I have never understood the hype behind red velvet cupcakes/cakes. So much food coloring in a baked good. Just does not seem right. And since I do not understand the hype, I have neither attempted making one or ordering it in a bakery, except for one very unfortunate dry and unflavorful experience at a bakery once. So when my friend asked to make a red velvet cake for one of our coffee friends’ farewell party, I was in a fix. Being such a popular cupcake/cake choice I thought I should see what the hoopla is actually about and agreed to baking some.
I searched and bookmarked many red velvet recipes. But finally went with the one that I am sharing today after reading the reviews on allrecipes.com. I ended up making cupcakes instead of a cake because I feel they are so much more fun sometimes, plus I had more fun decoration ideas for cupcakes than a cake.
What drew me to the recipe was actually the frosting. It called for cooking flour and milk together and then adding to the cooked mixture creamed butter and sugar. Its something I had never done or heard of before. It’s also how traditionally red velvet cakes were iced- with a french-style butter roux icing. And after reading the reviews, and how good the frosting and the cupcakes were I decided its worth trying. I was sure my friends would forgive me if they turned out bad.
Well, honestly, since the only experience I have had with a red velvet has been a dry, too-fake-red red velvet cupcake , these turned out to be very good. They were fluffy, moist, with a hint of chocolate too. The frosting, though, I was not sold. It wasn’t particularly bad, quite decent actually, but I think I am biased towards cream cheese frosting on top of a red velvet cupcake or any cupcake for that matter. So I missed the cream cheese flavor.
While searching for a good enough recipe, I also stumbled upon a little of the red velvet cake’s history and science.
Although red food coloring is used in all the traditional recipes, some say its the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk that makes cocoa more red and also keeps the cake moist, light and fluffy. While the latter may be true the former is just a myth as the red vegetable pigments in cocoa are present in very small quantities, and any color shift is masked by the more prominent brown of the chocolate. So the prominent red color comes only from the red food color you add to the batter. When foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beetroots juices to enhance the color of their cakes, giving cakes a more natural red color, and you will find some recipes that use beets in their red velvet cakes. And it is my goal to try one of these recipes.
The cake and its origin, however, is not clearly known. A legend, which began circulating some time in the 1940s, claimed that Manhattan’s elegant Waldorf-Astoria granted a diner’s request for the recipe and later billed her $350. The angry woman, apparently with revenge in mind, then began circulating the recipe along with the story. This “baked” legend is quite similar to the $250 Chocolate Chip Cookie, also known as the Neiman-Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe, so probably it’s not true.
But there has been evidence that the cake has been around during the Great Depression and probably that’s where its true origin lies. The folks at the food coloring company Adams Extract, facing losses because of the depression, to try and lure customers back to their product, created the Adams Red Velvet Cake recipe, and are probably responsible for this hugely popular cake.
In more recent times, the cake was made popular by the movie Steel Magnolia’s, where the groom’s cake was a red velvet cake shaped like an armadillo, and ever since has been part of almost every bakery in the US, in either the form of a cake, cupcake, or cake pop, and today I too am joining that bandwagon.
While the cupcakes were perfect in terms of moistness and flavor, I am not sure whether they are the perfect red velvet cupcake recipe yet. I do have some other recipes I want to try and want to try the real thing from a good bakery as well so that I have something to compare the recipes with.
So why am I sharing this recipe today.
One, the cupcakes as a cupcake were good.
And two, this was my first attempt at decorating cupcakes with fondant and I just wanted to share it. I knew I wanted to make coffee pots and tea cups, since this was a coffee group friend of ours. I added some fondant coffee beans as well, you know coffee…coffee beans! It was fun working with fondant and am hoping to do more such work.
I am not sharing the frosting recipe today though since I would have preferred a cream cheese frosting on top of my cupcake. So I suggest you use this recipe instead.
I am also sharing some tips I read in the reviews that helped me get a moist and fluffy cupcake and should help you too:
- Make sure you get the vinegar mixture mixed into the batter quickly, but gently and get the cupcakes in the oven as fast as possible after that.
- I also subbed vegetable oil for the shortening called in the original recipe.
- I followed other reviewers suggestions and doubled the cocoa powder and the adapted version is the recipe I am sharing today.
- Instead of using 2 1-ounce bottles of coloring, I used one bottle and then filled it up again with milk and added that to the cake, as a reviewer suggested. This way you avoid using too much of coloring,but still achieve a nice red color.
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 4 tbsp cocoa
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 ounce bottle red food coloring, plus milk added (see note above)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2½ cups well sifted all purpose flour
- 1½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp distilled white vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
- Line 2 pans with cupcake liners.
- Beat the oil and 1½ cups sugar until very light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and beat well.
- Make a paste of cocoa and red food coloring and add it to the creamed mixture.
- Mix salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and buttermilk together.
- Add the sifted flour to the batter, alternating with the milk mixture, mixing just until incorporated.
- Mix soda and vinegar and gently fold into cake batter. Don't beat or stir the batter after this point.
- Pour batter into prepared pans.
- Bake in preheated oven until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Cool cupcakes completely on wire rack before frosting