A tray of cupcakes decorated as owls.

If words like fondant and crumb coat give you pause, but you like the idea of the occasional festive decorating project, you’re in luck. These owl cupcakes, recently featured on Cup of Jo, require neither a piping bag or tip nor a turn table or icing spatula.

I made them last week, and my children thought I was a hero. This is a very, very simple exercise, and it’s one little people can partake in without too much supervision.

Here, I’m using chocolate cupcakes and chocolate buttercream, but you really can use any kind of cupcake and frosting that you like. My son, lover of cream cheese frosting, finished his cupcake and said: “Next time, can we make snowy owls?”

Brilliant! Yes, yes we can. 

** Update October 2021 ** Snowy Owls have materialized. I used my favorite one-bowl buttermilk birthday cake for these snowy owls along with the whipped cream-cream cheese frosting provided in the recipe. Huge hit.

A plate of snowy owl Halloween cupcakes.

Here’s What You Need:

  • Oreos
  • Candy: You need something orange for the nose, and something dark for the eyes. Reese’s Pieces or M&M’s or Jelly Beans are good options
  • Cupcakes: vanilla or chocolate. Here, I’ve one-bowlified a Sally’s Baking Addiction chocolate cupcake recipe. It calls for buttermilk, oil, and natural cocoa powder (as opposed to Dutch-process), and the cupcakes are moist and delicious.
  • Frosting. Here, I’ve made Ina Garten’s chocolate buttercream, omitting the egg yolk and coffee. As noted above, if you’re making snowy owls, use the cream cheese-whipped cream frosting provided in the recipe.

Here’s the one-bowl chocolate cupcake play-by-play: Place dry ingredients in a bowl.
A large bowl filled with the dry ingredients to make one-bowl chocolate cupcakes.

Add the wet ingredients: buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and eggs. And stir to combine.
A bowl with ingredients for one-bowl chocolate cupcakes.

Portion into 14 cups — don’t try to cram the batter into 12 cups! It won’t bake properly.
An overhead shot of a cupcake pan filled with chocolate cupcake batter.

Love this sort of clean up:
Dirty dishes: a large bowl smeared with chocolate batter and a liquid measure filled with dirty utensils.

Let the cupcakes cool:
On overhead shot of just-baked chocolate cupcakes.

Whip up a batch of Ina Garten’s chocolate buttercream (or other):
A bowl of chocolate buttercream frosting.

Frost the cupcakes:
A tray filled with chocolate cupcakes frosted.

Top with halved oreos:
A tray filled with chocolate frosted cupcakes each topped with two Oreo halves.

Complete the faces with eyes and noses.
A tray of cupcakes decorated as owls.

Jelly Beans work, too!
A single owl cupcake.

6 More Fun, Easy Ideas over on Cup of Jo:
A tray filled with festively decorated Halloween cupcakes.

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A single owl cupcake.

One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

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Cupcake recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Buttercream from Barefoot Contessa At Home. I’ve simplified it here, omitting the egg yolk and coffee.

Owl Cupcakes from Cup of Jo (Find 6 more ideas over there, too!)


For the cupcakes:

  • 3/4 cup (95g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (45g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) vegetable or canola oil (or melted coconut oil)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate buttercream: 

  • 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate — bars or chips
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted or salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups (152 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • flaky sea salt such as Maldon

To make penguins:

  • 14 Oreos
  • 14 orange M&M’s or Reese’s Pieces or Jelly Beans (you need something orange)
  • 28 chocolate chips or brown M&M’s or Reeses Pieces


  1. Bake the cupcakes. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan plus two ramekins (or other similar vessel) with cupcake liners — don’t be tempted to spoon all the batter into 12 cups… the cupcakes won’t bake properly.
  2. Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, granulated sugar, and brown sugar together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Add the buttermilk, oil, beaten eggs, and vanilla. Stir until just combined. The batter will be thin.
  3. Pour or spoon the batter into the liners, being sure to fill only halfway. Bake for 18-21 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
  4. Make the frosting. To make the buttercream, chop the chocolate (or don’t if using chips) and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature. Alternatively: Melt in the microwave at 30 second to 1 minute intervals until spreadable.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides. Add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. On low speed, add the chocolate to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip. Sprinkle in a big pinch of sea salt. Mix to incorporate. Taste. Adjust with more salt to taste. Use immediately or chill until ready to use.
  6. To make the owl cupcakes: Frost the cupcakes. Halve each Oreo: I find if you press the Oreos together and gently twist the halves apart, you’re more likely to get some white on each half — it doesn’t have to be perfect. Place two halves on top of each cupcake. Place a chocolate chip or
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: one-bowl, chocolate, cupcakes, buttercream, easy, simple, owls, children