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Dessert Recipe: Ombre Effect Classic Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

Ladies and gentlemen, get your “Pin It” buttons ready. Well, I would if it were me, because today we’re talking cupcakes. And not just any cupcakes – ombre cupcakes. I’ve taken my classic white vanilla cake recipe and gave it a little oomph with this stunning effect because, after all, we eat with out eyes as much as we do with our mouth, right? I’m really excited to have this as my first recipe of the week since baby!

Now, this isn’t a super clean ombre as you’ll get with a layered cake. I love Rosie from Sweetapolita‘s take on a similar effect she did on this cake: think of it more as a watercolor look, and embrace the imperfections. Some of mine looked pretty “striped”, but others were more uneven. Either way, they looked positively lovely!

Two quick notes before I get to the recipe. First, the batter in below does make 24 cupcakes, but I wasn’t super precise in dividing the batter into thirds, and I’m sure my three colors were spooned into the liners themselves in completely equal portions. I had enough batter to make my two dozen, but not enough of each color. If you absolutely have to have two dozen cupcakes with all three colors, I would make more batter than you need. Second, although this is a “white” vanilla cake, it isn’t pure white, so your final color will be warmer than the food coloring itself. For example, my cyan color became more of an aqua or Tiffany blue color (which is what I wanted). You’ll want to compensate accordingly so you don’t end up with a completely different color than you were envisioning.


  • 2¾ cups cake flour
  • 1⅔ cups sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) softened unsalted butter, cut into ½ sticks
  • 4 large egg whites, plus 1 whole egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • food coloring

FROSTING, adapted from Sweetapolita’s Whipped Vanilla Frosting

  • 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) softened unsalted butter
  • 3½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Add the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine on a slow speed until well blended.

Add the softened butter, one half stick at a time, allowing the butter to combine before adding the next. With the mixer set at slow, add one egg white at a time, followed by the whole egg, scraping down the sides and ensuring each egg white is completely incorporated before the next addition.

In a small separate bowl, whisk to combine the milk and vanilla extract. Add the milk and vanilla mixture to bowl of the mixer in small portions, allowing the mixer to combine the liquid completely before continuing. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, and continue to beat for an additional minute or two until the batter is fluffy.

Divide the batter into three equal, smaller batches. Add food coloring as desired, blending well between each drop, until you have three separate color tones (my batches used 4, 7, and 11 drops of food coloring). Spoon a small amount of your darkest batter into each liner, repeating with the middle and then lightest batter until each cupcake liner is filled ⅔ of the way up.

Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Bake for 16 – 18 minutes, or until a toothpick just comes out clean, so as not to overbake. Set aside to cool.

Whip softened butter in the bowl of your stand mixer on medium speed until it is light and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients, then mix on low speed for one minute and medium for six minutes until the frosting is creamy and fluffy.

Yields approximately 24 cupcakes.

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  1. I am definitely going to have to try this!

    Janelle     Wednesday, July 11, 2012
  2. Haha these beautiful cupcakes have been pinned!

    Gloria     Wednesday, July 11, 2012
  3. These cupcakes look fabulous :) I need to try this out

    how2home     Wednesday, July 11, 2012
  4. These are gorgeous, Maddy! And thank you so much for the shout out :) I love the idea of an ombre cupcake, because it’s like a little surprise when you peel down the cupcake wrapper. So pretty! xo

    Rosie @ Sweetapolita     Thursday, July 12, 2012
  5. These are adorable! I love anything ombre, but haven’t actually tried to make anything yet, this makes me want to have a go though :)

    Annie @ Annie's Noms     Thursday, July 12, 2012
  6. These are amazing! your photos and site are absolutely gorgeous!

    Jenny @ BAKE     Thursday, July 12, 2012
  7. i love the colors and am wanting to make these… NOW! lol

    leah     Saturday, July 28, 2012
  8. can i ask you where you find gold cupcake liners? I’ve looked, and feel like i keep striking out!

    kathleen     Monday, August 20, 2012
  9. These are very cute, but that’s all they have going for them. I followed the recipe to the letter and the cupcakes turned out horribly. Once they came out of the oven, they shrunk and pulled away from the liners. They taste awful too. I’m kicking myself for wasting all of the ingredients on these as they are headed to the trashcan.

    Renee     Friday, November 2, 2012
  10. Amazing, they´re so beatiful!!

    Julia     Monday, December 3, 2012
  11. I just pinned the heck out of your site! You have one genius of a mind and I especially love the note cupcakes!

    HelloErika     Tuesday, June 25, 2013
  12. I meant “ombré”!

    HelloErika     Tuesday, June 25, 2013