I know I’m supposed to be telling you more about what people bake in Italy, but two things are happening this week: 1) I’m leaving for a week for a family wedding in Israel, which means a) cramming in as many baking projects as possible before I go and b) procrastinating when I should be packing; and 2) this little blog is 5 years old this month and September is nearly over and I forgot to celebrate! (It’s probably best that I don’t have children.) So I’m taking a little Italy hiatus, but for just a few important recipes.
And what better way is there to fête a blog that toils shamelessly in an unending sea of butter, sugar, and flour? I say, bring on the SPRINKLES! I, for one, am in full support of the current funfetti trend; I rather enjoy the parade of desserts decked out rainbow-style. I have happily partaken in sprinkly recipes in the past, posting Confetti Cookies in the very first weeks when Stellina Sweets was just a baby blog (all the more appropriate to bust out the colors now, no?), as well as BAKED’s Ultimate Birthday Cake, and more recently when I adapted Ovenly’s divine shortbread recipe for a birthday version. I’m not sure how one can be presented with a happy, vivid, buttery treat and not be instantly filled with joy; I try to surround myself with people who appreciate the value of sprinkles, thank you very much. (And true to form, my coworkers snatched these up right quick when I brought them into the office.) I’m not really sure how other people manage to negotiate this cruel world without the comforting thought of sprinkles popping up now and then (…or more regularly for some of us). So I try to do my part in bringing a little glee to those of us whose eyes light up when we see brightly colored, festive treats— surely there’s got to be something to celebrate, even in these rather dark times?
I immediately knew what I wanted to bake to celebrate Stellina’s foray from toddlerhood into childhood: the Rainbow Sprinkle Bread with Birthday Cake Crumb Topping from the cover of the May/June 2017 issue of Bake from Scratch magazine. Like so many other bakers last spring, I was enamored with that gorgeous technicolor loaf topped with bright, buttery crumbs. It looked to be something of a pound cake, rather than a cupcake-type batter, and indeed, there is no chemical leavening agent in the recipe.
My friend Robyn of Planet Byn made this recipe recently, and she had some great tips, particularly doubling the crumb topping (thumbs up, girl). I followed her lead on that, especially since lots of little loaves would require more crumbs than a single loaf. She tossed her sprinkles in a little flour to keep them from bleeding, which is a great idea if your sprinkles tend to bleed out and make a multicolor mess. I use CK brand sprinkles, which do not bleed into raw batter, but I decided to just pour all the sprinkles right into the flour mixture, which I’ve done with other funfetti recipes. (The original recipe calls for folding in the sprinkles after incorporating the dry ingredients.) This also reduces the amount of mixing after adding the flour; it’s best to agitate cake batter as little as possible so as not to over-develop the gluten.
Regarding vanilla extract, I generally feel very strongly about using the best possible pure vanill that you can afford (which is so tragically expensive right now due to typhoons that decimated vanilla crops in Madagascar last year). But the whole point of funfetti is that we are emulating the funfetti boxed cake mixes of our childhoods, in which there is not one drop of real vanilla! In the footsteps of Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar, where she purposely uses clear imitation vanilla in her Confetti Cookies and Birthday Cake, this recipe also calls for the artificial stuff, which is what I used here. It will not only better match the flavor we’re going for, but it will also not lend a brown tinge to the cake like real vanilla will. I would also go a step further and recommend specifically using McCormick’s brand clear vanilla, which is what Christina Tosi uses. I used to use some other brand and never quite liked the flavor— it tasted very chemical-y. I finally made a point of ordering a bottle of McCormick’s from Amazon, and the flavor is much less offensive. Of course this recipe would be delicious with real vanilla too, but you won’t get the same bright, buttery color.
So. I tried the recipe as written, except that Robyn gave me another great idea: She mentioned that she prefers her loaf recipes in mini form— OMG, ME TOO. I thought these would be adorable as tiny loaves, so I used some paper loaf pans that are about 4×2”. When I made banana bread in them, the batter filled 10 of these perfectly, so I did the same here, filling each one ⅔ of the way. Welp, this batter expands quite a bit more than banana bread, so they all overflowed their banks a bit. It wasn’t catastrophic, but they could be prettier on top. Next time I will use 12 pans of this size. These are smaller than most of the gift-size paper loaf pans that I’ve seen— I think of them as “personal size” (i.e. if you try to “share” my loaf, I will cut you). You will get fewer loaves with larger pans (…obviously), but the basic rule of thumb is don’t fill them more than halfway.
The other tweak I might make is the oven temperature. When I bake 350°F banana bread in small loaves, I turn down the heat to 325°F so as not to over-crisp the tops. I turned it down to 300°F at the 30-minute mark, but I may bake them the whole time at 300°F next time just to see what happens. It sounds a little low for cake batter, but 325°F definitely overwhelmed the tops before the interiors were fully baked, and once the loaves cooled, they had a crispy lid on top, rather than distinct crumbs.
Oh wait, one more thing— I think there were too many sprinkles in the crumb topping. WHOA. I know what you’re thinking (heretic! traitor!), but there were a lot of loose sprinkles that could not be incorporated into the buttery crumb mixture, so I’m dialing it down to ½ cup in this version.
All that being said, the Rainbow Sprinkle Bread was wicked tasty and so much fun to eat! It will brighten your and everyone’s day, I promise. These sweet little loaves are perfect for any birthday occasion, or really any color-associated holiday, because you can mix up the sprinkle colors for whatever you need: pink/red/white for Valentine’s Day, shades of green for St. Patrick’s Day, red/white/blue for American holidays (or Bastille Day!), etc. Most importantly, go forth and bake with sprinkles— it’s good for the soul! And Happy Big 0-5 to Stellina Sweets! 😀
Rainbow Sprinkle Bread with Birthday Cake Crumb Topping
Adapted from Bake from Scratch magazine, May/June 2017
Yields 6-12 mini loaves or 1 9×5” loaf
For the birthday cake crumbs:
- ½ cup (60g) all-purpose flour
- ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup (½ stick/4 tablespoons/2 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon clear artificial vanilla extract
- ½ cup rainbow sprinkles
For the sprinkle bread:
- 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅓ cup rainbow sprinkles
- 1 cup (2 sticks/8 tablespoons/4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
- 1½ cups (300g) granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon clear artificial vanilla flavoring
Preheat an oven to 325°F and position a rack in the center. Set 6-12 mini loaf pans on a rimless cookie sheet lined with parchment (to catch stray topping crumbs).
Make the birthday cake crumbs:
Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using your hands, or a food processor, or a pastry cutter, cut the cold butter pieces into the dry ingredients, until your mixture is sandy, though you’ll want to retain some bigger crumbs. Add the vanilla and the sprinkles and toss them with the crumbs until the sprinkles are incorporated and you have a bowl of crumbs and clusters. Transfer the bowl to the fridge while you make the quick bread.
Make the sprinkle bread:
Whisk together the flour, salt, and sprinkles in a bowl and set aside.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. (Do let the mixer keep going to at least the 3-minute, as it will get creamier towards the end.) Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat just until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl again and beat for another few seconds to make sure everything is well-blended. If your batter looks a little unemulsified after adding the last couple of eggs, don’t worry, as it will come together in a moment.
Add the flour/sprinkle mixture and mix on the lowest speed just until incorporated. The batter should be smooth and satiny.
Divide the batter between the mini loaf pans, filling them halfway. Do not, I repeat, do not be tempted to fill them higher, as the loaves will expand a lot and overflow. Smooth the tops as best you can with a small offset spatula. Retrieve the bowl of crumbs from the fridge and scatter them evenly over top of each loaf. Gently press them into the batter to adhere.
Bake the mini loaves for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a few loaves come out clean. If they begin to crisp/brown too much on top before the interior is cooked, lower the temperature to 300°F (I did this after 30 minutes). Set the baking sheet on a wire cooling rack and let the loaves cool completely before unmolding… which is painfully difficult.
Store the mini Sprinkle Bread loaves in an airtight container for up 2 days.
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.