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Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I’ve always thought red velvet cake as being well, flavorless. Or whatever Red #40 tastes like, and from what I’ve read over the food blogosphere this seems to be a common critique of the cake. But, like everyone else noted, people go batshit crazy when they see it.

Why? I have no idea, but they do. I go batshit crazy over new sweatshirts, so who am I question the allure of red velvet cake?

Besides, Valentine’s Day is this Sunday and I wanted to make something red and I wanted to see if I could find a recipe that actually tasted good. But I didn’t want ALL the cupcakes and frosting that a recipe would make, and I’m far too lazy to scale down a recipe so I had to find someone to pawn them off on.

Enter social networking, I must remember this tool to pawn off delicious baked goods. I put the word out on Facebook, asking if any of my friends like red velvet cake. Not surprisingly, lots of people commented back and one of them happened to be my cousin who works in my hometown so she (and her law office) won the cupcakes. She also had a leg up because she’s my cousin, but you know that’s how these things go.

Thursday evening I made the cupcakes so they’d have time to cool before I frosted them, since I bringing them to my cousin’s law office around noon on Friday and I didn’t want hardish frosting. That’s just not delicious baked goods.

Since this was the first time I made this recipe I had to try the cupcakes once they cooled Thursday evening. A perk of doing it on Thursday – if they turned out HORRIFICALLY I could remake them. But luckily Smitten Kitchen has the same opinion of red velvet cake that I do.   This red velvet cupcake (or cake) has a half cup of cocoa powder instead of the measly 2.5 tablespoons that most of the other recipes I saw had. While the higher volume of cocoa made for a deeper brick red, it also made for a much tastier cupcake.

Other than being chocolatey and delicious this recipe also had two methods that I hadn’t actually done before. The first one was starting with oil, which worked out nicely since I didn’t have any butter when I started making these. It was pretty cool watching the sugar become one-ish with the oil. Word of caution though, when you start adding the eggs it’s going to look disgusting, like its not coming together. Just keep adding your eggs one at a time. It’ll be fine. The other method was dissolving baking soda in 2.5 teaspoons of vinegar. The last time I did that was in a 5th grade science class. I was worried it wouldn’t actually work and the cupcakes would be flat – but science, it works – and the cupcakes rose and were delightful.

Now, I did use gel food coloring which can be found at Michael’s with the Wilton foodstuff. Or if you access to awesome baking supply stores go wild, they’re probably less expensive there than at Michael’s. The only thing I’m going to play around with next time I make this is adding more red food coloring to see where the Red #40 tastes comes through and the chocolate taste starts to wan. I used about 1.5 teaspoons this time, so next time I’m going to use a tablespoon.  The batter was very very red, but once baked it was the dark brick red. So we’ll see how it comes out next time!

Red Velvet Cake
Adapted from “The Confetti Cakes Cookbook” by Elisa Strauss via the New York Times 2/14/07 
Via Smitten Kitchen (adapted slightly for cupcake instructions)
Yield: 3 cake layers
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment. If doing cupcakes don’t do this, just preheat the oven.
2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
3. Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. (Take care: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
5. Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting. Or divide among cupcake liners. Use an ice cream scoop to dish out the batter, it’ll make your life easier. If you want lots of cupcake over the wrapper fill to almost the very top. If you want normal small puff above the wrapper fill 3/4 of the way to the top.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from several sources
Makes 6 cups
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.

Remember to do a thin crumb coating then the final coat. As Smitten Kitchen mentions on her blog this doesn’t produce  WHOLE LOT of frosting – but a nice thin coating. So if you like a thick coat you’ll want to double the recipe. I just used a spoon to top the cupcakes after figuring out that I didn’t have a tip big enough (after trying two different tips) to nicely frost the cupcakes. And after I figured out I had too much frosting to fit into my pastry bag. Baking with me – its always an adventure and generally an explosive mess.

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