Safari Cupcakes

Here’s how to make 4 different animal cuties from 1 batch of cupcakes

Cute Cake Challenge Accepted

When my friend Cathy asked me and my girl Shirley to host her baby shower, I gladly and quickly accepted. Soon after, I realized that in the age of Pinterest, if you don’t have a super cute cake and table scape at a baby shower it never really happened. The pressure! Her party theme was “safari” or was it “zoo”..? We couldn’t remember, but we knew we needed some super cute confections. From researching custom cake bakeries in the area we learned that it’d cost us over $150 for a safari-themed cake! Nah brah. I would find a way to make our own appropriately adorable desserts.

Jump to THE SHopping List

Keeping it simple.. sort of

While I love baking cakes, I typically do very simple decorating. I decided that I should stay in my lane for this one and avoid any fondant work or precision piping as I wouldn’t have time for a practice run. I landed on cupcakes after spotting a few Pinterest ideas that required middle school-level fine motor skills and a bit of patience. I was going for a high cuteness:effort ratio.  No #pinterestfail, thanks!

Giraffes. My favorite!


My plan was to make one batch of chocolate cupcakes and 2 types of icing – cream cheese and chocolate. From this I could create 4 different jungle/safari/zoo animals, about 30 cupcakes in total. I had plenty of leftover frosting, so you could definitely double the cupcake recipe to make more animals.

It was a busy time for me so I ordered the decorating components I knew would to be hard to find locally on Amazon. The baby shower was on a Saturday at noon and my only time to bake would be Friday night and Saturday morning. No pressure! Here’s how I did it. 

Cupcakes in “the wild” on stands along the table

Part I: Bake and Prep

Baking the cupcakes

Friday night, I baked cupcakes from an easy 1 bowl Hershey’s recipe (link below) in green liners to to go with our jungly table decorations. This took about 40 minutes from start to finish. Of course, you could save more time and make cupcakes for a mix. NBD. After they cooled on a rack, I loosely covered them with foil as I didn’t want the tops to dry out or to stick to the foil. 

Making Faces

Brown food marker to make partial monkey faces on Nilla wafers

I ordered candy eyes and mini ‘Nilla wafers online. I used these cool Wilton food markers to draw mouths and noses on the wafers referencing the Pinterest posts for Monkeys and Bears as guides and played with some tester candy eyes to make sure the faces would becute and not creepy. Some wafers were cut in half to use as ears.

Bear-y cute. Nope, couldn’t resist.

Mane Attraction

So I found the cutest lion cupcake inspiration on Pinterest that required no drawing or fine motor skills – just candy and cereal.

I initially thought that I could use Trix for yellow and orange balls but at 9:30pm at the grocery store that Friday night, I learned they changed the Trix balls back into fruit shapes !! I also looked for Kix, but they only cereal in the shape of Paw Patrol shields. Seriously?! After some cereal aisle prayers, my eyes were opened and I realized the Trix orange slices could be perfect lion’s mane makers! I settled on some organic peanut butter balls (fancy PB Cap’n Crunch knock-offs IMO) for the mouth.  

Cereal sorting on a Friday night!

So you’ll need to pick out the orange pieces out of a box of Trix. Yay! I went through the whole box because I didn’t know how many I’d need. It was quite meditative actually, but I only used half of them for the cupcakes.

Giraffe Sweet Spots

My favorite giraffe cupcake found on Pinterest used tootsie rolls for the mouth and the…horns* and icing or mini chocolate chips for the spots. I wasn’t trying to hand form bits of Tootsie Rolls BUT it gave me an idea for using Tootsie Rolls to make the spots. I melted some candies in a glass bowl in the microwave for about a minute, stirring halfway through and pressed the blob between parchment paper on my tortilla press. You could probably roll it out with a rolling pin but you’ll have to work fast as it hardens quickly. I took this smooth sheet of Tootsie and used a pizza cutter to cut off little pieces for the giraffe spots. I was seriously surprised by how well it worked and also relieved cause I had no back-up plan. The drama! This took all of 10 minutes.

*They’re actually called ossicones. I googled that one because I was more into rocks thank animals as a kid.

NeXT MOrning: Frost and AssemblE

Make the frosting

I made the 2 frostings Saturday morning because:

  • I didn’t know how well decorated cupcakes would hold up over night. The last thing I wanted was bleeding animal faces. 
  • You typically have to let chilled frosting come to room temperature and re-whip it to get it to a spreadable fluffy consistency and #notime

The cream cheese frosting recipe linked below comes together quickly.  Make sure you beat it well to incorporate air. You could also use a vanilla or white chocolate buttercream frosting. You could also just buy prepared chocolate and white frosting. Pick your own adventure, friends. The yellow color comes from “golden yellow” food coloring gel. I prefer the gels because they are way more concentrated and easier to work with. 

Yellow cream cheese frosting for lion and giraffe fur

The chocolate frosting I used is the companion recipe of the chocolate cupcakes. It was a bit runny when I first made it, so I chilled it for 20 minutes in the fridge then whipped it again on the mixer to create a fluffier texture.

It was a lot of (rushed) fun seeing these cuties come together 2 hours before the party. Ha.

Assemble the cupcakes

I’ve listed what you need for each animal cupcake, so you can scale up as needed. The first step for each is to frost the cupcake at least a 1/3 of an inch thick. Try to make the tops smooth and bring icing to the edge of the cupcake. Press the mini Nilla wafers for the ears and pretzels firmly through the frosting and a bit into the cake so they stick well. I did carry a bag of extra pieces to the shower in case there were any casualties in transport and set-up.



  • Chocolate frosting
  • 2 half Nilla wafers for ears
  • 1 wafer smile with nose
  • 2 eyes (close to the smile wafer)


(Yep, there are no bears in Africa. Let’s call it a creative license)

  • Chocolate Frosting
  • 2 half Nilla wafers for ears
  • 1 Nilla wafer with bear nose
  • 2 eyes
    Place the ears above the eyes


Note: I suggest assembling these as close to serving as possible. The tootsie pieces started to dissolve into the frosting after 24hrs. 

  • Yellow Cream Cheese frosting
  • 1 Nilla wafer with nostrils and smile
  • 2 ¼ Nilla wafers for ears
  • 2 pretzel stick ends for horns
  • 8-9 tootsie roll “spots”
  • 2 candy eyes


  • 12-13 Trix orange slices
  • 2 brown M&MS for the eyes
  • 1 red M&M for the nose
  • 2 yellow cereal balls for the mouth

Shopping List – What You’ll Need


  • Thin Pretzel sticks (1 stick for each giraffe)
  • Tootsie rolls (5 or 6)
  • Mini Nilla wafers
  • Brown Edible Marker
  • Candy Eyes
  • 1 bag of M&Ms (2 brown and 1 red for each lion)
  • 1 box of Trix cereal
  • 1 box of yellow/tan round cereal (ex. regular Kix, or PB Cap’n Crunch)


  • Rolling pin or tortilla press for the tootsie rolls
  • Parchment paper for the tootsie rolls
  • Pizza cutter for tootsie rolls (sharp knife would work too)
  • Cupcake liners
  • Sharp knife to cut Nilla wafers
  • Offset spatula or butter knife to frost the cupcakes
  • Butter knife to scoop food coloring gel

Cupcake Party Trick

For the shower, I placed some paper grass on cake stands and nestled the cupcakes on top. These would also be sweet on a cupcake tier, or for the non-extra people, on a plate. 

We dropped the cupcakes in plastic cups like these so that people could easily carry them home without crushing those cute faces.

We only had 15 minutes for set-up and the space on the table for decorations and gifts so we hustled! Also why I have so few “before” pictures


I hope you’ll give these cuties a try for your next cute animal needs. Maybe you’ll come up with some new creatures…Elephants, tigers, pigs?! If you do try this out, please let me know in the comments or tag me @letsgosho.  Happy Baking!


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