Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Sprinkles Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cupcakes
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.
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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?
Red Velvet Cupcakes
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
3 eggs
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.


  1. I am both a Sprinkles cupcake virgin and a red velvet cake virgin. I don't actually enjoy standing on the sidewalk waiting to go buy cupcakes from a store so I'll probably remain a Sprinkles vigin (unless somebody wants to deliver some to me). The red velvet cake has always made me wonder if your tongue and teeth show tell-tale technicolor signs when you are done?

  2. Standing in line is not one of my favorite things either, so I am probably right there with you on that. I don't think the baked cakes would stain your teeth (or tongue) - these certainly didn't - but if you used enough dye they might!

  3. I'll be making my first red velvet cake (cupcakes, actually) tomorrow or Tuesday. The recipes I've found call anywhere from four to eight tablespoons of dye (eek!). I'm planning on using two bottles (four Tbps with an extra hit of red paste)...I'm aiming for extra gaudy...


  4. San Marcos Pete2/14/07, 10:33 AM

    You're ahead of the curve. NY Times article on red velvet cakes just posted today.


  5. Is there any place in San Diego to get a decent red velvet cupcake or cake?

  6. Great pics.And I love red velvet cupcakes.Never had aSprinkles cupcake,but they can't be that hard to duplicate.

  7. A Red Velvet Cupcake from Sprinkles will Change Your Life! They are AMAZING! The Sprinkles in Newport Coast (on Avacado at PCH) really doesn't have long lines, I don't think I have ever waited. They are a bit expeinsive for one cupcake but they do make me happy so if I need a pick up and an easy happy moment, stop by sprinkles.

  8. Oh yes, since I posted this I've been many times and may actually be going this weekend. I've had some cupcakes there that are better than others - but the red velvet has always been good. I also really like the dark chocolate!

  9. Can you believe I've never had red velvet cake!? I HAVE had Sprinkles though and it's nothing short of amazing!

  10. I just found this blog and I have to say, I live in Arizona and when they first opened Sprinkles in Scottsdale I thought what a rip $36 for a dozen cupcakes. Anyway one day my sister and I decided to try it and man they are the best cupcakes ever. My mom who wont even by a $3 cake mix because it is to expensive will drive 30 minutes for Sprinkles and she usually buys 2 dozen. I say if you have never had Sprinkles you're missing out.

  11. I made a red velvet cake last weekend and used this recipe http://www.howcast.com/videos/139827-How-To-Make-Red-Velvet-Cake .I did a combination of beet juice and food coloring and it turned out extremely red and I didn't feel like I was being intoxicated by all of that food coloring. Might make the cake into cup cakes next time though.

  12. I live in Long Beach and once in a great moon, for holidays (father's day, 4th of July, etc.) my husband and I will venture to Sprinkles in Newport Beach. Let me tell you that once you have tried a sprinkles cupcake, you will know the difference between them and an ordinary cupcake. It has to do with the fresh exceptional ingredients that they use. The best in my own opinion are the vanilla cupcakes with the chocolate frosting and the red velvet with the cream cheese frosting. Sprinkles has incorporated an advance ordering system which my husband used and when you get to the Sprinkles store to pick your order up, you actually get to "cut" in line to get your order and you get to bypass the 20 or so people waiting in line. Also, if you subscribe to Sprinkles on facebook, you will get daily messages about "free" cupcakes or off the menu cupcakes. They will have you say a secret word of the day and they will give you a cupcake. I hate to say this, but when we go, we usually order enough to last us a while and to give to family members. The last time we were there, we ordered over $100 worth of cupcakes!

  13. how do you get the tops of your cupcakes to lay flat like that versus puffing up?