Lily Vanilli’s blood-stained brain cupcakes recipe

(29 ratings)

These cupcakes are a real scream! The ‘brain-coloured’ buttercream is flavoured with vanilla and laced with cherry gore for a sharp yet delicious taste that kids will love to make.

Preparation Time40 mins
Cooking Time15 mins
Total Time55 mins

These cupcakes are a real scream! The ‘brain-coloured’ buttercream is flavoured with vanilla and laced with cherry 'gore' for a sharp yet delicious taste that kids will love to make.


Red Velvet cupcakes:

  • 1⁄4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2⁄3 cup (140g) superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1⁄2tsp vanilla extract
  • 4tbsp red food coloring
  • pinch of salt
  • 1⁄4 cup (30g) cocoa
  • 11⁄2 cups (225g) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted twice
  • 1⁄2 cup (120ml) buttermilk
  • 1⁄2tsp cider vinegar
  • 1⁄2tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

Cherry sauce:

  • 1 cup (125g) black cherries, very ripe and de-stoned or canned
  • 1⁄4 cup (50g) superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup (120ml) water or juice from the canned cherries, if using
  • 1⁄2tsp lime juice
  • 1tbsp cornstarch (cornflour) or arrowroot

Buttercream frosting:

  • 1⁄2 cup (115g) butter, at room temperature
  • 31⁄2 cups (500g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, sifted
  • 4tbsp full-fat milk
  • 1⁄2tsp vanilla extract
  • Red and black food coloring




  1. Red Velvet cupcakes:
    1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases.
    2. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until very light (about 5 minutes). Beat in the egg until well incorporated. In a small separate bowl, beat the vanilla extract, coloring, salt, and cocoa into a thick paste. Beat into the butter mixture.
    3. With the mixer running on a slow speed, add the flour to the mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour.
    4. Stir the vinegar into the baking soda, add to the batter, and fold in using a spatula. Leave to stand for 3 minutes.
    5. Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter into the paper cases, filling them three-quarters full. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
    6. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.
    Cherry sauce:
    1. To make the cherry sauce, blend the cherries in a bowl using an electric hand blender, then place in a medium-sized heavy-based pan with the sugar, water, lime juice, and cornstarch or arrowroot. Heat on medium until the cherries begin to release their liquid, and then slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce to a simmer and heat until the cherry mixture has thickened to the desired consistency (runny enough to pipe but thick enough to prevent bleeding into the frosting). Allow to cool.
    Buttercream frosting:
    1. To make the frosting, beat the butter in a medium bowl. Add 21⁄4 cups (300g) of the sugar, the milk, and vanilla extract, and blend together with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Slowly add the remaining sugar until you reach a consistency you can work with - soft enough to pipe, but thick enough to hold its shape well.
    2. Add the food colourings using a wooden toothpick so that you can add very small amounts, until you get the color you want.
    3. Fit a piping bag with a number 10 tip and spoon in the frosting. Pipe the frosting in a line up the middle of each cake - just off-centre - and zigzag back down from side to side, or in any brain pattern you like. Repeat for the opposite side.
    4. Refill the piping bag with cherry pulp and pipe into gaps in the 'brain matter' for a 'blood-stained' effect.
    A Zombie Ate My Cupcake! by Lily Vanilli, photography by David Munns, illustration by Paul Parker, published by CICO Books.
Top Tip for making Lily Vanilli’s blood-stained brain cupcakes

For these cakes, Lily used large red velvet cupcakes as a base, but any cake recipe you like will work. Jumbo-sized paper cases are double the size of regular cupcakes, so use an extra-large muffin tin and make up two batches of the red velvet batter, cooking them for an extra couple of minutes.


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