot glue gun. I had also found this great cupcake liner pattern (printable found HERE) that they could use if the cupcake liners provided didn’t match their vision of the theme (this saved me from having to spend a fortune on cupcake liners). And for inspiration/direction I made sure the instructional photo from THIS WEBSITE, which is where I first saw the idea for using tin cans and cardboard to make a cupcake display.
The girls loved this part of the process and told me afterward what a great idea it had been to include the displays in the competition.
We had gone over the rules (make one set of cupcakes and a display to match the theme) and shown them all the supplies. Time to reveal the theme for the Cupcake War!
Deciding on the theme was the hardest part of the creative process for me I found that my friends got a little confused when I was asking them for theme ideas. I kept hearing “but isn’t the theme cupcake wars?” Yup. But if I just told the girls “ok, make something interesting” there are just WAY too many possibilities out there and I really needed a way to narrow it down so that I didn’t have to buy out an entire grocery store for flavor, mix-ins, and topping ideas. Plus, in the Cupcake Wars TV show, they always have a guest judge that represents some sort of business or charity, etc and the winning cupcakes and display will be the centerpiece of their big gala event so part of their scores are based on interpretation of the theme.
The theme for our Cupcake War – Ice Cream Shoppe!
I know, I know – even with the theme constraints I was able to go a little overboard on this one. If you’re trying to stick to a tight budget for the party, this is where you need to pay attention and not get too much. I’m sure the girls’ creativity would not have felt hindered in the least with only 1/2 or 1/3 of these supplies. But it’s me here 😉 And I figured whatever they didn’t use for the party we would eventually eat or use for other baking projects. The supplies on the tray include: sprinkles (two kinds), ice cream toppings (chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, whipped cream in a can, maraschino cherries, marshmallow cream), candy bars, licorice, Teddy Grahams (I couldn’t resist the birthday cake flavor), bananas, a couple of varieties of nuts, chocolate chips (chocolate, white chocolate and caramel), pudding (chocolate and vanilla), and extracts (mint, orange, almond, rum (eggnog flavor), vanilla, rootbeer, etc – most of which we already had in the cupboard. I only added the rootbeer because one of my first thoughts after I decided on the theme was Rootbeer Floats!)
Then I set them loose to create. It was so much fun to watch how the teammates interacted with each other (one team had a very obvious leader-assistant while the other seemed to make mutual decisions), the processes they used, the ideas they came up with, the (slight) mistakes they made, and their comments along the way. I don’t know how many times I stifled a laugh watching them. And yes, it was necessary for me to sit there and watch them. They would have questions here and there and I also wanted to make sure they were safe operating the oven.
They weren’t the cleanest of bakers (thank goodness I thought ahead with the tablecloth. We just pulled it off the table and threw it away before setting up the displays for judging) but they had a blast.
The green team created Mint Chocolate Chip cupcakes with buttercream frosting and an Oreo/chocolate piece for decoration. The purple team made Banana Split Cupcakes with vanilla cupcake, banana and whipped cream filling, marshmallow whipped cream frosting (which didn’t quite hold up for them so they termed it a “melted ice cream” look), topped with chocolate sauce and an Oreo.
I found these great judging sheets (HERE) and tweaked them to match our party theme.
And here’s where the party got really funny. Enter the judges. Our judges were my husband, my 8 year old (oh, he was fantastic!), my mom, and my body-building brother who insisted he was the “visual judge.” The teams presented their creations to the judges, who scored the cupcakes on taste, texture, presentation. The judges tasted the cupcakes and filled out their score sheets, then we sent the girls out of the room while I tallied the votes and the judges discusses their opinions amongst themselves.
(seriously – at this point I was wishing for a video camera. It was so much fun)
Any guesses on the final result??
It was a…TIE! No lie. One team got higher marks for presentation while the other scored better for taste and creativity but the scores themselves ended up completely even and I think we were all pretty happy with that.
The girls then got to taste test their own creations and put some in take-home containers which served as the rest of their party favors, along with their own copies of the (updated) recipe and tip sheets.
The girls then disappeared downstairs – with the leftover candy bars in tow – for some girl talk, manicures with Kate’s new nail polish collection, and a couple of episodes of Cupcake Wars on Netflix, falling asleep at some point in the middle of the night.
The whole thing was a complete success and fun, fun, fun from start to finish. Who’s going to host the next Cupcake Wars?! We can’t wait to do this again!