Easy Butterfly Cupcakes
Originally Posted August 12, 2020. Updated 02/19/2021
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to make “butterfly cupcakes” for us sometimes.
They were super cute - the top of each cupcake was cut off and split in half. Rather than frosting, the cupcake was topped with really thick pudding - usually lemon.
The top pieces became “wings”, and the whole thing was dusted with powdered sugar.
As a frosting FIEND, I’m a little surprised - looking back - that I was so big on these cupcakes. There’s no frosting!
It’s something I carried through into adulthood, and still make them for friends from time to time. I always think of my grandma when I’m making them, I miss her. While I think of her often, cooking her recipes (Like Gramma’s Potato Salad, her Homemade Perogies Recipe, or ... Mushroom Soup and Eggs on Toast !) definitely brings her memory to the forefront!
While she usually kept to the same format - white cupcake, lemon pudding filling, medium-depth cut - I tend to play a bit more fast and loose with it, depending on my mood.
Customizing your Easy Butterfly Cupcakes
Sometimes - though rarely - I’ll use something other than vanilla for my cupcake batter. I tend to like the flavour of my vanilla cupcakes with the pudding, though. (See the end of this post for my Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe!)
Additionally, some of the other basic flavours of cake don’t look great as “butterflies”, IMHO. Chocolate or spice cake would be more like moths, I think... and I am not a fan of moths!
Red velvet could work well with a vanilla pudding, but again, I think the red colour is a bit heavy.
Totally personal preference, of course - and likely influenced by what I’m used to - but I like the lighter look of the white based cupcake.
Generally speaking, I prefer the texture of Jello’s “Cook and Serve” filling for making these cupcakes, as they set a bit thicker when the pudding cools fully.
I’ve had a hard time finding it lately, though. Is it no longer a thing in Canada? Was it discontinued? I hope not!
Anyway, that pudding mix tends (tended?) to come in some fairly basic flavours, like coconut, lemon, butterscotch, and chocolate. Of those, I preferred everything but chocolate - again, just for appearance.
That’s not to say I’ve never used chocolate, however:
Between the limited availability of the Cook and Serve variety, and the more narrow availability of flavours, sometimes I’ll make this with instant pudding, just using a little less milk when doing so.
Banana Cream and Pistachio are particularly great as fillings for this!
Sometimes, I either don’t want to mess around with pudding, or I just really want FROSTING... as pictured with the cupcakes in this post.
In that case, I go with either
- My Swiss Meringue Buttercream: When I’m feeling indulgent or bougie), or
- My American Buttercream: When I just want a decent hit of sugar, without much effort!
Sometimes I like to add a surprise filling.
When you cut your top off at a more steep angle - cutting a cone shape into the cupcake base - you can fit more filling.
A bit of pie filling or pudding in that deeper cavity, sealed off with piped frosting is a fun alternative to a single type of filling
Adjusting the angle of your knife when cutting the top of the cupcake off can vary your end result a bit:
A shallow cut - even just slicing the top off, flat - gives you dainty “wings” ... and not much of a cavity for filling. When I do it this way, I find it works better with frosting.
A deeper cut - angling the tip of the knife downward and towards the center of the cupcake - gives bulkier “wings”, but also more room for filling.
I like how this style acts more like a cup, so tend to cut a bit deeper when I’m doing a pudding topping, or a combo topping.
The diameter of your cut - the size of the piece you cut off the cupcake - affects the size of your “wings”.
Personally, I like to cut fairly close to the edge, leaving only a small lip of the base cupcakes. I like the bigger wings - I’m not fond of tiny “wings” on top, it’s just a proportion / aesthetic thing for me.
Also: The bigger the wings, the more exposed cupcake... more excuse for more frosting / filling!
Generally speaking, I like to keep with tradition, and just sift icing sugar over the assembled cupcakes.
SOMETIMES, though, I’ll deviate a bit.
Cupcake sprinkles or coloured sugar can be fun. Cake decorator’s edible glitter can be pretty fabulous, used judiciously!
How to Make Easy Butterfly Cupcakes
Once you’ve made your decisions on cupcake flavour, filling, and general look, you can put your cupcakes together.
These assemble very quickly - a matter of moments, really!
Bake Your Cupcakes
Bake your cupcakes, and allow them to cool to room temperature. My recipe for vanilla cupcakes follows this tutorial, but you can use any cupcake recipe you like - or even a box mix. Whatever works!
Make Your Pudding or Frosting
As I mentioned earlier:
Cook and serve is best, just let it cool slightly before using it. You don’t want it molten, but you also don’t want it to cool and set before using it.
If you use instant pudding, just use about ½-2/3 of the milk called for in the directions.
Cut The Top Off
Using a sharp knife, cut the top off each cupcake.
While you CAN just cut it straight across - especially if it has a decent sized dome - I like to cut in towards the center, angling the knife downward, and cutting a complete circle around each cupcake.
Here’s a video demonstration of the technique, if that doesn’t make sense.
Split your “Wings
Neatly and evenly, cut each cupcake top in half.
Fill or Frost your Butterfly Cupcake
If you’re using pudding or pie filling, carefully spoon it into the center of the cupcake, making sure it won’t overflow.
If you’re using frosting, you can frost in one of 3 ways, listed in order of effort:
Just spoon it on, and use the back of the spoon to shape / swirl the frosting.
Simple Pipe It
Transfer your frosting to a piping bag. Cut the end off the bag - creating an opening at least ½" diameter - and pipe a swirl of frosting on each cupcake.
Pipe with a Coupler and Tip
If you have some basic cake decorating supplies, fit your piping bag with a coupler and wide tip of your choice - round or star tip.
Fill the bag with frosting, pipe a swirl of frosting on each cupcake.
Set Your Wings In Place
Place a pair of “wings” - cut side down - across the center of a cupcake. Repeat with remaining cupcakes.
Using a small, fine strainer, sift some icing sugar over each cupcake.
If you’re using coloured sugar, edible glitter, etc, just carefully sprinkle it over each completed cupcake.
Admire Your Work
Enjoy making my Easy Butterfly Cupcakes!
If you feel like leveling up your butterfly cupcake game, be sure to check out my 3D Monarch Butterfly Cupcakes!
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More Cake Recipes!
Looking for more ridiculously delicious cake recipes? As the "Evil Cake Overlord", I've got you covered! (Ps: Check out my instructions for making Marshmallow Fondant, as well!)
Bundt, Sheet, & Upside Down Cakes
Bananas Foster Upside Down Cake
Brandied Apple Upside Down Cake
Deep N Delicious Cake
French Martini Bundt Cake
French Martini Upside Down Cake
Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake
Pina Colada Bundt Cake
Strawberry Mango Marble Cake
- 3 cups Cake flour
- 2 ¼ cups Granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp Baking powder
- 1 ½ tsp Salt
- 3 ½ oz Instant vanilla pudding mix**
- 6 Eggs
- 1 ½ cups Butter melted
- 2 Tbsp Pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cup Water
- 1 batch batch Swiss Meringue buttercream
- 1 batch American buttercream
- 2 tsp Flavor extract of choice
- Food colouring optional
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Line 24 muffin tins with cupcake liners.
- Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pudding mix in a large mixing bowl. Add in eggs and butter, beating until smooth.
- Carefully add melted butter and vanilla to the mix, mixing on medium speed until smooth.
- Add water to batter, mix until well incorporated and smooth.
- Divide batter among prepared muffin pans. Bake until golden and knife inserted into center of batter comes out clean - about 20-22 mins .
- Allow to cool to cool to room temperature, before decorating.
- Prepare either Swiss meringue buttercream or American buttercream, following the applicable recipe and flavouring and colouring it as you like.
- Frost your cupcake as desired, enjoy!
More Recipes that Remind me of Gramma
Since originally writing this post, my gramma has sadly passed... but her memory lives on.
Here are a few recipes that remind me of her, whether as something she taught me to make, a replica of a retail treat we used to enjoy together, or one of my own recipes that she would request whenever I’d visit, as an adult.
Gramma's Perogies Recipe
Homemade Marshmallow Cones
Homemade Clodhoppers Candy
Puffed Wheat Squares
Honey Dill Dipping Sauce
Paska - Ukrainian Easter Bread
Baking Powder Biscuits
Grandma's Potato Salad
Breakfast of Champions
Mushroom Soup and Eggs on Toast
French Canadian Pea Soup
Beep Drink Recipe