Are you ready for an “out of this world” dessert?
These UFO Cupcakes are perfect for a children’s party, especially if you’re looking to impress with minimal effort.
They’re adorable and fun, and they taste absolutely delicious!
The cupcakes are vegan, and while I haven’t used vegan buttercream in the recipe, I do give guidance on how to make this recipe completely vegan!
Note: these cupcakes are very soft, moist, and delicious. But I repeat, they are very soft and do fall apart easily. They aren’t suitable for a heavy layer of frosting or lots of decorations.
Ingredients you’ll need
Before we dive into the process, let’s take a quick look at the main ingredients you’ll be working with.
- Coconut milk: This adds a subtle tropical flavor that I think works wonderfully with the chocolate, but you can use any plant-based milk you like.
- Canola oil: This neutral-tasting oil keeps the cupcakes tender and moist. I promise it doesn’t make them oily!
- All-purpose flour: All purpose flour works best for these cupcakes because they already have a soft and tender texture, and cake flour takes this to the extreme.
- Almond meal: This adds a slight nutty flavor and extra richness to the cupcakes. It also tastes yummy with the hint of coconut.
- Cocoa powder: The key ingredient for giving the cupcakes their irresistible chocolatey goodness. Psst.. need a cocoa powder substitute? I tested all the different options.
- Unsalted butter: The base for our creamy and delicious vanilla buttercream frosting. Swap this for vegan buttercream if you want to make the whole thing vegan.
- Sugar: This sweetens the frosting and gives it a smooth, fluffy texture.
- Vanilla extract: No baker can be without vanilla extract. A touch of vanilla enhances the flavors in both the cupcakes and the frosting.
- Green food coloring: This adds a fun pop of color to our frosting, perfect for creating that UFO vibe. Gel, powder, or liquid is fine.
- M&M’s or Smarties: These tiny colorful candies are used to make the UFO lights.
- Green lollipops: These will become our “aliens” sitting inside the UFOs, adding a fun, interactive element.
- Small plastic shot glasses: I used clear cups to create the UFO dome, completing the out-of-this-world look.
- Foil cupcake lines: Not an ingredient, but essential to stay with the space theme. Paper liners won’t look anywhere near as good!
Instructions for making UFO cupcakes
Now that we’ve got our ingredients ready, let’s start baking!
Step 1: Prepare the oven and muffin pan
Preheat your oven to 350F.
Line a 12-cup muffin pan with silver foil cupcake liners for the full UFO effect. If you don’t have foil liners, use paper ones and then wrap the cupcakes in foil before serving.
Step 2: Mix the ingredients
In a large bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients and sugar (coconut milk, canola oil, sugar, and vanilla extract).
Whisking by hand is fine for this step.
In a separate bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Sifting the ingredients makes sure we don’t end up with any lumps.
With an electric mixer set to low-speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the coconut milk mixture until the batter is uniform and smooth.
Pro tip: stop mixing as soon as the last flour streaks are gone. If you overmix the batter you cupcakes will be heavy and dense.
Step 3: Bake the cupcakes
Pour the batter into the lined muffin cups, filling them no more than 3/4 full (about 3 tablespoons of batter per cup).
The cupcakes will rise slightly, so we need to leave room for this.
Bake the cupcakes for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Then let the cupcakes cool completely before starting to decorate.
Step 4: Make the frosting
While the cupcakes are cooling, you can make the frosting.
With an electric whisk, beat softened unsalted butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy. This should take about 2 minutes.
Reduce the speed to medium, and gradually add sifted confectioners’ sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth.
Add the vanilla extract and enough green food coloring to achieve a bright pastel green color.
Step 5: Decorate the cupcakes
Use M&M’s or Smarties to create a ring of “UFO lights” around the outer edge of each cupcake.
For the “alien” inside the UFO, use a green lollipop, trimming the stick if necessary to fit inside the cupcake. To make it ultra-realistic, pipe eyes and a mouth onto the lollipop with black icing.
Complete the UFO look by placing a small clear plastic shot glass over the lollipop to form the dome.
How to tell if my cupcakes are done
The hardest part about baking is deciding if it’s time to take your creation out of the oven or not.
There are a few ways you can tell if your cupcakes are done.
The first is appearance and texture.
The cupcakes should have a slightly domed top. And if you gently press the surface of a cupcake with your finger; it should spring back.
Another great method is the toothpick test.
Insert a toothpick into the center of one cupcake. If it comes out clean or with just a few crumbs sticking to it, the cupcakes are done. If there’s wet batter on the toothpick they’re underbaked.
Other fun decoration ideas
Looking to add an extra touch of creativity to your UFO Cupcakes?
Here are some alternative decoration ideas to inspire you.
- Edible glitter or metallic food paint: Give your UFOs a cosmic sparkle by dusting the frosting with edible glitter or using metallic food paint to add shiny accents to the cupcakes or candies.
- Space-themed sprinkles: Try to get your hands on star-shaped sprinkles or edible sugar decorations. If you can find moons and rockets – even better! Scatter them around the base of the lollipop “alien” and the serving platter.
- Glow-in-the-dark elements: Create a fun atmosphere by using glow-in-the-dark or UV-reactive food-safe paint on the decorations or frosting. This will really bring the WOW factor.
- Cosmic icing: use a mixture of black, purple, blue, and pink frosting to give the cupcakes a galaxy-inspired look.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to decorating your cupcakes!
Variations and substitutions
Here are some ideas to help you adapt this recipe to accommodate various tastes or dietary restrictions:
- Gluten-free: Replace the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend, and ensure your cocoa powder and other ingredients are certified gluten-free.
- Nut-free: Omit the almond meal and increase the amount of all-purpose flour by an additional 2 tablespoons. Alternatively, you can use ground sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds as a nut-free substitute.
- Vegan frosting: Replace the unsalted butter in the frosting recipe with a plant-based butter alternative or vegan cream cheese to create a fully vegan cupcake. You can also go with a glaze instead of a buttercream mixture.
- Different flavors: Swap the chocolate cupcakes for your favorite cake flavor, such as vanilla, red velvet, or lemon.
- Natural food coloring: If you prefer to avoid artificial food coloring, use natural alternatives like spirulina powder, matcha powder, or spinach juice for the green color.
UFO Cupcakes are perfect for a kid’s birthday party with a fun space or alien theme.
But you can’t just serve cupcakes! Serve them alongside these other space-themed dishes for a really exciting menu.
- Rocket dogs: wrap hot dogs in crescent roll dough and bake them to resemble rockets. Kids will love them, and hot dogs are easy to store and reheat.
- Star-shaped sandwiches: make simple sandwiches with your choice of fillings, then use a star-shaped cookie cutter to turn them into interstellar delights.
- Galaxy popcorn: toss popcorn with edible glitter or colored sugar for a sparkly, galaxy-inspired snack. This is a fun and interactive treat that kids can help create. If you need help getting the seasoning to stick to your popcorn, I’ve got a great article to help! I alos have a guide on how to reheat popcorn.
- Alien punch: prepare a green punch using lime sherbet, lemon-lime soda, and pineapple juice. Add green food coloring for an extra pop of color, and serve it in a bowl with floating “alien” ice cubes made from frozen green fruit juice or sports drinks.
- Meteor meatballs: serve bite-sized meatballs or veggie balls on skewers with toothpick “flags” to resemble meteors flying through space. Want more ideas on what to serve with meatballs? I’ve got you covered. And if you need to reheat the meatballs, I can help with that too.
- Ghost chili: if you want a main dish, try making a white chili with chicken. It’s spooky and great for Halloween. White chili is also perfect for serving with other fall inspired dishes. Psst… if your chili ends up too acidic try adding a touch of baking soda to neutralize it.
To keep your UFO Cupcakes fresh and delicious, follow these storage guidelines.
Room temperature: store any unfrosted cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Keep them in a cool place away from any heat sources (including sun).
Refrigeration: once you’ve decorated the cupcakes, it’s best to keep them in the fridge. Place them in an airtight container and place them in the fridge for 4-5 days.
Freezing: You can also freeze unfrosted cupcakes. Wrap each cupcake individually in plastic wrap, then place them in a freezer-safe container or a resealable freezer bag for up to 3 months.
To defrost, let the cupcakes sit at room temperature for a few hours. Once they’re soft, you can decorate them as you wish.
Editor’s Note: some updated pictures no longer feature the lollipop in the center. This is purely cosmetic and the choice is still yours.
- For the cupcakes:
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1/3 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons almond meal
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- For the frosting:
- 6 ounces 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 8 ounces confectioners’ sugar sifted
- 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- green food coloring – paste gel, powder or liquid is fine
- For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together, by hand, the coconut milk, sugar, oil, and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low-speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the coconut milk mixture until it is uniform and smooth (do not overmix).
- Pour batter in liners, filling cups no more than 2/3 full (3 tablespoons of batter). Bake 18-20 inutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- For the frosting: Beat butter with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
- Reduce speed to medium. Add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition, about 5 minutes. (After every 2 additions, increase speed to high, and beat for 10 seconds, then reduce speed to medium-high). Add vanilla and enough food coloring to turn the frosting a bright pastel green, and beat until buttercream is smooth.