Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Red Velvet Redemption

I just couldn't go to my pub trivia night tonight with only those awful Kit Kat things to offer my team, so I needed a Plan B that would restore my mojo in the kitchen. And I also needed something that I could throw together somewhat quickly, as I get home late on Monday nights due to choir practice. (I've joined the Champlain Valley Oratorio Society this semester. They're doing all Gershwin tunes....such fun!) I decided to try my hand at some Red Velvet cupcakes. The problem was deciding on a recipe, as there are many, many versions. But I knew that I wanted to try a more traditional recipe--not the flaming red cake achieved by dumping in two full bottles of red food coloring into a white cake batter, but the kind with a small amount of cocoa, though not so much to make it a chocolate cake per se.

I have read that the cake was originally named for the chemical reaction between the cocoa and baking soda, but I do like to enhance the natural reddish hue by artificial means, just for fun. The other mandatory ingredient to my mind has to be buttermilk. It is a southern cake after all! The recipe I ultimately chose has both buttermilk and a little vinegar, and I must say, I just adore the tanginess in the cake that it produces! Normally, a little buttermilk and/or vinegar might not stand out in the final product, but this recipe calls for a whole cup of buttermilk, and it makes the cupcakes have a real kick. Pair them with a supple, super-creamy, double vanilla cream cheese frosting, and what more could a human being possibly need? I think my trivia team will be quite pleased! (They may need that extra enticement to come out tonight when the thermometer currently says -7, and the Weather Channel says it "feels like" -29! HELP US! )

Red Velvet Cupcakes
(Source: adapted from Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers Desserts Cookbook via

1/2 cup shortening or butter (I used butter-flavored Crisco because it was already room temp.)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 to 2 ounces red food coloring (I used about a third of a small container of paste food coloring)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vinegar

Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans or spray with a substance such as Baker's Joy (or line two 12-cup muffin tins with papers). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening, sugar and eggs. Make a paste with the food coloring and cocoa and add to mixture (I added the cocoa and then my paste food coloring separately). Add salt and flour alternately with buttermilk and vanilla. Alternately add soda and vinegar, but don't beat too hard, only to blend. Divide batter between the two prepared pans (or fill muffin cups about two-thirds full). Bake 30 minutes (about 15 for cupcakes) or until done. Remove from oven. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and cool completely. Frost with cream cheese frosting (recipe follows).

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese
16 ounces powdered sugar (I used about 3 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I added the scrapings of a vanilla bean, too)

Beat softened butter and cream cheese until well blended. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until creamy. Will frost a two-layer cake.

Note: For generous frosting, increase recipe by half.
(But one recipe is more than enough for cupcakes!)

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