Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Hunt for Red Velvet

Red Velvet is just one of those things. One of those dishes that live in infamy. One that, no matter how many
you try, just can't seem to capture the taste of the one you had that one time that was just "The Best." Your Grandmother, who made The Best Red Velvet. Your Mom. That Little Place Down The Street.

And yet, no one can quite seem to describe it. The exact flavors are elusive. Battles have been fought over cream cheese versus vanilla frosting. Ok, maybe not. But I wouldn't be surprised. All I can say is, this is The Best red velvet cupcake that I've ever made.

When The Fiancé originally asked for Tres Leches cake as his birthday dessert I was a bit apprehensive. I'd never made the cake before and, well, there were indeed a lot of "leches" involved. So when he changed his mind to red velvet instead I was momentarily relieved. Until I remembered the curse of The Best red velvet.

For me, what makes an ultimate red velvet is one that actually provides the red velvet flavor--distinct cocoa with a bit of bite from the buttermilk/vinegar combo--but is still light enough to maintain a bright red color. Let me tell you, it's a balancing act. I chose this recipe because it features cake flour, resulting in a softer crumb, but did increase the cocoa after cutting the recipe in half. People, it's perfection. Just saying.

All dressed up

If you're a real perfectionist, another baker's secret is to use clear, imitation vanilla for the frosting to keep a bright white color for ultimate contrast with the red cake. Make sure the bottle is distinctly labelled as "clear" or, like me, you'll just end up with another bottle of brown, imitation vanilla in your pantry. Enjoy!


Red Velvet Cupcakes
     slightly adapted from Annie's Eats
     makes 12 cupcakes

1 3/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tablespoon (1/2 oz.) red food coloring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend. 

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar.  Beat on medium speed until well blended. 

4. Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting
     frosts about 12
5 oz. cream cheese, chilled
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

2. Add in the confectioners' sugar and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat 2-3 minutes more.

3. Blend in the vanilla.  Frost cakes, cupcakes, and more to your heart's content!