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Narwhals have become a super popular dessert and birthday theme–in fact, they just might be the new unicorns! These Narwhal Cupcakes are adorable and perfect for parties, although they’re also simple enough to make anytime. This version uses buttercream instead of fondant, so they come together quickly and easily.
Cute Narwhal Cupcakes, No Fondant Required!
It’s no surprise that narwhal cakes and cupcakes have become so popular lately–after years of mermaid and unicorn desserts, it makes sense that the next cake trend would be a fun mix of the two! (Of course, unlike mermaids and unicorns, these sea creatures with long horns on their heads actually exist, but they seem strange enough to be mythical.)
These Narwhal Cupcakes are cute enough to be served at birthday parties, but simple enough that they can also be made as a fun baking project anytime–no special occasion needed. Best of all, they’re made with a quick buttercream and some sprinkle and candy decorations, so you don’t have to make or mold fondant!
Read on for lots of tips and tricks for making these narwhals, and you’ll find easily printable instructions at the bottom.
Narwhal Cupcake Ingredients and Supplies
The focus of this tutorial is the decorating, so we’re going to start with pre-baked cupcakes. You can make them from scratch (I love this chocolate cupcake recipe if you’re looking for a good one!), use a cake mix, or even buy pre-baked cupcakes from the bakery section of a grocery store.
You will also need blue buttercream–there’s a recipe provided down below. You can swap in your favorite frosting recipe if you have one, as long as it’s firm enough to pipe. Canned frosting from the store won’t work because it is too soft and won’t hold its shape.
You will also need the following (these are affiliate links):
- Colorful sprinkles of your choice (I used this Unicorn Sprinkle Mix)
- Pink Starburst candies
- Large jimmies for the smile (I used pink)
- Pink sequin sprinkles for the cheeks
- Small round sprinkles for the eyes (I used brown)
As far as supplies, you’ll have the most success with a few cake decorating basics:
If you don’t have these, you can create a makeshift piping bag by filling a gallon-sized zip-top bag with frosting, and snipping a small hole in the corner.
How to Make Narwhal Cupcakes Step by Step
Making Narwhal Horns from Candy
First things first: the horns! This is one step where you could use fondant if you wanted to. But because it only requires a very small amount, it doesn’t make sense to buy a whole tub of fondant. Instead, we’re going to use something that’s pretty easy to find in any grocery or convenience store: pink Starburst candies.
Unwrap a candy and massage it briefly between your fingers to warm it up and make it pliable. If it gets sticky, rub a small amount of shortening on your hands so it doesn’t stick.
Form the candy into a rope, then fold the rope in half and twist it around itself. Pull the twist apart in 1-inch intervals to make small horns that taper on one end. Each fruit chew should yield 4-6 horns. Thinner horns have a tendency to droop over time, so you can prevent this by making the horns thicker, making them at least 24 hours in advance so they have time to dry, or adding them shortly before serving.
The Sprinkle Base
These narwhals are more of a cupcake topper, so they need a cute frosting base to sit on! You can pipe a simple swirl to put them on, or if you want to get a bit fancier, choose a fun sprinkle mix to add a little bling.
First, fit a piping bag with a coupler–the round plastic piece that piping tips can be screwed onto. Fill the bag about two-thirds full of blue frosting and twist it closed.
Put the sprinkles in a wide bowl, and pipe a small swirl of frosting on top of a cupcake. Immediately dip the top of the cupcake in the sprinkles, and gently turn it around, pressing the sprinkles into the frosting and pushing the frosting into an even, round layer on top.
Piping Buttercream Narwhals
Forming the body is definitely the trickiest part, but with a little practice, you’ll be a narwhal expert in no time.
Hold the bag perpendicular to the top of a cupcake, about 1/2 inch above the surface. Squeeze the bag until the frosting comes out and starts forming a round blob on top of the cupcake. Continue to squeeze as you pull the piping bag back toward one side of the cupcake, then stop squeezing and pull the bag away from the cupcake, forming a little tail at the back.
Screw the leaf tip onto the coupler, and add one fin on each side, and a tail on the back.
The Finishing Touch: The Face!
Real narwhals aren’t actually that cute (sorry not sorry) but since these are cupcakes, they have to be adorable! To make that happen, we’re giving them cartoonish faces made entirely of sprinkles. Your narwhals may vary based on what you have on hand–feel free to swap out ingredients as needed.
For instance, instead of small round sprinkles for eyes, you could use mini chocolate chips, and instead of a jimmy for a smile, you could trace one on with a toothpick, or with colored frosting. Get creative, raid the sprinkle cupboard, and use what you have! Don’t forget to top each one with a candy horn for the perfect finishing touch.
I’d love to see how these turn out if you give them a try, and please tell me what dessert you’d like to see next! If you’re looking for more cake and cupcake projects, check out these reader favorites:
Fun Desserts Kids Love:
- Unicorn Milkshakes
- Mermaid Cupcakes
- Unicorn Cakes
- Flamingo Cupcakes
- Hamburger Cupcakes
- Sugar Cookie French Fries
- Even more cupcakes!
For the Frosting:
- 2 TBSP milk at room temperature
- 1 TBSP vanilla extract or other flavoring (use clear if you want whiter buttercream)
- ½ tsp salt
- 8 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
- 8 oz shortening can replace with equal amount butter if desired
- 28 oz powdered sugar sifted (7 cups)
- Blue food coloring
For the Narwhal Cupcakes:
- 24 cupcakes of your choice baked and cooled
- 2 cups sprinkle mix of your choice
- 6 pink Starburst candies
- Round sprinkles for eyes
- Sequin sprinkles for cheeks
- Jimmies for the smile
To Make the Frosting:
- Combine the milk, vanilla extract, and salt in a small bowl, and stir them together to dissolve the salt.
- Place the butter in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix for 2 minutes on medium speed, until the butter is lighter in color and creamy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Add the shortening and milk mixture, and place a towel over the top of the mixer to prevent splatters. Run the mixer on low until the liquid starts to incorporate, then turn it to medium until everything is well-mixed and smooth (20-30 seconds). Scrape down the bowl again.
- Keep the towel over the mixer, leaving only a small opening in front, turn the mixer to low, and add the sugar to the bowl. Once all of the sugar is incorporated, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and turn the mixer to medium-low for 30 seconds to mix the frosting well.
- Add a few drops of blue food coloring to the frosting to color it a bright sky blue. At this point, you can add additional liquid as needed (milk or water) if the frosting is too stiff. It can be stirred in by hand or mixed in on low speed. Avoid mixing on higher speeds, as this will incorporate air bubbles. If you’re not going to use the frosting right away, transfer it to an airtight container and press a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the frosting.
To Decorate the Narwhal Cupcakes:
- First make the horns. Unwrap the Starburst candies and rub a very thin layer of shortening on your hands so they don’t get sticky. Knead a candy briefly between your fingers to warm it up and make it pliable.
- Form the candy into a rope, then fold the rope in half and twist it around itself. Pull the twist apart in 1-inch intervals to make small horns that taper on one end. Each fruit chew should yield 4-6 horns. Horns that are very thin will droop over time, so you can prevent this by making the horns thicker, making them at least 24 hours in advance so they have time to dry, or adding them shortly before serving.
- Next, fit a piping bag with a coupler--the round plastic piece that piping tips can be screwed onto. Fill the bag about two-thirds full of blue frosting and twist it closed.
- Put the sprinkles in a wide bowl, and pipe a small swirl of frosting on top of a cupcake. Immediately dip the top of the cupcake in the sprinkles, and gently turn it around, pressing the sprinkles into the frosting and pushing the frosting into an even, round layer on top. You can use your hand to reshape it if you need to so it's round.
- Next, make the narwhal itself! Hold the bag perpendicular to the top of a cupcake, about 1/2 inch above the surface. Squeeze the bag until the frosting comes out and starts forming a round blob on top of the cupcake. Apply even pressure, making the blob grow bigger, until it’s at least 1.5 inches wide. Continue to squeeze as you slide the piping bag back toward one side of the cupcake, then stop squeezing and pull the bag away from the cupcake, forming a little tail at the back.
- Screw the leaf tip onto the coupler, and add one fin on each side, and a tail on the back.
- Finally, decorate the faces! Add small round sprinkles for eyes, a curved jimmy for the mouth, and two sequins on the side for the cheeks. Finish the narwhals by adding a candy horn on top.