Vanilla Rose Cupcakes Without Frosting

Updated May 6, 2022

I don't like frosting on my cake! There, I said it.

I maybe in the minority here, but I really don't. I love the way frosting looks on cake, all piled up in beautifully soft, puffy cloud like swirls, but when faced with eating it, it's just too much for me. To the horror of everyone around me, I unceremoniously scrape off all the frosting, before diving into the light, fluffy, moist cake below.

So, given that I'm not crazy about frosting, I've been experimenting with frosting alternatives that will dress up a cake real good; make it total eye candy without packing in unnecessary sugar and calories.

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And here's my latest creation- Easy Vanilla Rose Cupcakes baked with thin slices of apple. These rose apple cupcakes look so pretty and replacing frosting with fruit is a healthier, less calorific alternative. All the apple roses can be made ahead of time and then just inserted into the cupcake batter before baking. So simple.

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Apple rose cupcakes

Plus, it's a real piece of cake to transport these no icing, rose cupcakes. There's no danger of them getting banged up or melting in the heat like traditionally frosted cupcakes. So these are the ideal little dessert for summer picnics, camping trips, backyard barbecues or children's birthday parties. Imagine... no sticky fingers and faces. No mess.

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I mean, look at them. With a light dusting of powdered sugar, they are like little gourmet cupcakes. Impressive enough to serve at brunch with the gals or for a special occasion like Mother's Day.  I can assure you, that everyone will be asking how you made these.

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Apple roses baked into a cupcake

The Secret to Easy Vanilla Rose Cupcakes

So, here's my secret.... since preparing the apple roses take a teeny weeny bit of effort, I use a Classic Yellow box cake mix to make things easier and quicker from me. There's no shame in it, you know. That way, I can devote my effort to getting the roses right, without worrying about how my cake is going to turn out.

Below, you will find my tips to elevate box cake mix and make it taste homemade. With a couple of easy substitutions, nobody would ever guess! The Box Cupcake Hack.

And for those of you who are turning up your noses at ever considering a box cake mix, then at the end of this post, you will find a Vanilla Cupcake Recipe from Scratch.

Box Cupcake Hack- How to Make Box Cupcakes Taste Better

There's something to be said about the convenience of a box cake mix. I always have a box or two stored away in my pantry for a rainy day. When I need to make a dessert at short notice, it's just so easy to reach into my pantry, open up a box of cake mix, throw in a bit of oil, water and eggs, beat it up and bake. No weighing, measuring, sifting or overthinking required. I have yet to be disappointed by a box of cake mix. The only downside is I know I took the easy way out and when people ask for my recipe, I have to sheepishly admit I made it from a box of cake mix.

So, recently I've decided to put my own spin on box cake mix....that way, I can stretch the truth a bit since technically it isn't a 100% box cake mix recipe. Enter 'The Box Cupcake Hack'.

If you're wondering how do you hack a cake mix, well, there's a really simple way to make boxed cake taste homemade. 

  1. Replace vegetable oil with an equal quantity of butter.
  2. Replace water with milk.
  3. You could add an additional egg (but I don't).

Then continue to follow the directions and bake times as specified on the box. 

Voila! You've just improved boxed cake mix. 

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How to Make Vanilla Rose Cupcakes 

(Box Cupcake Hack)

In a nutshell, here's the process in 7 simple steps:
  1. Prepare the apple petals by thinly slicing and microwaving the apple slices to soften them.
  2. Prepare the cake batter.
  3. Spoon batter into pre-lined cupcake pans, filling each only about 1/2 full.
  4. Roll the apple slices into a rose.
  5. Insert the rose into the cupcake batter, pressing it in gently and opening out the petals slightly.
  6. Bake
  7. Cool and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Yield: 24 cupcakes


☐ 1 box of Classic Yellow Cake Mix
☐ 3-4 Gala apples (each apple makes approximately 7-8 roses)
☐ Powdered sugar for dusting

Step by Step Instructions:

Step 1: Prepare the apples
  • Choose apples with a nice orangey-red skin or reddish-yellow skin. Gala apples work well. Without removing the apple peel, cut the apples in two. 
  • Starting on the short side of each half, with a gentle sawing motion slice the apple into thin slices. This works best with a serrated knife. As you slice in a sawing motion, push the knife against the body of the apple. You will get evenly thin slices this way.
  • Once the apple has been sliced finely, you can easily cut out the core, a couple of apple slices at a time. 

Slicing apples, how to make apple roses
Cut apple in two. Thinly slick unpeeled apple.

  • Place the slices on a plate and microwave them for 30 seconds, just long enough to make the apple slices flexible (not soft). If you hold a slice between your thumb and forefinger and shake it, it should be supple and floppy. That means it is flexible enough to roll into a rose without breaking.

Thinly sliced apples for rose petals for apple rose cupcakes
Microwave apple slices for 30 seconds. Then place in fridge for 2-3 hours.

  • After softening the apple slices in the microwave, place them between 2 sheets of paper towel to absorb all the excess moisture.
  • Cover with cling wrap and cool in the refrigerator until ready to use. It's easiest to work with cooled and refrigerated apple slices. Work with the apple slices after they have been refrigerated for 2-3 hours.

Step 2: Make the cupcake batter

Follow the instructions on a Yellow cake box mix or if you prefer to make the cake batter from scratch, scroll to the bottom of the post for the 'Vanilla Cupcake Recipe from Scratch'.
Making batter for Vanilla cupcakes, box cupcake hack

Step 3: Fill the cupcake liners with batter

Line your cupcake can with traditional cupcake liners that don't stick out of the pan. In other words, don't use tulip cupcake liners. This is because as the cupcake batter rises, it is going to spill out of the liners and onto the surface of the cupcake tray. And that's ok. It will look very pretty as that will form the outer irregular petal layer.

But if you use tulip liners, the batter will just rise vertically and cover the apple roses.

Spoon batter into each cupcake liner filling each one only to about 1/2 full.

Step 4: Make the rose

Working with the cold, softened apple slices, lay an apple slice on your work surface and overlap it slightly with another apple slice. Continue to overlap about 7-8 apple slices until you have a row of overlapped apple slices.

Starting from one end, roll up the slices like you are rolling up a carpet. 

Rolling thin slices of apple to make apple roses flower garnish
Overlap apple slices and then roll from one end

And there you go. Your apple rose is ready. It may be a little tight, so you can gently open up some of the petals to make it look like it's blooming. Your apple rose should be able to stand alone easily without falling apart. You can make all the apple roses ahead of time, place it on a kitchen towel, cover and refrigerate until you need them.

Apple roses, fruit flower, flower garnish, lady's hand holding apple rose
The apple rose is ready!

Step 5: Insert the rose into the cupcake

After forming the rose, insert it into the cupcake batter, pushing the rose down slightly to secure it in place. 

Then if you feel it needs to bloom a bit more, gently open up some of the petals further to fill out the cupcake liner.

For the best effect, make sure that the rose is sitting slightly above the cupcake liner, rather than below or in line with the cupcake liner.

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Place apple roses in cupcake batter before baking

Step 6: Bake

Bake at the specified temperature and time on the box cake mix or in the cupcake from scratch recipe.

You will notice that the cake batter will start rising and will overflow out of the cupcake liners and on to the cupcake tray. That's alright. Don't freak out. That overflow forms the outer layer of the flower and will look really pretty.

When done, remove from oven and allow the cupcakes to cool.
Then using a knife, gently loosen the cake that overflowed onto the cupcake tray.

Then remove the cupcakes from the cupcake tray.

Step 7: Dust with powdered sugar

Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, dust the cupcakes with powdered sugar.

I spoon some confectioners sugar into a tea strainer and then dust the cakes for a beautifully even and delicate dusting.

If you are storing them temporarily in the fridge, store them open. If they are covered, the moisture from the condensation will dissolve the powdered sugar. Alternatively, you can cover them, but be prepared to dust them again with powdered sugar before serving.

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Variation | Spiced Apple Pie Cupcakes

These Vanilla Rose Cupcakes can easily be turned into spiced 'Apple Pie Cupcakes' for Fall. Just add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder to the cake batter.

Dust the cupcakes with cinnamon powder and then powdered sugar.
And a sprinkling of granulated brown sugar.

Vanilla Cupcake Recipe from Scratch

If you prefer to make your cupcake batter from scratch, then here's the recipe. This recipe uses a combination of oil and butter for the cake batter. Top the cupcakes with apple roses just before baking.

Yield: 24 cupcakes


☐ 2 1/2 cup (163g) all-purpose flour
☐ 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
☐ 12 tablespoons (84g) salted butter, softened to room temperature
☐ 1 1/2 cup (155g) sugar
☐ 4 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil
☐ 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
☐ 4 large eggs
☐ 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150ml) milk

Step by Step Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C) and prepare a cupcake pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together using a hand held blender. 
  4. Add the oil and vanilla extract to the mixing bowl and continue to beat together until light in color and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Beat well.
  5. Now add the eggs slowly to the mixing bowl. Add one at a time, mixing to combine each one before adding the next. 
  6. Spoon half the flour mixture, one spoon a time into the batter in the mixing bowl. Continue to mix well and beat into a smooth batter.
  7. Slowly add the milk and mix until well combined. 
  8. Add the remaining flour mixture to the batter, one spoon at a time. Mix until well combined and smooth. 
  9. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners filling to about 1/2 full and bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. Remove cupcakes from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool.

Related Recipes:

If you liked this recipe, you may also like my 'Apple Rose Pastries', made with puff pastry.

Olive oil muffins with slices of orange

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