Global Hackerspace Cupcake Challenge 2012

To read more about the Global Hackerspace Cupcake Challenge, go to

Getting Started


Synace wanted to make some fantastic rainbow-striped cupcakes he saw on the Internet. Based on that idea, we came up with the theme of a party-in-a-box.

Four Buffalo Lab members attended, plus three significant others, who of whom all helped with the project. We coordinated shortly prior to the project, and pooled our resources in our conference room. We fired up our webcam, an IRC channel, and background music. Our webcam stopped working sporadically - our apologies to other hackerspaces who may have been watching!  Throughout the project, we watched other hackerspaces make cupcakes on our projector screen. We started working on our project at about 3:30 pm and ended at 7:30 pm (4 hours).


Making the Cupcakes

We prepared the rainbow cupcakes using white cupcake mix and gel food dye. A recipe can be found here:

Since our dishwashing capabilities are limited at our space, one hacker made the batter at home and put it into zipper lock bags. After adding food dye to the bags and kneading it in, we cut a corner off each bag and piped the batter in layers into white cups inserted into the cupcake tin.

We wanted to add Nerds candy to the cupcakes, but were not sure what the effect would be. In our test batch, we put Nerds between each layer, and several Nerds on top. Unfortunately, the melted sugar compromised the integrity of the cupcake. It fell apart. Furthermore, sticky sugar melted all over the outside of the cupcake paper. Consumption of the tragic cupcakes revealed the Nerds in the middle made them fruity and crunchy. We liked the flavor, so on the next batch we added just a few to the middle layer and on top.

When we completed the cupcakes, we allowed them to cool. We iced the cupcakes with vanilla icing, colored sugar, Pop Rocks candy, and a carved fondant logo of Buffalo Hackerspace. Time will tell if the sugary toppings hold up.

We crafted our logo topping using fondant, a 3D printed plastic stencil of our logo, and a sharp knife.


Baking the cupcakes

Unlike some hackerspaces, we do not have a traditional oven. We do have a very old toaster oven. Despite the temperature control knob, it has only two settings: “Off”, and “Fires of Mount Doom”. This presented a problem.

One member remembered our Makerbot “Cupcake CNC” 3D printer contains a thermometer to check the temperature of extruded materials. The temperature is displayed on the 3D printer laptop. After some jerry-rigging, we put the thermal detector into the toaster oven just under the cupcake tin, set the toaster oven’s surge protector within reachable access, and took turns regulating the temperature of the oven by toggling it on or off when it exceeded or dropped below an acceptable range.


Given our time restraints and the fact that we made just three batches of cupcakes, we did not automate the process of temperature regulation, but we talked about it.

Failed Nerd recipe aside, all the cupcakes baked perfectly.

Containing the cupcake

We used a set of nested, red, heavy boxes with lift-off lids.

The cupcake itself rested inside the disposable container for the cupcake wrappers; a cylindrical, clear plastic container. We surrounded the cupcake with wooden coffee stirrers, which acted as shims to hold the cupcake in place and added stability to the overall structure. We topped the container with a dome from a leftover wedding favor, and taped the whole thing closed.

Then we attached the cupcake holder to a soft plastic sandwich-style box via a screw and bolt through the floor of both containers, and surrounded the cupcake container with assorted candies to absorb impact and as a gift for the receiving hackerspace. We placed one of our silicone bracelets around the container to add stability to the coffee stirrer shims, and as another gift.


We placed the sandwich box into the smallest red cardboard box. To our dismay, we discovered the plastic box was too large for the red box. We cut the corner folds of the red cardboard box so it would expand to fit the plastic box. This had the interesting effect of embedding the plastic box in the lid of the red cardboard box, which meant when you lifted the lid of the small red box, it looked like there was nothing inside (because the cupcake was hanging from the lid). We briefly considered putting a jaunty note in the bottom of the box as a joke (“The cupcake is a lie!”) but decided against it, since it was obvious from the weight of the lid that something was attached to it.

The small red box went inside the medium red box, surrounded by shipping foam. We distributed colored wire with stars in the foam as a decoration. We hung shreds of rainbow tissue paper from the wires on the lid of the box for a confetti-like effect when opened.

The medium red box went inside the large red box, with more shipping foam to stabilize it. We cut the audio device out of a greeting card, taped it inside the large box, and attached a string to the device and lid so that it will play a song when opened.

We attached a friendly note to one lid of the box for the receiving Hackerspace.

Finally, we closed the lid of the large red box.

Weighing the box

Our box was to be a maximum of 4 pounds. We discovered we did not have access to a scale upon completion of the project, so we made a scale. We selected an identical box to our exterior box. We found several small weights that added up to nearly four pounds (or so we thought) and placed the box with weights on a lever made of a plank of wood centered on a fulcrum. Our completed box weighed less than our control, so we taped it shut.

When we shipped the box, we discovered it weighed over 5 pounds! So either our scale wasn’t centered, or our weights were off.

We’ll post the YouTube video when Makers Local 256 receives the box.


We learned that we should get a new toaster oven.

We learned that next year, someone should bring a scale.

And finally, we learned that we had a lot of fun!

Thank you to all the participants!