It just so happens that as Tia and I started to embark on this baking journey, my husband was about to have a birthday. Immediately we saw the opportunity for our first blog post. When we asked him what kind of cake he would like for his birthday he went with Red Velvet, a staple chocolate cake of the south – which is suiting since he grew up there.
The truth is the year prior I had made him a Red Velvet cake from a cookbook a friend had bought for me, and it tasted great – but I had a few critiques for it, which turns out are pretty common for Red Velvet cakes:
- It didn’t taste like a chocolate cake
- It was a bit crumbly
- Although not too dry it certainly was not velvety
So this year when we started to look for a recipe to try for Red Velvet we considered all of the options before us and did some research.
Turns out to our surprise that the redness of the cake originally was derived from the reaction of cocoa powder to acidic ingredients, like the buttermilk. The geek in me was intrigued by this – it turns out that cocoa powder (especially non-Dutch processed) contains red anthocyanin which is a flavonoid that may appear red according to pH. However, red food coloring in varying amounts is often used to obtain a vivid red color and during World War II, due to food rationing, bakers would use boiled beets to enhance the color and sweetness of the cake. Grated beets or even beet baby food can be found in some recipes because of this, but in these recipes they also serve as a method of retaining moisture, for more see Red Velvet Cake on wikipedia.
At first we were considering trying one of the recipes that call for beets, but reconsidered when we realized we had about a dozen other things to do in preparation for the birthday party – this will be something we revisit later. Then Tia came across one that sounded good – specifically because it called for more cocoa than many of the others we found. We adapted it a bit by reducing the food coloring, as we thought 3 oz to be a bit excessive (and as you will see our cake was still very red).
Instead of a layer cake, which is typical of a red velvet, this year we opted for cupcakes. The thought was that people don’t always like to commit to a full slice of cake, even if it is practically the same amount, just in a different shape. You end up with people sharing slices and lots of left over cake. Not to mention the fact that it is a bad idea to hand a knife to an adult who has been drinking bourbon all night, asking them to cut the cake – this is your cake, this is your cake on bourbon.
As a stocking stuffer this year I gave Tia a “cupcake plunger,” which admittedly was an impulse buy while in a home goods store. The purpose of this tool is to remove the center core of the cupcake to open it for fillings of various kinds. We decided to see if this impulse buy was an inspired choice and try it out with this recipe. And, in turn brought us to an idea that might become a bake2thefuture signature! (More to come).
Although the traditional icing for Red Velvet is buttercream, we have always preferred Cream Cheese Icing and it is the most popular pairing for the cake in general. We found a recipe that seemed to have a good ratio and would be easy to double should we need to. We decided we would fill the cupcakes with the icing using a pastry bag and then drizzle the top with ganache for a little extra chocolate kick!
The results were Love at First Bite! A velvety smooth, vibrant red chocolatey decadent cupcake that was beautiful to look at and delicious. They were a big hit with everyone attending the party, I think we may have gained a few more followers as a result. As for the leftovers, they will be much easier to bring into work or give away than the cake was last year!
A few notes that we have found in working with Red Velvet this time as well as the prior endeavors:
- Since this cake uses Baking Soda only, make sure you get it into the oven quickly to avoid it being too dense
- Use a metal bowl, unless you would like a pink bowl
- Filling the cupcake liners to just 3/4 full will produce a cuter looking cupcake (especially if your floors/oven are not level like mine)
- “Plunging” and filling the centers of the cupcake created a great ratio of icing to cake for this recipe, every bite having just the right amount of both
- Once at a good thickness, place your ganache in a sandwich bag and cut a tiny bit off one of the corners to assist with drizzling
- If you want more defined ridges from the tip of your pastry bag, let the icing set-up in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before piping into cupcake
- Let the cupcakes cool fully, preferably overnight, prior to removing the centers and icing them to avoid a melt down
- While decorating, place cupcakes on parchment or wax paper for easy cleanup
What we might do differently next time:
- This recipe calls for a lot of canola oil, which we believe created the smooth velvety moistness in this cake – However, we think that cutting the amount of oil or trying it with half shortening, half canola oil might make them a little less greasy while not adversely effecting the end result
- The icing was amazing, however we are interested in trying to cut the amount of sugar in it to let the cream cheese shine through more
- We loved what the ganache added to the cupcakes, and being chocolate lovers might try including some chocolate ganache in the center next time to increase the ganache to cake ratio
- 3½ cups cake flour
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 cups canola oil
- 2¼ cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons (1½ ounces) red food coloring
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla
- 1¼ cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2½ teaspoons white vinegar
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Prepare cupcake pans with liners.
- Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
- 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.
- Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
- Divide batter among liners, filling to three quarters full, place in oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Then remove from pans. Cool completely before frosting or filling cupcakes.