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Red Velvet Cupcakes

There is a mystique about red velvet cupcakes that makes them perfect, in a more upscale (less blood and guts) way, for late fall and Halloween. They have a rich history – the signature dessert of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City in the 1920s, it regained popularity in James Beard’s 1972 tome American Cookery and more recently at the Magnolia Bakery in NYC. Red velvet cupcakes are delicate chocolate, tinted red most often with food coloring, although the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to reveal the red anthocyanin in the cocoa, which is less pronounced in Devil’s Food cakes. (Which, come to think of it, would be perfectly appropriate for the season as well.) If you can find gel food coloring, you can get away with using less for a more pronounced color.

Those who are turned off by the quantity of red food coloring in velvet cupcakes often attempt grated or pureed beets – I’ve done this, and while the batter is enticingly (and shockingly) Barney purple, once baked the color calms to a more mahogany brown. This recipe contains less color than most; for a more pronounced red velvet color, double the food coloring to 2 tablespoons and decrease the cocoa to 2 tablespoons.

Red Velvet Cake or Cupcakes

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp. red food coloring
1 tsp. vinegar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat the butter, oil and sugar until well blended; add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk, red food colouring, vinegar and vanilla. In another bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add a third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, stirring with a spatula or beating on low speed just until blended; add half the buttermilk mixture in the same manner, then another third of the dry ingredients, the rest of the buttermilk mixture and the rest of the dry ingredients. Stir just until blended.

Divide the batter between two 9″ round cake pans or 2 dozen muffin cups that have been lined with paper liners. Bake for 25-30 minutes (for cakes) or 20-25 minutes (for cupcakes) until the tops are domed and springy to the touch. Cool in their pans on a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting with cream cheese or vanilla frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 8 oz. (250 g) pkg. cream cheese (regular or light)
2-3 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla

In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add the icing sugar, milk and vanilla, beating until the mixture is creamy and well-blended. Add a little more sugar or milk if necessary to achieve a spreadable frosting. Frost the cakes once completely cooled. Makes enough for one two-layer cake or 1-2 dozen cupcakes. (To get the swirled effect above, spoon the frosting into a zip-lock baggie, seal and snip off a corner, then squeeze out onto cooled cupcakes.)

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