Thursday, August 27, 2009

red velvet cupcakes, charlie wilson's war

Hello friends, I have made some red velvet cupcakes.

This has been on my to do list for a long, long time (maybe almost a year?) and I can finally check it off. It was surprisingly easy, fun and satisfying. The red batter was exhilarating, and at the same time, a nightmare. I guess I'm usually pretty messy anyways when I bake, but it's much much more noticeable when your splatters are bright red. I had a hell of a time keeping up with the little droplets; I was licking them off my hands, my elbows...I had to draw the line at the counter.

A lot of red velvet recipes recommend not having children around when you make them, because the batter will stain. Well...sure I don't have kids around, but I'm there. And of course, I splattered some onto the carpet. Of my new apartment. Actually after this happened, I resigned myself to the stain. Then Penny called, and I told her about the stain, and she asked why I didn't put some toothpaste on it. And so I did. And it worked. People, Penny is in medical school. So yeah, she's smart. :)

I read a lot of recipes for red velvet cake, and most use cake flour, buttermilk, and vinegar. I went with a recipe from cupcake bakeshop, because they are usually great. I didn't have buttermilk so I added some vinegar to whole milk and let it curdle (this is so useful!). I also took chockylit's advice and upped the amount of cocoa by a lot. I figured you can't go wrong with some extra cocoa flavor. I was worried about the color, so I overdid it with the red food coloring. I think it turned out ok.

The recipe below is adapted from cupcake bakeshop. I used a combination of baking powder and baking soda, and it worked like a charm...see the perfect domes above. I would increase the sugar amount below to something like 1 cup or maybe even 1 1/4 cups, if you prefer sweeter. I think these cupcakes weren't very sweet, but I compensated with the cream cheese frosting. Cream cheese frosting has been ubiquitous like air around my apartment lately.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
makes 1 dozen
350 degree oven

1 1/4 cups cake flour
3 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoons baking powder or 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cups buttermilk (or 1/2 milk + 1 tsp vinegar, curdled ten minutes)
1 teaspoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons red food coloring
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cups butter
1 egg

1. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, red food coloring and vanilla in a small bowl to blend.
2. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and power, and salt together. (I did this twice.)
3. Beat butter until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add sugar, continue beating 2 minutes. Add egg, beat 1 minute more.
4. Mix in dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture, alternating between the two in about three or four additions. Begin and end with dry ingredients.
5. Scoop into cupcake pans and bake 20 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
makes enough to generously frost 12 cupcakes

1 8oz. package of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup powdered sugar (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1. Beat cream cheese alone until fluffy. Add butter and continue beating.
2. Add brown sugar and beat to incorporate. Add powdered sugar slowly, tasting for desired sweetness. Beat in vanilla to combine.


Wait for cupcakes to cool. Pipe a swirl of frosting on each. Top with ....well anything you like. I used whiskey soaked cherries here, because that's what I had on hand.

So, Charlie Wilson's war. Great movie. What does it have to do with this cupcake? I guess for one, the whiskey cherries. For another, it made me think of that quote at the end of the movie...blah blah we did a really awesome job in Afghanistan but then 'we fucked up the end game.' That's what happened here...on a smaller scale of international importance.

I was still reeling from the coffee cupcake bake time fiasco, so as the recommended bake time of twenty minutes came and went, I stood frozen before the oven, unable to remove the cupcakes. 21 minutes passed. Then 22. The anxiety was palpable. Finally I took them out, and they were overdone. (If you look at the photo above, you'll see a slight dry layer at the bottom that should have been avoided.)

Last time I messed up by underbaking, but I should have realized that the two experiences were unrelated. Last time I was trying something new. This time, I was following a recipe I should have trusted. I'm all about learning from past experiences, but I think (and I've noticed this more as we get older) that as there are more and more entries in the 'past experiences' category, it becomes less full of useful lessons that inform future relevant choices, but more just irrational, immobilizing fear. Um, I guess in cooking this means, failure in one recipe should not translate into fear of another. Or even the original, in that case.

Anyways, whatever, they were yummy.


  1. Awwww...hahaha...despite the fact they were slightly overdone it's the flavor and asthetics that also matter. And they, in a word, adorable.

    Keep on baking...

  2. Zach couldnt make it tonight so I didn't get any!!!

  3. The icing looks absolutely yummy!

  4. i tried this recipe the other night. they turned out sooooo well! i forgot the cocoa, which i think would have made them even better, but they still tasted amazing. thanks for the recipe!

  5. HoM-

    I'm so glad they turned out well for you! I like to vary the cocoa amount too...I've done more and I've done less. Always yummy anyways. By the way, your blog is great!


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