This past summer, I had the distinct pleasure of celebrating my sweet granddaughter’s first birthday. Her mom and dad threw her a unicorn-themed birthday party.  What better way to celebrate the joys and wonders of a child’s first year of life than with the majestic and magical unicorn!

My contribution to the dessert spread was these festive unicorn cupcakes.  Since they were so much fun to make and they got rave reviews, I just had to share the recipe.

To make these scrumptious cupcakes, I used a classic yellow cake, known as the 1-2-3-4 cake.  This cake has been around since the mid-nineteenth century, has been passed down from generation to generation and has clearly stood the test of time.  The cake gets its name from the proportions of its main ingredients—1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs.  It is a delightful basic recipe that produces cupcakes with superb flavor and perfect texture and crumb.

The other fun part of making these cupcakes was piping them with a tri-color swirl frosting, and decorating each cupcake with an adorable unicorn topper.

If you have the birthday of a little one on the horizon, I hope you’ll consider making some unicorn cupcakes.  The early years of a child are magical, and these special treats are sure to please.


1-2-3-4 Cake Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (two sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 cup 2% milk*

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups butter (3 sticks)
  • 4 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 to 3 different colors of gel food coloring, optional
  • Wilton 3-color swirl piping bags and coupler**, optional
  • Unicorn cupcake toppers
  • Other toppings, such as rainbow sprinkles or nonpareils, optional

1-2-3-4 Cake Directions

Before you begin, make sure to have all your ingredients at room temperature.  Line two 12-cup, cupcake pans with cupcake liners.  Cupcake pans and liners should be medium size.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the butter into the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes until light yellow and fluffy.  Add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time over a period of about 8 to 10 minutes.

While you are beating the butter and sugar, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

When the butter and sugar are light and fluffy, add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a couple of minutes between each addition.  Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, starting and ending with the flour—add the flour in four additions; add the milk in 3 additions.

Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake liners and fill them 2/3 full.  Place in the oven and bake for 18 to 22 minutes until golden and a cake tester comes out clean.

Allow the cupcakes to cool, then frost them, if desired.

Makes about 24 cupcakes.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Directions

Before you begin, make sure to have the ingredients at room temperature.

Place the butter into the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat for about one minute, until fluffy.  Add the confectioner’s sugar, ¼ cup at a time to prevent the sugar from flying out of the mixing bowl.  When the butter and sugar are well combined, add the 2 teaspoons vanilla, then the milk—a teaspoon at a time, until you get the desired consistency of the buttercream.  You want a consistency that is easy to pipe out of a pastry bag, yet holds its shape.

At this point you can use the frosting as is—pipe swirls on top of the cupcakes with a pastry bag, or simply use a spoon to swirl some frosting on the cupcakes. Then decorate with unicorn toppers, sprinkles or nonpareils.

Or, you can have some fun using the Wilton 3-color swirl piping bags and coupler to decorate the cupcakes with colorful swirls of frosting.  To get the desired tricolor effect seen in the photo, I divided the frosting into 3 mixing bowls. I added pink gel food coloring to one bowl, yellow gel food coloring to another, and kept the third bowl white.  I then followed the directions that came with the Wilton 3-color swirl piping bags and coupler to pipe and swirl the tricolor buttercream onto the cupcakes.  Finally, I placed a unicorn decoration on top of the frosted cupcake.


*Okay to use whole milk.

**The Wilton 3-color piping bag and coupler comes with instructions, but you can also find tutorials online that are easy to follow.