NOTICE: This blog is no longer being updated, so medical information may no longer be accurate.

Dye-Free Army Tank Cupcakes

I have been sick for the past few days and cold medicine does funny things to my head, this cupcake is proof! 😀

Sam had a birthday party to attend this weekend and the birthday boy was celebrating with an Army themed party.  Prior to the dye-free challenge we decided to take, I probably would have done a camo color scheme with the frosting and stuck an army toy on top.  Well, when one does not have that as an option (the pastel colors from the natural food dyes weren’t going to help me accomplish this mission!), and since chocolate and white icing can get kind of boring after a while when you are 6, what else can we do?  How about “Cupcakes with Flair!”

Before I took the “Cupcakes with Flair” class, I had no idea of all the potential in cupcakes.  The best thing? They are easy! 😀

My boys have amassed themselves quite the toy military over the years, so I set my sights on a making a tank cupcake.


  • Wilton Egg Pan (the pan I have has been discontinued.  You might still be able to find it on Amazon or Ebay, just be sure to look for a new pan so you don’t have to worry about cross-contamination).  If not, Wilton does make a Mini Easter Egg Pan that you can use too.  Don’t worry about the design impressions in the pan, because you will cover them with frosting anyway).
  • Mini Loaf Pan (the pan I have is by Baker’s Secret because it was the best price I could find.  Another tip, use one of the Michael’s 40% off coupons and buy one at the store).
  • Cake Batter (Follow the baking directions for the specific pan you use).

**For Each Tank Cupcake, you will need (1) mini egg-shaped cupcake and (1) mini loaf-shaped cupcake.  I like to bake up a batch of each shape and keep them in my deep freezer to use as needed, it saves a lot of time!

  • Celebration Lights (I found these at Michael’s Craft Store in the wedding section, see photo below).
  • Pretzel Stick (I used Snyder’s Gluten-Free Pretzel Sticks, but Glutino Pretzel Sticks are great too).
  • Chocolate Frosting (I made a dairy-free version of the recipe found on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa Powder package, see below for my tweaks.  Betty Crocker also has ready-made frostings that are gluten-free, check out for the complete list).
  • 6-inch Cake Board (Optional, but they are great for shaped cupcakes and they’re reusable if you cover them!  You should be able to find these at your local craft store as well).
  • Pastry Bag or a Ziploc bag will work too  (couplers are also nice but optional).
  • Star Tip (the link will take you to an Amazon page so you can see what these look like, see my notes on tips at the end of this post).

Dairy-Free Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread, melted

2/3 cup Cocoa Powder (I use Dutch-processed cocoa powder to make dark chocolate icing)

3 cups Powdered Sugar

1/3 cup Water

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

  • Melt butter, stir in cocoa.
  • Alternately add powdered sugar and water, beating to spreading consistency.
  • Add small amount additional water, if needed. Stir in vanilla.

About 2 cups frosting.

I love cake boards. They make a great sturdy platform to hold your creations.

I cover my boards so I can reuse them. I often use aluminum foil, but they also make special foils with designs and colors.

To cover your board, flip it upside down over the foil and use scissors to make cuts all around the foil. This will make it easier to fold over the board.

Once you are done wrapping the board, tape the foil to the board.

I trim the puffy tops off of my cupcakes so they will be flush against each other.

Place a dollop of icing on the center of your board, this will help keep the cupcake from sliding off.

Place the cupcake from the mini loaf pan on the dollop of icing. I covered mine with a crumb coat of icing first.

Figure out where you want to position the egg shaped cupcake for the top of the tank.

Add a layer of icing, this will act as the "glue" to keep the two cupcakes together.

Press them together.

Using the Star tip is optional, but it gives the cupcake a more uniform appearance (and is useful for hiding any mistakes). 😉

Using a knife, cut out a spot for the Army Man.

Insert a pretzel stick for that thingamajig on the front of the tank.

These are the battery operated "Celebration Lights."

Just twist the base to turn them on and insert into the front of the "tank" for headlights.

Finish piping stars over the cupcake and finish with the tires!

Pastry Tip Notes:

I use #16, 18, 21, 22 and #1M Star tips regularly.  The number corresponds with the size of the opening.  For example, a #16 Star tip will give you a smaller star than a #22 Star tip.  Keep in mind though, the smaller the star, the longer it will take to decorate (and your hand will go numb in the process).  You want the star to be proportional to the size of the cake/cupcake that you are decorating though.  For this cupcake, I mainly used a #21 Star tip and I filled in some of the holes using a #18.

I buy my tips at my local cake decorating store or at a craft store.  They are really inexpensive, and they can do so many things with them besides pipe frosting!  I also use mine to fill deviled eggs, twice baked potatoes and pipe peanut butter into celery for “Ants on a Log.”  I also used my wide star tip, the #1M to pipe out the GF Churros I made recently.

Check out this link to a video on YouTube for decorating with a Star Tip.  There are a TON of cake decorating tutorial videos on YouTube that are very helpful for someone who is not a professional, like me! 🙂

The Celebration Lights come in Non-Blinking and Blinking (above).   Check the package to make sure you have the correct style for your creation, before you buy them. 😉

For more fun cake decorating ideas, check out the Celiac Family blog, Heather has a really cute Princess and the Frog cake!

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  1. TOTALLY unrelated, but my copy of Dangerous Grains came from Amazon today. I am so stoked and ready to curl up with it tonight after the boys went to bed. Thank you for leading to this book.

  2. These are amazing! I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to make these for my little guy since he is more into dinosaurs and princesses (he has a very strong older sister) but I am amazed at your cake decorating skills!

  3. Totally adorable – i mean in a macho kinda way!

  4. This is so fun! Thanks for the mention about my princess cake. I love the monster truck cake you made, too. Have you checked out Andrea Meyer's site? She and her husband make 3-D cakes for their boys' birthdays. You'll find their Percy train cake at

  5. You are something, girl! I see no ill effects of your meds coming out in that cupcake–too cute. 🙂 I made an army tank cake for my son one year for his birthday, but, yep, food coloring was involved. I bet there are some more colorful options for dye free though. Someone will shared them eventually, but I can't complain about this delightful cupcake at all. Loved it. Neat how you made the cutout for the soldier. I would have probably just stuck him in the cupcake (who cares if his feet are missing? LOL) or did the "glue" his feet with icing trick. 😉 Those little lights are handy. Great job, Heidi!


  6. Those are just AWESOME!! The lights are a great idea, I think they will be a nice addition to the princess cake I have coming up.

  7. I love how your pictures and descriptions make it look easy enough for even a decorator-challenged baker like me…I want to invite nephews and neighbor boys over right away! Actually seeing each step reduces my fear of becoming lost in a kitchen endlessly overflowing with cake and icing and tools! That tank with its headlights is too cute!

  8. Awesome idea!! Thank you for creating something "dye free" to share….its amazing what you can do once you take artificial ingredients out.

    The lights are too cool to… long did it last before it was eaten?

    (off topic) but I would love it if you could share this recipe on my website's forum

  9. This is DEFINITELY the one I'm linking to. You are amazing! There's LIGHTS on them. xoxoxo


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