Soccer Cupcakes

We swear it’ll never happen to us. Trade the little sports car in for a Mommymobile? Leave our careers to become unpaid taxi drivers? Put down the laptops, iphones and ipads and pick up a whisk and an icing gun?! And yet…

It has happened. I can no longer deny, to others or to myself, that I am now officially a Soccer Mom. It’s not so bad, really. Truth be told, there’s not a spreadsheet in the world that could tempt me away from this new role (and I do love spreadsheets – weird, I know). And so, when my little soccer-mad son turned five last week, there was nothing else for me to do but preheat the oven, strap on an apron and get busy.

He wanted a ‘football cake’. (He says football because he’s an English gent. I’m American, so it’s soccer to me.) Now, I’m not good at novelty cakes and had no idea where to start. So I took what I thought would be the easy route and went with cupcakes put together to look like a football. Umm, I mean soccer ball. Cupcakes are easier for kids to handle than slices of a big cake, and this way they each got to choose chocolate or vanilla. It worked out wonderfully. But it was a bit of work.

I made two dozen cupcakes, half vanilla, half chocolate. Frosted them with buttercream icing, coloured black (well, grey) for the chocolate ones, and then covered them with mini marshmallows and cut-up sticks of black licorice to render them truly black and white. The sheen of the licorice nicely replicated the leather of a ball – an unintended bonus. I then stuck them to a cutout dome of styrofoam in a soccer ball pattern, using toothpicks. Then I made the pitch by taping some fake grass to a large wooden board and gluing mini marshmallows to make the ‘chalk’ lines. I was getting a bit manic by the end of this project – I even did the little ‘corners’. I had to be stopped before I ransacked the attic looking for fishing net to make the goals. One smarty-pants little boy at the party asked me where all the players were, to which I replied ‘YOU are the players.’ You have to think fast around these kids!

Hubby helped me by cutting the styrofoam, so if you think (as I do) that it should have been trimmed a little closer to the cupcakes, then talk to him about it. He thought we might end up with a hacked up mess. If I had more time I might have tried to find some more fake grass stuff to cover the edges with. I had used the only piece I could find in the whole town to make the pitch. Seriously though, at that point, I wasn’t sweating it. The five year-olds were mightily impressed, my boy was delighted and that’s good enough for me!

Soccer Cupcakes

(Makes 24 – you’ll use 19 for the soccer ball and have a few spares)

What You Need:

2 cupcake/muffin baking trays
43 white paper cupcake cases (24 to bake in plus 19 for the soccer ball)
19 toothpicks (best if they are pointed on both ends)
Styrofoam dome about 13 inches in diameter, with a 3 inch total rise in the middle.
Rectangular piece of fake grass (or green felt) at least 18 inches wide and 3 feet long
A large wooden board

For the cakes:
250g (10 oz) self-raising flour
250g softened butter
250g sugar
5 eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or broken chocolate bar (for the chocolate cakes)

For the frosting/decoration:
250g softened butter
550g icing sugar
A few drops of black food colouring (to frost the chocolate cakes)
A lot (1 or 2 large packs) of white mini marshmallows
A large pack of black licorice ropes

What You Do:

1. Make your pitch by gluing the ‘grass’ to the wooden board and then gluing the mini marshmallows along where the lines need to be. If you need to refer to a diagram of a soccer field (as I did), here’s a good one.
2. Use the toothpicks to pin 19 paper cupcake cases to the dome, starting with one in the middle and then working around. Refer to my photo above if you have trouble visualising this. Once the empty cases are all in place, trim the bottom edge of the styrofoam. Set aside.
3. Preheat your oven to 175 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4. Line your baking trays with the remaining paper cases.
4. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, then sieve in the flour and mix. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well-blended.
5. Using a soup spoon, drop one heaped spoonful of batter into each of 12 baking cases so each case is about 1/3 full. Place in centre of oven and bake for about 20 minutes (or until nicely risen, light brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean).
6. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate (either in a saucepan over low heat or in the microwave) and add the melted chocolate to the remaining batter. Mix well, and then fill the remaining cupcake cases.
7. When your vanilla batch is done, remove them and bake the chocolate ones. Cool the cupcakes for about 15 minutes in their trays, then remove them (in their paper cases) to a cooling rack and cool completely.
8. Make the buttercream frosting by beating together the softened butter and icing sugar. Frost the vanilla cupcakes first, with a layer about 1 cm thick, then add the black food colouring to the remaining frosting, mix until completely blended and frost the chocolate cakes.
9. Cover the vanilla cakes with mini marshmallows (I used about 19 on each one, in a similar pattern to the soccer ball I’d made with the cupcakes). Cut the licorice ropes into approximately 1cm segments and use them to cover the chocolate cakes the same way.
10. Choose the best black cupcake and impale it centrally on the toothpick in the middle of your ‘ball’. It should fit nicely into the empty paper case that was there waiting for it. Surround it with white cakes, then continue, using my picture above as a guide.
11. When you’re done, place the cake-covered dome over the middle of your soccer pitch. You’re done!

Notes for Next Time:

1. If you need more than 19 cupcakes, adjust the recipe accordingly and continue the soccer ball pattern to include more cakes. My dome could easily have taken another six white cakes around the bottom, which would have covered that styrofoam nicely, but I didn’t have that many leftover.
2. Another option for the toppings is flaked coconut for the white ones and black sprinkles for the black ones. Just make sure whatever you use is roughly the same size/shape for the black as for the white or else your ball will look wonky.
3. If you’re making this for smartypants kids, you might want to add some little soccer player figurines. Might be nice to have enough players for each guest to take one home.