Over the past five years, thanks in part to the popularity of places like Magnolia Bakery in New York and the original Sprinkles in L.A., cupcakes have become the hottest trend in the dessert world. At last count, responding to a demand which created lines that wrapped around the corner, Sprinkles had opened four more locations, with at least a dozen more "coming soon." Williams-Sonoma, knowing a goldmine when they see one, has even commissioned Sprinkles to do a branded cupcake mix to sell in their retail stores and catalogs. Las Vegas, where I live, already has a large handful of Magnolia knock-offs, and even the small town where my parents live has a store dedicated to selling six to eight flavors of the small sweet treats.
I have never been a huge fan of these all-cupcakes-all-the-time establishments for three reasons. First of all, I am amazed that people will pay upwards of $3.75 each for these small desserts (and they are small), a price that is certain to go up as food costs continue to rise. Since when did cupcakes get so expensive? I remember when I was little (which wasn't that long ago), I used to get delicious homemade, hand-decorated cupcakes from the Italian bakery for something like seventy-five cents each. C'mon, prices haven't gone up that much. But then again, I wasn't paying for the trendiness premium and cute expensive packaging.....
Second, maybe being a baker has made me extra picky, but I have yet to find a cupcake at one of these places that rivals the ones that are made at home. They are either much too dry, dense and crumbly or they taste like they have been made from a mass-produced mix. The frosting is often much too greasy or sugary, and there is never enough (I love my frosting.) Cupcakes are supposed to be moist and light, and if they aren't going to be eaten right away, then they need to be stored properly, which is hard to do in a display case. To be fair, I'm sure there are some really great cupcake bakeries out there that I haven't tried. I should make it my mission to keep "sampling" until I find them.........
Third, next to chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes are some of the fastest, easiest, and most fun desserts to make at home. I think that they were probably one of the first things that I learned how to make on my own as a child. These red velvet cupcakes would be the perfect Valentine's Day gift from the heart, not to mention a great, inexpensive project to do with your kids. In the time that it would take you to drive to the bakery and pick out a dozen, you could practically finish baking and decorating a batch at home, well, almost. Here are some tips for velvety crimson cupcakes:
- As an alternative to cupcakes, this recipe makes enough batter to fill two 9-inch cake pans for a layer cake.
- The decorated cupcakes will keep for 2-3 days, tightly covered at room temperature.
- The white chocolate buttercream will keep for up to one week, refrigerated and tightly covered. Bring to room temperature and beat for 2 minutes at medium speed (to make fluffy) prior to icing the cupcakes.
- If you would like for the color of the cupcakes to be even redder, then increase the amount of food coloring used by one to three tablespoons.
- Sometimes cocoa powder can clump together. If this is the case with your cocoa powder, then it would be better to sift the flour, cocoa, and salt together as opposed to simply whisking to combine. Whisking will probably not get rid of the lumps.
- If you would prefer to make plain vanilla buttercream, please refer to my post for Moist Chocolate Christmas Cupcakes (scroll about halfway down for the buttercream recipe).
- If you don't have cake flour, for each cup you can substitute ⅞ cup flour (same as 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed well.
Red Velvet Valentine Cupcakes
2 ½ cups cake flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups vegetable or canola oil
¼ cup red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons white vinegar
White Chocolate Buttercream (recipe follows)
Berries, sprinkles, and candies for decorating (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and the oil, and beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the food coloring and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
In a small bowl, mix the baking soda and the vinegar until well combined. Add to the batter, and beat until combined. Fill the cupcake liners slightly more than half full with the batter. Bake the cupcakes, one tin at a time, until they spring back when lightly touched and a cake tester inserted into the center emerges clean, about 18 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Decorate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream, sprinkles, candies, and fresh berries, if desired.
White Chocolate Buttercream
Enough to frost 24 cupcakes
1 pound butter, softened
½ cup whole milk, lukewarm
12 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled to warm
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Carefully add the milk, and beat on medium-low speed until smooth. Add the melted chocolate, increase the speed to medium, and beat well, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat until well combined. Gradually add the sugar and beat on medium low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until buttercream is fluffy and reaches desired consistency.