What they don’t tell you is that it’s messy – and pricey. No matter how careful you work, the cutting board will end up a masterpiece of abstract art and the surrounding appliances will become splattered with remnants of a bloody good batter. Then again, Halloween is an occasion that calls for a murderous baking scene that leaves you with a cupcake so vibrantly red and lush that it’s worth the stains and the $8 for two miniature – we’re talking nano-sized – bottles of food coloring.
Whining aside, it’s easy to understand why all of red velvet’s pitfalls are left unmentioned from the many recipes and blog entries that fuss over its grandness. It’s a dense matrix of finely woven red crumbs that surprises you with its cocoa-flavored bite. Or, does it? I’m not sure how it is determined how much cocoa is needed to achieve the appropriate hint of chocolate, but I’ve never found red velvet cake to taste particularly chocolate-y, and the Magnolia Bakery recipe I used is no different. To me, red velvet’s reputation results from whatever creamy frosting is sitting atop of it. The taste buds become too overwhelmed by the soft, delicate cake and its sweet, buttery topping that they struggle to find those fudge-y flavors.
With that said, I still wanted to produce an adequate canvas for the eyeball cupcakes I had seen on Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP blog. Just like the finished product, the assembly process does not disappoint.
The recipe requires you to first patiently complete the ho-hum tasks of sifting the flour and creaming the sugar with the butter before reaching for the red food coloring. I wasn’t prepared for how much damage two 1 oz. bottles could do, so I’ll do my best to warn you here. This stuff stained my hands, the cutting board, the small porcelain vessel I poured it into, a spatula, and probably a few other undiscerning objects. You’ve been warned. When it finally tinted the butter, sugar, and egg batter, it transformed that grainy mixture into a bowl of the cherry ICEE slush you slurp at the movies.
Then, my roommate walked into the kitchen, peered into the bowl and couldn’t decide what the vat of fire engine red goo would be. “Are you making candy?” No, Anna, no cherry lollipops here – just two dozen eyeball cupcakes.
Its distinctive color makes the red velvet cupcake fun. And, the addition of Lifesaver gummy rings and some red frosting gel squiggles turn red velvet into great eyeball cupcakes – especially once you peel away its wrapper. It’s one bloody cupcake.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from More From Magnolia: Recipes From The World-Famous Bakery and Magnolia’s Home Kitchen as presented on Epicurious.com
3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons red food coloring (2 1 oz. bottles)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
For the eyeball details:
2 packages of Lifesaver Gummy Candies – separate the green candies from the red and set aside
1 tube of red gel frosting
1 tube of black gel frosting
Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat oven to 350°F.
To make the cupcakes: In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well.
In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat. In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.
Line muffin pan with paper liners and fill each cup about 3/4 full with batter. Bake cupcakes for 20 minutes, switching positions halfway through baking, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool before frosting. (I used Duncan Hines Classic Vanilla frosting, but you can use whatever suits your palate.)
To decorate the cupcakes as eyeballs, frost the top and add a Lifesaver candy in the center. Affix it so the smooth side faces you. Insert black gel frosting to the candy’s center for the pupil. Then, draw zig-zag lines away from the Lifesaver center – about 5 or 6 in total.
This batter produced 3-dozen cupcakes for me, but the recipe says it should produce 2-dozen. So, distribute the batter according to what size cupcakes you desire.