Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Red Velvet Goodbye

Last weekend, two of my very dear friends moved away – from Chicago to Michigan. The whole weekend was full of reminiscing and celebrating, especially since Stephen had just graduated from law school. It was sad, yet exciting, and would have been far more sad were there not an expiration date on my time in Chicago already firmly set.

Since I often know how to best express myself with food and baked goods, I found out from Diane that Stephen has a very soft spot for red velvet cupcakes. I had never made red velvet before, nor had I really ever understood the crazy appeal of them – I’m not huge on chocolate cake, and I have been trying to stay away from processed foods, so dumping entire containers of red food dye into the batter didn’t seem like the best idea. After all, is a red velvet cupcake not just a mild chocolate cupcake masquerading itself as something far more special? People love them though, and lines form outside of Magnolia bakery in the city for them (among various other types of cupcakes, of course – but their recipe calls for buttercream frosting on their red velvet – what’s up with that?).

So I went ahead and made them anyway. And - they changed my mind. They were moist - incredibly moist actually, probably owing to the buttermilk - and amazingly light, with just a tinge of chocolate flavor. The chocolate was not in the least bit cloying or overwhelming, just slightly discernable, without enough presence to really turn somebody like me - who isn’t usually into chocolatey-rich desserts - off. The cream cheese frosting – that’s the kicker. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible NOT to like cream cheese frosting.

Being a red velvet novice – never really having even eaten more than one bite of red velvet at a time, I was unsure how these stacked up against other such cupcakes. Stephen, Diane and everyone else agreed, though, and they were met with rave reviews, so I guess I did something right. They departed with a few leftover cupcakes – something for them to remember me by.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 24 cupcakes

I think cake flour is integral to this recipe – my box says that it is 27 times finer than regular, all-purpose flour, which means that the resulting cake was that much lighter and airier. I made 2/3 of this recipe, which led to some complications with measuring, but I still wound up with 18 beautiful and moist cupcakes.

For the cupcakes:

3 ½ cups cake flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch Processed – I used Hershey’s and it worked marvelously)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons red food coloring (3 ounces – three bottles of individually-packaged red food dye)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 ¼ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 ½ teaspoons white vinegar

Adapted from Elisa Strauss’ “The Confetti Cakes Cookbook” via Smitten Kitchen

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper muffin liners in the indents of two muffin tins. Alternatively, butter the sides of each muffin indent generously.

2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

3. Place oil and sugar in a large bowl and beat at medium speed until well blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. At low speed, very slowly add red food coloring. (Note: do this carefully, since it might splash and it will stain if it gets on your clothing.) 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 mixer running. Beat for 10 seconds.

5. Divide batter among muffin tins (fill about ¾ of the way full – a little bit more if you’d like bigger cupcake tops, but be careful when you remove them from the pan so that the top doesn’t start to split from the bottom), place in oven and bake until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes (Check a couple minutes early, mine were cooked perfectly at 18 minutes). Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Remove from pans and place on wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

From Smitten Kitchen

This recipe makes enough to frost each cupcake quite generously

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (buy the kind in the block)
½ cup butter, unsalted, 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.


Anonymous said...

They were AMAZING! miss you

jpstivers said...

Great photos! Love Red Velvet. I'll remember your post whenever I get around to baking a batch of cupcakes.

Anonymous said...

I love the colour of these cupcakes :)

Shelby said...

Thanks guys! The color really was something - more dark and complex than a lot of other red velvet cupcakes out there.

Anonymous said...

People should read this.

Shelby said...

Thanks Mara!