The Giving Tree Literary Cupcake Recipe

By , September 26, 2011 12:00 am


"The Giving Tree" Literary Cupcake by MMRule

"The Giving Tree" Literary Cupcake (Photo by R. T. Jae)


A Book that Evokes Strong Opinions

Love it or hate it, but it’s impossible to feel indifferent about The Giving Tree.  Until a few weeks ago, however, I was part of the group who never read the story.


The Perfect Cupcake for Fall

When the cool pangs of fall launched my cravings for candy corn and pumpkin lattes, I decided to incorporate some seasonally appropriate flavors into this month’s literary cupcake.  As I drooled over the colorful varieties of apples at the grocery store, I recalled the iconic green, white, and red cover illustration from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and I found my inspiration.


Rediscovering a Book for All Ages

While I was familiar with The Giving Tree and other Silverstein classics like Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, and A Light in the Attic, I had no interest in reading them when I was young.  As you may recall from my FAQ, I learned to read early and pushed myself to enjoy increasingly difficult works.  But what I didn’t mention was that I actively dismissed any pleasure reading that teachers recommended for my peers because I set my own goal to read “harder” books.


“The Artist Can Express Everything”

Creating this cupcake recipe was my opportunity to go back and read a classic book that I had missed out on for so many years.  If you are unfamiliar with the plot of The Giving Tree, it tells of a boy who takes everything he can from the tree that loves him, and when he is elderly and has no energy to do anything else, he rests on the tree’s stump.  For the debate over the meaning of the book and whether it is really for children at all, check out its Amazon reviews for many insightful comments.


I found the book to be haunting, sad, and morbidly uplifting.  Of course, as Oscar Wilde writes in the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray, “No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.”  Just because there is no message of “happily ever after” and the consolation of a great conversion experience, doesn’t mean that the book should be criticized.


On to the Cupcake!

Apple Cake with Baked Caramel Filling

Cinnamon Buttercream

Candied-Apple Red Caramel Sauce


From the cycle of selfishness/generosity and the iconic illustrations of the book, came a cupcake that also is suitable for all ages.  This cupcake has many layers of flavor to represent the stages of the boy’s life and how the tree gives its every part to him.  Because the tree is an apple tree, applesauce in the batter is appropriately delicious and easy to manage if you plan to bake with children.  The middle of each apple cupcake delivers a surprise piece of caramel baked inside to mimic the tree’s stump at the end of the book.  I also used red, white, and green in memory of the cover art that I recalled after so many years.


Comment on this post by sharing your opinion about The Giving Tree or the cupcake recipe!


What You’ll Need

For the Cake

  • 24 green cupcake liners.  I found striped ones in my local baking aisle!
  • 1 18.25 oz. white cake mix (not one with pudding added)
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sweetened apple sauce
  • About 6 large soft caramel candies


For the Frosting

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3+ cups powered sugar (more may be needed for consistency)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1-2 tablespoons of milk if frosting is too stiff.
  • 1 gallon zip sealed bag


For the Glaze

  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce
  • 7+ drops red food coloring


(If working with a child, remember to supervise and help with each step of the baking and decorating process!)

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° or 325° for dark or nonstick pans.
  2. Line two 12 cup cupcake pans with liners.
  3. Combine all of the ingredients for the cake except the caramel candies in a medium bowl.  Beat on low speed for 30 seconds.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and finish beating the mix on medium speed for two minutes.
  4. Fill each cupcake liner with batter.  I used an ice cream scoop like this one to evenly distribute the batter.
  5. Cut the caramel candies into marble sized pieces and roll into 24 spheres.
  6. Place one caramel marble into the center of each cupcake.  Use a butter knife to gently push toward the middle of the cupcake.  Make sure that the caramel is covered with batter.
  7. Bake cupcakes for 13-18 minutes until cake springs to your touch.
  8. When cupcakes finish baking, let them cool until they are safe to touch, and transfer them to a plate.
  9. While cupcakes cool, prepare the frosting.  Beat the powered sugar, butter, extract, and cinnamon on medium speed for about a minute and then finish on high speed for another minute or two.  Check the consistency and add more powdered sugar if needed.  You want the frosting to be soft enough to pipe on the cupcakes and firm enough to hold its shape.  A tablespoon of milk will help if the frosting is too stiff.
  10. Open the zip sealed bag and spoon the buttercream inside.  Push the air out and seal the bag.
  11. Push the frosting to one bottom corner of the bag.  Cut the corner off the bag, making a dime sized hole.
  12. Starting at the edge of the cupcake and working toward the middle, pipe on the frosting in a circular motion.
  13. In a small bowl, combine the caramel sauce and the red food coloring.  Gently spread on the top of each cupcake.
  14. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.



This recipe is inspired by The Cake Mix Doctor.

Check out her books for delicious and simple cake ideas!

The products I suggest are the ones I use in my kitchen.

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