Thursday, August 5, 2010

Seeing Red

For the past two years, I've been on a quest to find the perfect red velvet cake; a slew of twenty and thirty-something birthdays, and baby showers have had me looking for the perfect mix. Red Velvet cake is made red by adding copious amounts of red food coloring to a cake batter with just a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder. The results are either a day-glo red cake (definitely a color not found in nature) or something pink and both have no discernible flavor (kind of like "green" jello) So in my quest I have tried and used many different techniques, but never settled on the "best recipe".
When I found out my friend Eryn loved red velvet cake, I was up to the challenge. First I wanted more chocolate flavor so I went for the gusto with 1/2 cup of plain (not Dutch process) cocoa powder. Then I'd read a Martha Stewart recipe where she suggested using a red frosting gel tint rather than the traditional red food coloring; this gave me a lot of red with a little dab. (loved that) When I mixed the cocoa and the gel together I got a very nice, dark mahogany color, which gave me an idea I was on the right track. Next was whether to use butter, or oil, I opted for oil, since this was a trial run, most cakes made with oil are moist, although butter adds flavor. All the recipes call for buttermilk and white vinegar, which I found redundant, because if you add the white vinegar to whole milk, it sours the milk and you aren't left with a quart of buttermilk that you probably won't use, unless you are into serial cake or biscuit making. Next up, the flour, and I chose cake flour, since it's pretty forgiving, and doesn't seem to make the cake tough if you over mix. If you buy cake flour, store the remainder in an airtight container for up to a year. So I was on my way, to see if I could make an amazing red velvet that wouldn't make your insides glow in the dark, and I think I succeeded.

Batter looks good
Three of my favorite ingredients, Wilton frosting gel tint, Neilson-Massey Vanilla paste, and Scharffenberger cocoa powder

VOILA! The cupcakes are all even in color, and size. I used a large scoop for the batter.

Cream cheese frosting is the only thing to crown these with.

Happy Birthday Eryn!
Red Velvet Cupcakes/Cake
Makes 36 cupcakes or three 9-inch layers
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon red gel frosting tint
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons white vinegar
3 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 36 cupcake molds with liners or coat with non-stick cooking spray. (If you are making layers, coat the inside of three 9-inch round baking pans with non-stick cooking spray)
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and red coloring, until blended. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, on low speed, beat together the oil, and sugar, until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, stir in the vanilla and slowly add the cocoa mixture.
  4. In a 2-cup measuring cup, stir together the milk and vinegar. Add the milk mixture alternately with the flour, mixing on low speed, until the batter is blended (about 3 minutes)
  5. Stir in the baking soda, and pour the batter into the prepared layer pans, or scoop into the muffin tins, filling 3/4 of the way full.
  6. Bake the cupcakes for 20 to 23 minutes, bake the layers for 30 to 35 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Frosts 36 cupcakes, or three 9-inch layers

One 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

6 cups confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract

milk to thin the frosting

  1. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter. Add the sugar, and vanilla, and beat on high speed until the mixture is smooth. If the frosting is stiff, add a tablespoon of milk or water and blend again, adding more liquid as necessary to reach a spreadable consistency. The frosting can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. Bring to room temperature and beat with the mixer before frosting.

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