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Santa Hat Cupcakes

By now the house will be strewn with tinsel and glittering baubles.  It is the perfect time to indulge in a bit of festive baking alongside a playlist of holiday tunes. These red velvet cupcakes are show stoppers! The cocoa powder in the sponge gives them a mild chocolate flavour and rich colour. For the fabulous red icing I use cream cheese which lends a contrasting tangy taste to these sweet cupcakes.

Red velvet bakes have an intriguing trompe l’oeil effect signalling to the brain ‘red fruit’, whilst the flavour of the cake is actually chocolate, due to the addition of cocoa powder.  Commercial bakers achieve a vibrant deep red sponge purely by adding artificial red food colouring as it maintains a stable colour after baking which doesn’t fade.  However the manufacturer’s labelling indicates it should be used sparingly (so it’s wise to ask mum to supervise the amount used).  In this recipe, I have kept the red colouring to a quarter teaspoon in both the cake sponge and icing respectively, the result won’t be as shocking red but they will taste just lovely - light and moist with the buttermilk (a signature ingredient in most red velvet cakes).  The good news is I have noticed that a good quality cocoa powder gives a richer hue rather than paler brown texture in the sponge.  For a more natural terracotta colour, so less red ‘red velvet cake’, you can experiment with brands supplying natural red food colourings and even substitute organic colours from the natural pigment in beetroot (you’ll need a lot and the taste will be quite earthy) or use freeze dried raspberry powder if you can get it.  The specialist brands of colouring gels and pastes are Wilton, Sugarflair and PME and you can buy them in specialist cake decorating shops.  Most people can’t resist something dainty and small, so I often bake novelty cupcakes in mini sizes which will need half the baking time in the oven.

A top tip is to make them in whatever size suits you. If you make them in mini cocktail size muffin trays, you can make twice as many or if you only want a few large ones, it is a simple equation to half the recipe. Another nice idea for mini cocktail cupcakes is to substitute huge red strawberries instead of red icing, and simply pipe a bit of white icing for the hat rim and bobble.

Makes 12 Cupcakes

30g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp natural red food colouring paste (or gel)
100g butter, cubed, room temperature
125g caster sugar
2 large eggs
250g plain flour, sieved
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bread soda
1 tsp salt
200ml buttermilk
Red and White Icing
120g butter, cubed, room temperature
120g cream cheese
400g icing sugar, sieved
zest of an orange
¼ tsp natural red food colouring paste (or gel)


  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C fan.  Fill the muffin tray with paper cases.
  2. In a bowl, mix the cocoa powder, vanilla essence and red colouring together, then gradually add as much buttermilk as required (about 50ml) to form a loose paste.  Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually mix in the eggs, then add in the coloured cocoa paste to the mixture.  Sieve the flour, baking powder, bread soda and salt together and gradually fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Gradually whisk in the remaining buttermilk to a smooth batter.  Fill the 12 paper cases evenly with the coloured cake batter, about two thirds full.
  4. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until nicely risen and a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool fully in the tin before icing.
  5. To make the icing, using an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese together until lump free.  Add in the sieved icing sugar in three batches, beating till smooth, lastly mix in the orange zest.  If you only have one piping nozzle set aside a third of the icing which will remain uncoloured.  Then colour the remaining two thirds of the icing by mixing ¼ tsp red colouring into it, and fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle before piping from the outside inwards to give a peaked effect.  Clean the nozzle and place it into a second piping bag with the white icing and pipe a base rim, then a single bobble on the centre of each peak.

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