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Homemade Confetti Cupcakes for a Birthday Girl - No. 243
Contemplating joy and a long overdue thank you to Rose Levy Beranbaum
These confetti cupcakes—124 of them—are for my granddaughter’s fourth birthday party. When her mother (my daughter) asked me to bake them, this was before she told me everyone invited had replied yes, but after I had booked this flight. So to make life easier, I baked the cupcakes ahead of time and stashed them in my freezer. What’s inside this bag accounts for hours of baking, pounds of butter, dozens of eggs, and sprinkles. I’m sure you’ve seen just about everything, but I’m not sure you’ve seen this many cupcakes.
Thanks for leaving them untouched!
MY DAUGHTER REALLY DID ASK ME to bake confetti cupcakes for my granddaughter’s recent birthday.
I’ve done some crazy things baking-wise, so this wasn’t a first. Back before 9/11 if I was on book tour and traveling for TV appearances, I would bake cake layers and leave them in the pans, cover with foil, and carry them onto the plane in a tote bag. One time at the Nashville airport, a TSA agent and I got into a discussion about the best chocolate frosting.
Things changed as airport security ramped up. So I began swaddling cake layers in bubble wrap and checking them in luggage. For a James Beard dinner honoring Nathalie Dupree five years ago, I baked ahead, froze hundreds of little cakes, then packed them into a giant cooler, which I checked as a free bag for my Southwest flight to New York after I found out overnight FedEx would cost $800.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that TSA is there to protect all of us, and I know they have far more serious things to screen than my bag of cupcakes. I just wanted them to know I am not an arms trader or drug smuggler, just a grandmother who often takes on more than she should.
And the note to TSA must have helped. Those cupcakes arrived just fine and ready for frosting.
Why we need sprinkles
When I was testing recipes for my cookbook A New Take on Cake during the Covid pandemic, my son was home from college taking Zoom classes. I tried to stay clear of him as much as possible because I knew he truly didn’t want to be home, but I couldn’t help but smile when I was testing a confetti cake recipe. The rainbow-flecked layers were cooling on racks as he walked through the kitchen and nonchalantly asked, ‘’Whose birthday?’’
Sprinkles may be just specks of corn syrup and coloring, but they’re infinitely more. They make people smile. They spread joy. And it might be a stretch, but I’ll go ahead and say it: Baking cupcakes with joyful sprinkles for someone you love could possibly add meaning to your own life.
And selfishly, they’re a boon to the baker who needs a fuss-free decoration. That’s why Food Network personality Molly Yeh started baking with them. She tells Cathy Erway in Taste that she got into sprinkles because they were an easy out. She didn’t need piping skills.
“When I first started decorating cakes, some of the fancy frosting techniques intimidated me,” says Yeh.
Sprinkles entered the baking scene in a big way in the 1990s when Pillsbury debuted the trademarked Funfetti cake mixes.
Since then sprinkles have become a metaphor for inclusivity and diversity. And I have learned that not just children love them. I’ve seen grown women get giddy over a sprinkle-bedecked cake. It does help that sprinkles partner well with bubbly beverages.
Their story begins with something like this…a Russian immigrant named Sam Born arrives in America in 1910 and in 1923 is the first to manufacture sprinkles at his Brooklyn confectionery company. One of his employees named James Bartholomew creates a rice-size sprinkle for ice cream, and it will be nicknamed “jimmies” after him. (You won’t see sprinkles called ‘’jimmies’’ today in recipes or on packaging, however, because the chocolate variety is seen as a derogatory term for African Americans.)
Even though other countries have their versions of sprinkles, and France has a smaller sprinkle called ‘’vermicelles,’’ sprinkles are an American obsession. Most contain artificial colorings that the Food and Drug Administration deems carcinogenic. FD&C Red No. 3 is banned in the United Kingdom, and while it is not allowed in U.S. cosmetics, such as lipsticks or blush, it is allowed in candies and sprinkles. Why is that, I ask?
In the UK, bakeries who import American sprinkles with artificial colorings are at risk of having their baked goods removed from the shelf, which is what happened in 2021 in Leeds, England in something called Sprinklegate.
Today you can easily find natural sprinkles without the controversial Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5. They are made with plant-based food colorings, and you can feel good about baking with them. Plus, they’re beautiful!
What about the cake?
The cupcake recipe is a riff on one of my favorite homemade butter cakes—the Rose Levy Beranbaum recipe called All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake from her genius The Cake Bible book. Thank you, Rose, for a recipe that was such an important part of our family birthday celebrations! Before I wrote the Cake Mix Doctor and moved to the dark side, I used to bake cupcakes from scratch. I know, quite shocking!
In fact, it was Rose who suggested I choose Workman Publishing to publish the Cake Mix Doctor when I was fortunate enough to have more than one publisher interested in the book. Rose and I were friends, and I had written about The Cake Bible when it was published in 1988.
This recipe is eggy, buttery, and rich but with a tender crumb. And it has the most unique method. Instead of ending the recipe by folding in the flour, you begin with cake flour and sugar, plus baking powder and salt, and then incorporate the butter, milk, and eggs.
I have no idea why this recipe works, but Rose developed it and I have full faith in her! One recipe makes between 24 and 27 cupcakes, depending on how full you fill the paper liners.
A few lessons learned
Next year, I’m voting for a smaller gathering where my granddaughter bakes her own confetti cupcakes. I’ll be happy to help!
If Rose Beranbaum’s recipe proves too much, I’ll pull out a trusty Cake Mix Doctor Confetti Cake recipe that begins with a mix. We could bake it into cupcakes or layers, and if the latter, I’ll show her how to roll the cake through sprinkles to coat the sides.
All her friends would be amazed at how well the sprinkles stick.
And the party might take place in a space that before children’s science museums and influencer moms was the original sensory station. It was a place where I got my start cooking, where my mother taught other Girl Scouts like me to cook, and where you can bake up joy with spatulas, spoons, and sprinkles—the home kitchen!
Did you spend the last week baking cheesecake and watching US Open tennis like I did? I never intended that my cheesecake foray would coincide so beautifully with tennis, but I am glad there’s a small TV in my sensory station…I mean, kitchen!
Between the Layers subscriber Shelley C sent me this proud photo of last Tuesday’s Eleanor’s Cheesecake. What a beauty!
Coming Thursday for Paid Subscribers: No more cheesecake! Promise. But did you bake the Basque cheesecake? On Thursday I share a round-up of my favorite places and tastes of summer 2023. Plus a delicious appetizer to take us into fall! Not a paid subscriber? Support my work (if you are able) so Tuesdays stay free for all.
- xo, Anne
Homemade Confetti Cupcakes
Rose Beranbaum tells us in The Cake Bible that this recipe, All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake on page 39, is one of her favorites. Using all yolks instead of whole eggs produces a cake naturally yellow in color. Frost with your choice of frosting, but my favorite is cream cheese. If you want to forgo the sprinkles (party pooper!) these cupcakes bake up beautifully au naturel. So if that’s the case, make a chocolate cream cheese frosting, and I’ve included that variation, too. And if you’d like to make cake layers from this recipe, fill two greased and floured 9-inch layers and bake them until golden and the center springs back, about 25 to 35 minutes.
Makes 24 to 27 cupcakes
6 large egg yolks
1 cup whole milk, warmed slightly, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups (300 grams) cake flour
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (or 4 teaspoons) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup large, rice-shaped sprinkles, for sprinkling the batter and decorating the tops
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place paper liners in cupcake pans and set aside.
Whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the warmed milk, and vanilla in a medium bowl and set aside.
Place the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter, in tablespoons, and the remaining 3/4 cup milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 additions, beating 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
Scoop the batter into the paper liners, filling them about two-thirds full. Sprinkle the top of each cupcake with some sprinkles, and twirl into the batter using the tip of a paring knife. Reserve the remaining sprinkles for garnishing the tops.
Place the pans in the oven, and bake until golden, about 20 to 23 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven, and let the cupcakes cool in the pans several minutes, then run a thin knife or spatula under them to lift onto a rack to cool completely. Repeat with any remaining batter.
Frost the cooled cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, and sprinkle the top with the reserved sprinkles.
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla, if desired
Place the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low until combined, 1 minute. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, and blend on medium until creamy. Increase the speed to high to aerate for 15 to 20 seconds.
For Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting: Add 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder with the confectioners’ sugar. If the frosting seems too stiff, thin it out slightly with 1 tablespoon of milk.