I really do believe that there are two kinds of people in this world: the bakers and the cooks (or “cookers” as Abby once called them.) Me — with my absolute inability to pay attention to amounts and rules and, you know, crucial details (last week I applied Athlete’s Foot cream on Phoebe’s rash instead of hydrocortisone — I fall squarely into the cooker category. I love nothing more than coming across an instruction like “mix until you reach desired consistency” in a recipe. In other words, there’s no wrong answer! This is why, in my hours of need (aka Halloween), I turn to my friend and ICE graduate, Sara of Sara Bakes Cakes, who, now that I think of it, is actually neither a baker nor a cook, but a true artist. I asked her to give me one easy, creepy treat that would see me through Halloween bake sales and fairs and parties along with one instruction: No fondant, which may scare me more than the bloodshot eyeball cupcakes themselves. They are made with bloody red velvet cake and a foolproof vanilla buttercream frosting, both of which I’m thinking will be nice to have on hand throughout the year. And as soon as I get the guts up to try making them, I’ll let you know how they are.
Sara’s Red Velvet Cupcakes
Makes approximately 32 cupcakes. Adapted from Paula Deen’s Grandmother Paul’s Red Velvet Cake
2 cups sugar
2 sticks unsalted room temperature butter
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 ounce red food coloring (+ 1oz. water)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Preheat oven to 350°F (or 325°F for convection ovens). Line muffin tins with cupcake liners.
Cream the butter and sugar together with the paddle attachment of the mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. In a small bowl, mix cocoa, food coloring and water together until smooth. Add mixture to eggs/sugar, mix until incorporated, scraping down sides as necessary. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture to butter/sugar/eggs, mix until incorporated. Add buttermilk and vanilla, and finish with remaining flour, again, scraping down sides and beater as necessary. In a small bowl, add vinegar to baking soda (it will bubble up) and add to batter, mix well.
Using a cookie scoop, fill each cupcake liner approx 2/3 full. Bake for approx 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
**Recipe also works for 2 9″ round cake layers – line pan bottoms with parchment and butter sides. Bake for 20-25 minutes
While cupcakes are baking, make and color the frosting. I prefer vanilla buttercream with red velvet, but you could also use a favorite cream cheese frosting if you’d like.
Sara’s Foolproof Vanilla Frosting
Adapted from the Institute of Culinary Education
Makes enough for 36 cupcakes – recipe can also easily be doubled or halved. Meringue powder is the only tricky-ish ingredient, but you can usually find at a craft store or sometimes at the supermarket. You can always use powdered egg whites (available at almost any grocery store) instead.
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks)
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract or paste (I always use the paste and prob. use 2x that amount—this stuff is great)
1 1/2 teaspoon meringue powder
2 1/4 ounces milk (I use whatever I have, the fattier the better!)
Beat the butter with a paddle attachment of the mixer until very soft, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the salt and slowly add the powdered sugar, a couple of scoops at a time. (My secret to keeping the whole kitchen from filling with powdered sugar dust: place a large damp dish towel to cover the mixer and bowl. Just make sure it doesn’t get caught up in the paddle!)
When all the powdered sugar is in, add the vanilla & meringue powder. The mixture will be really stiff. Slowly add the milk, again scraping down the sides so it’s all combined.
Beat the buttercream on high for approximately 7 minutes until it’s nice and whipped. At the beginning it may look a little curdled, but keep beating and it will come together.
4 pastry bags or quart ziploc bags
pastry tips (I used sizes #809, #804, #2) – if you don’t have tips, you can cut a small piece off the corner of each bag – size will depend on what part you’re piping)
food color (red, black, blue – or whatever color you’d like for the eyeball) – gel colors work best for this, if you don’t have, liquid colors will also work for the blue and red, but you can substitute melted chocolate for the black)
When cupcakes have cooled, fill pastry bag with vanilla frosting and squeeze a large dollop on top of each cupcake (I used an Ateco #809 tip).
Follow this with the blue frosting, make a “blob” about 1/4 the size in the center (Ateco #804). Put cupcakes in the refrigerator to chill for a couple of minutes while you’re getting the other colors ready.
Using a small #2 tip (or a bag with a teeny corner cut off), make small veiny lines on the eyeballs with the red frosting. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, creepier is better! Finish with either a black or chocolate dot in the center.
Photos by Doug Schneider.