Attack of the Pandas

We had a birthday party to attend recently, and it gave me an opportunity to dust off some of my cupcke recipes. It”s been a while since I”ve done some decorating, and I almost forgot how much fun it is…

You want what?

My neighbor’s little girl just turned 2, and I offered to make the treats for the birthday party. When we were discussing what type of cake to make, we decided to go with cupcakes so those little hands had less of a mess to make (yeah, right). When I asked what type of cake she would like, I was told, “you won’t get a useful answer, all she will say is panda cake.” For those of you not in the know (and I was one of those people until recently), Panda Cake is a story by Rosalie Siedler about a little boy Panda who is supposed to go shopping for the ingredients to a cake, but he makes some morally questionable decisions about his ingredient sourcing.

Listen to the story below.  I’ll wait, because you won’t understand the rest of this blog post if you don’t.

Challenge accepted

So I decided to make some Panda Cake cupcakes. it’s actually not that hard to find good ideas for panda cupcakes, and I referred heavily to Bakerella – one of my favorite go to websites for decorating inspiration. I needed to mix things up a little bit, especially since the design calls for mini cupcake pans and I only have 1. I also couldn’t source all of the materials. Most importantly, though, I couldn’t just make cupcakes with pandas on them, I had to make Panda Cake.

The presentation

So I ended up with this:


Before using Bakerella’s design, I frosted cupcakes (both chocolate and vanilla) with white frosting and then dipped them into green-colored sugar crystals, much in the same way that Bakerella adds texture to her pandas. I have to admit, this is a technique that will go in to many more of my designs in the future. Your standard butter/powdered sugar frosting recipe stands up to this technique very well, resulting in a nice surface upon which you can create your design.

After putting down the green background, I repeated the step with a smaller blob of white frosting for the panda and decorated. Since we were trying to tell the story of the Panda Cake we added some decorations for the honey, eggs, bamboo shoots, roots and berries that the Panda Boy found on his shopping journey. Now, I’ll note here that there are a lot of cool cupcake designers out there, but one thing that drives me absolutely crazy is the use of bizarre toppings for decoration purposes. The first and most important role of a cupcake is to be eaten, and to be eaten it must taste good. If a decoration makes a cupcake taste bad, then it does not belong on a cupcake. (OK, off my soapbox now.) So I used frosting, dried fruit and cookies for the decoration toppings (ok, I like sunflower seeds, so I don’t mind them on the cupcake, but your mileage may vary.)

Here are a few other closeups of the story-board cupcakes:


Who knew that bamboo tasted like cruncy hazelnut-chocolate? Yum.


My wife came up with the idea of a blob of yellow frosting with some appropriately placed jimmies for a bumblebee. A truly elegant design in my (not so) humble opinion. The kids picked up on it immediately.

I made a bunch of smaller cupcakes as well, but they were hard to photograph – as you can see, they never wanted to line up properly:


The results

The cupcakes were a big hit. The kids loved them (I’ll protect their privacy, and in some cases cupcake-eating dignity). Not everyone knew the story of the Panda Cake so Mom brought the book and read it to the party goers before they were allowed to eat. Several of the little girls would only eat around the Panda because it was “too cute”. Fun was had by all.

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