I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure why people go gaga over red velvet cake or cupcakes. I’m not saying they’re not nice, I just don’t think they are that spectacular. People have asked me what “flavor” red velvets are—and that’s just impossible to describe. I do keep making them because choosy red-velvet eaters choose mine. I’ve heard the following compliments:
“As good as my Southern grandmother’s red velvets!” (I’ll take that compliment all day long, thankyouverymuch.)
“The best red velvets I’ve ever tasted!” (I wish I could take that one to the bank.)
Still, I struggle with red velvets. Not just because I can’t eat any but the vegan kind, due to buttermilk in the batter and cream-cheese frosting as the usual topping, but because they are delicate little flowers if done properly. You need to use cake flour, for a start, and they never seem to rise properly. But the taste, apparently, is wonderful, a delicate crumb with a tangy, not-too-sweet frosting on top.
I made these for one of my favorite clients, Viceroy Hotel Group, since I wasn’t able to give them holiday treats. I thought it would be a nice change for them to receive some treats at a different time of year, and red velvet cupcakes seemed fitting. Plus I get to use all sorts of cheesy accoutrements, like heart-shaped sprinkles and heart cut-out cupcake liners. I have to drive them up, since I can’t exactly ship fully-made cupcakes FedEx unless I want it to look like a big Eton Mess. (Which is delicious, by the way, but not nice-looking, especially if the dessert started out as cupcakes.)
And no, The Husband didn’t get any for Valentine’s Day. Poor thing—we’re on a cleanse for February!
So here is my red velvet recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart. The cream-cheese frosting is hers through and through.
Red Velvet Cupcakes (makes 24)
2-1/2 cups of cake flour
2 Tbs. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup canola oil
2 large eggs, room temp
1/2 tsp. red gel-paste food coloring
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. distilled white vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tins with paper liners. Whisk together baking powder, flour, salt and cocoa powder.
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar together; add oil. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Scrape down sides as needed. Add food coloring and vanilla. (Note: I usually use the “no taste” red food coloring.)
Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each. Put the baking soda in a small bowl, and measure out the vinegar in another bowl; add the vinegar to the baking soda and stir well as it foams. Add quickly to the batter, and mix on medium speed for 10 seconds.
Here’s my special tip: freeze the batter overnight. You don’t have to do this, but I find that they rise better if you do. It’s also easier to scoop into the tins with your ice cream scoop.
Divide your batter among the cups and bake, rotating trays halfway through. I bake them for 18 minutes, test them, then bake on 2 minute intervals if a toothpick doesn’t come out clean after the first bake.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
12 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1 pound (4 cups) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
First of all, it’s incredibly important that the butter and cream cheese is at room temperature before starting, and you really do have to sift the sugar. No exceptions, or you will have very lumpy frosting—and that’s from experience.
With your trusty Kitchen Aid or electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add the sugar, 1/2 a cup at a time. Then add vanilla (I often forget this!), and mix everything until smooth and combined, about a minute. I usually use the whisk attachment at the beginning, and finish it off with the paddle. You also need to scrape the sides of the bowl down quite often with this recipe.
Make another half-batch of this frosting recipe to match the number of red velvets the above recipe makes.