I must confess, I am fascinated by Sprinkles cupcakes. I've always been a sucker for cupcakes, even before they were trendy, and I just love those little dots they put on top. Not to mention the fact that they have twenty some-odd flavors. I know I'll probably be be disappointed when I finally try one, but they sure do look like fun. It looks like they just opened a shop in Corona Del Mar, and they also have shops planned in several other locations, so I guess I'll get my chance pretty soon.
Meanwhile, they have started selling their cake mixes in Williams Sonoma stores and through their website. Like everything else Sprinkles, they come in cool packaging - these nifty heavy duty cardboard tubes. But still, it's just cake mix, right? For $14.00? And it only makes one dozen cupcakes? It does include the cool little dots, but I still just couldn't do it. I wanted two dozen cupcakes (for an office bake sale) and I wasn't going to pay thirty dollars for cake mix alone, then have to buy the rest of the ingredients and bake them too. I may be a sucker, but I'm not crazy.
I've had red velvet cupcakes in mind for a while, and thought that would be the perfect thing for the bake sale, it being close to Valentine's Day and all. I found many different formulas on the internet for making the recipe from scratch - but I had two boxes of Duncan Hines Butter Recipe cake mix in the cabinet for making Sock it To Me Cake (normally I'm a scratch kind of girl, but it's a family favorite.) The Sprinkles mix gave me the idea to use one - so I did a little research on the internet and set to work.
Red velvet cake is essentially a very moist, lightly chocolate flavored cake, dyed red with an obscene amount of red food coloring. Exactly how obscene was not made clear to me until I started on this recipe. It takes a LOT of food coloring. I used paste color, diluted with a little water, and mixed it with the cocoa to help it blend into the batter. Even so, my cakes did not come out as red as most you will see. It was good enough for me, but if you want them darker - just keep adding more dye.
This cake seems to be experiencing a surge in popularity lately, to the point where it's downright trendy. I'm not sure why, but I like the explanation in the Wikipedia article - that the groom's cake in the movie "Steel Magnolias" was a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo. I didn't realize it was a Southern recipe, but it makes sense - it's kind of got that flair to it. The Wikipedia article also mentions that the interaction of the non-alkaline cocoa with the buttermilk helps produce the reddish brown color, so it would be best to avoid using "dutched" cocoa in this recipe. I used Scharffenberger, and it seemed to work pretty well.
Most of the from-scratch formulas use a lot of shortening or butter, buttermilk, a couple of tablespoons of cocoa, a WHOLE BOTTLE of red food coloring, and a little bit of baking soda and vinegar, mixed together and then added to the batter. I figured that the cake mix had all of the dry ingredients I would need, so I just added the cocoa and food coloring, the buttermilk, a little oil, and a little vinegar and vanilla extract.
The cakes were chocolatey and tangy from the buttermilk, and had a really good moist texture - but I thought I could still detect just a little of that "cake mix" flavor. I had actually intended to do a batch from scratch last night for comparison - but I just didn't get around to it. It will be interesting to see how those turn out, and whether the shortcut of using the mix actually saves much time. I might also have to go ahead and spring for one of those tubes, just to round out the comparisons. It's a much more legitimate expenditure if it's for research purposes, right?
Though I didn't use their mix, I did use the Sprinkles recipe for cream cheese frosting. I had to add a little more powdered sugar to get mine stiff enough (my butter and cream cheese were really soft) so I've reflected that here. This is only supposed to make enough for one dozen cupcakes, but I managed to frost almost two dozen with it. I thought it was plenty, but if you want that look of big mounds of frosting, or if you plan to pipe it on - you might want to double the recipe!
"Shortcut" Red Velvet Cupcakes with Sprinkles Cream Cheese Frosting
for the cakes:
2 heaping tablespoons cocoa (I used Scharffenberger)
1/4 -1/2 tsp paste red food coloring, or 1 teaspoon of liquid (1 Tablespoon if you want a REALLY red cake)
1/4 cup boiling water
1 package Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Cake Mix
3/4 stick butter (6 Tbsp) very soft
1/2 cup of buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350
Prepare two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners (I used these - found 'em at Peoples)
Add the food coloring to your boiling water, and pour over the cocoa - stir to make a paste.
Cream the butter, oil, eggs, buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla and cake mix together in a standing mixture with the whisk attachment. Add the cocoa mixture and beat on medium high speed for four minutes - until fluffy and creamy.
Fill cups just over 3/4 of the way full, about 1/2 inch from the top. Bake about 20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Sprinkles Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
8 oz of cream cheese, very soft
4 oz of butter, very soft
1/8 tsp salt
4 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp of vanilla extract
Beat the cream cheese and butter with the salt until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, and the vanilla - beat until smooth and creamy. Dollop onto the cupcakes with a small offset spatula and spread by pushing from the center out to the edges.
Makes 24 standard size cupcakes.