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Rainbow Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

August 30, 2011

When my girlfriend told me that she wanted to make rainbow cupcakes for my birthday, for some reason I imagined a batch of twelve cupcakes with two of them dyed red, two orange, two yellow, two green, two blue, and two purple. Little did I know just how ambitious she was.


In the meantime, we made sure to find out my little sister’s beloved and time-tested cream cheese frosting recipe. (So that if, in some unfortunate oven-related incident, the color streaks of batter all swirled together to make ugly brown cupcakes, then at least they would still taste delicious!) Actually, I’m not the biggest cake fan; I appreciate cupcakes more than cake because of their higher frosting-to-cake ratio. That’s right: I like the frosting. Especially when cream cheese is involved.*

I have to be honest and confess that the first time we tried this recipe, we made the frosting ourselves, but the cupcake batter from a box. The batter came out thin and liquidy and the colors started spiraling together as soon as they were drizzled into each cupcake tin. The final product was a kind of spherical (er, cupcake-shaped) rainbow, radiating out in concentric circles from a neon red core at the center to a purple/blue/green swirly outer crust (with a tie-dye muffin top). Horizontal rainbow fail. They still tasted great, though!



All that extra ambition (not to mention the extra frosting) and another simultaneous birthday party– for my girlfriend’s roommate– inspired a second consecutive batch of gay cupakes. This time from scratch. And this time it turned out that our fears of color swirlage were unfounded: the rainbow layers kept to themselves extremely well, and the colors stayed bright! The tops of our cupcakes were almost entirely red right under the frosting, so the rainbows kept themselves hidden until each lucky cupcake recipient began to peel back the wrapper.


They were almost too pretty to eat! Almost.

* Another excellent use for extra cream cheese frosting (or just for plain cream cheese) is to spread it on graham crackers as a snack: instant d.i.y. cheesecake! My sister highly recommends this.


Cream Cheese Frosting
(from my sister, the baker in the family)

(makes enough for at least 2 dozen cupcakes)

~ 1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, at room temperature
~ ½ C (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
~ 1 tsp vanilla extract
~ 1½ – 2 C powdered sugar, optionally sifted (depending on how sweet you like it; 1¾ cups worked well)

How to make it:

1. Make sure the cream cheese & butter are both at room temperature. Then mix/whip the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. (The room temperature part is especially important if you don’t own an electric mixer, and are planning to whisk these by hand; it’s entirely possible– we did it!– but make sure they’re soft enough first, or your arm might fall off.)

2. Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Stir or whisk until mixed.

3. Frost away! (Extra frosting can be saved in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week; then if you have another baking project to frost, just remove from the fridge about an hour in advance to let the frosting warm up to room temperature before you can spread it again.)

Print this recipe (Cream Cheese Frosting)!

Rainbow Cupcakes
(Adapted from this Simple White Cake recipe.)

(Makes 24 Cupcakes)

~ 2 cups sugar
~ 1 cup butter, softened
~ 4 eggs
~ 4 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 3 cups all-purpose flour
~ 3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
~ 1 cup milk
~ 1 package food coloring (containing 1 bottle each of: red, blue, green, and yellow)

~ Cream Cheese Frosting (see recipe above)
~ sprinkles (we used De Ruijter “puur”– dark chocolate– shavings from our visit to the Netherlands)

How to make it:

1. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees (or save the pre-heating for during step #4, since mixing the colors might take a while).

2. In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and softened butter. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

3. Combine flour and baking powder, then add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally, stir in the milk until the batter is smooth.

4. Assemble six small bowls, and divide the batter evenly among them. Using the color mixing guidelines on the back of the food coloring box, add drops of red, blue, green, and yellow in appropriate amounts to make the colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. (We found that the ratios suggested on the food coloring box were fine, but did not make the colors vibrant enough, so we doubled– or sometimes tripled– the number of drops suggested. This was especially true of the number of drops of red it took to turn the white batter red, rather than pink!)


5. Begin adding about 1 Tbsp. of each color to the bottom of each cupcake’s paper liner (start with either purple or red, and go in rainbow order from there). Use a rubber spatula to gently smooth the batter into thin flat layers that cover the width of each cupcake before moving on to the next color.


6. Bake 20 – 25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Wait until the cupcakes are completely cool before frosting. Enjoy!

Print this recipe (Rainbow Cupcakes)!

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Erina permalink
    July 23, 2012 9:57 pm

    How do I wish I were eating these right now…let me count the ways…

    • July 24, 2012 6:03 pm

      : ) Me too actually! I am such a sucker for anything involving cream cheese frosting.

  2. October 3, 2012 11:45 pm

    wow … look beautiful and delicious!

  3. December 4, 2012 5:25 pm

    I love these! they are so pretty to look at :-) I just printed your recipe, I will be trying this! :-) thanks for sharing! :-) (I am a big fan of cupcakes, could eat some everyday) :-)

    • December 5, 2012 7:52 am

      Thanks! We are definitely fans of cupcakes (and cupcake recipes) around here too! :) Hope you enjoy the rainbow-y results of this recipe!

  4. Cam permalink
    February 27, 2013 6:09 am

    These turned out perfect and the frosting was so nice and fluffy (way too much for just 24 cupcakes though)! The cupcake was also moist though it only took about 15mins in the oven? The most tedious part was the layers though I must say! Took longer than the whole mix + bake + clean up combined!

    • February 28, 2013 10:12 am

      Yay, I’m happy to hear that you tried them and enjoyed them! Creating the layers is definitely tedious and time-consuming, but if you have some time to sit around your kitchen, listening to music, and layering in the colors, then I think it’s fun and worth it. :)

      (And yes, I guess it was a vast understatement of mine when I said that frosting recipe “makes enough for at least 2 dozen cupcakes”… it’s more like 3 or 4 dozen, I know… sorry! I do often halve the recipe when I make 12-24 cupcakes now. But better too much frosting than not enough!)

  5. May 18, 2013 2:46 pm

    How fun!! I might make an attempt to veganize this recipe! Celeste:)

    • May 18, 2013 2:49 pm

      Yes, please do! I’d love to hear how that works out! :) It seems like it could work with any type of batter/frosting, as long as the batter is heavy enough to stay in its layers while it bakes (rather than swirling around, like in our first attempt with the boxed cake mix).

  6. Letitia permalink
    November 10, 2014 9:04 am

    My daughters (ages 14 & 17) and I made these last night and they turned out perfectly delicious! There was left over batter that we put in a round cake pan and it was so pretty. We had a fantabulous time and are planning to do these again for the holidays. Thank you for this fun amazing recipe.


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