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Cupcakes and a failure of food coloring

March 08, 2006


I really have no business making cupcakes and writing about them here - not when people like Chockylit and The Cupcake Queen are on the loose. I mean, really. It's enough to give a girl an inferiority complex. But a coworker had a birthday last week, and I wanted an excuse to buy a decorating set. So there.

One problem: my coworker's favorite cake flavor is the Southern classic Red Velvet, which I'd never made and only had a vague sense of being some sort of pale devil's food cake in disguise. After a bit of research I decided that it has a nice ring - "Red Velvet" - scarlet as a Southern belle and her riding habit, swept up and sitting pretty and red-cheeked, looking like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. But - ultimately disappointing, seeing that there isn't much more to your average Red Velvet than a standard white cake with a dollop of cocoa and a guilty secret.

I was determined to make these cupcakes something more, something better - but to preserve the red badge of Southern charm, of course. I did see some interesting old style recipes involving beets, but I regretfully bookmarked these to try later. With coworkers involved, that was taking the experiment a bit too far.

After a lot of reading around I smashed together a couple recipes - one from Chockylit and another from here.

The result? Well. I should have known better than to mess around with a classic.


Here's the final recipe I hacked together, with due comment. People, when a recipe calls for four ounces of red food coloring? Stop. Stop right there. I mean, it probably won't give you cancer immediately. But in the meantime you really should doublecheck your cupboards as to whether you actually have such large amounts of said substance.

I did not, hence my cupcakes failed utterly in the "red" department. They were faintly pink in their very chocolatey brown, like a blushing hazelnut.

The final product was rather good to eat, dense and moist, with a chewy bite and smothered in Chockylit's excellent vanilla bean cream cheese icing. I did throw in a few extra tablespoons of Droste cocoa for good luck, so there was enough chocolate and vanilla to keep me happy. But there was not enough scarlet to call these Red Velvet. The Red Dye #40 was simply not radiant.

But that's OK. It's a pretty good base recipe, and I still have leftovers. I'm not complaining about that; these are remarkably good straight from the freezer.

Not Red Velvet Cupcakes

HUGE batch alert: this is a doubled quantity - makes at least 50. I made a small 9x9 cake plus about 36 cupcakes

4 cups sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) butter
4 eggs
9 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 small tube of red food coloring, plus half a tube of red decorating gel, squeezed in at the last moment in a halfhearted gesture of good measure
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prep a bunch of cupcake tins.
3. In a huge mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter.
4. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.
5. Add the cocoa and food coloring to the bowl.
6. Sift together flour and salt.
7. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk.
8. Blend in vanilla.
9. In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture. (This is fun! A la second grade science experiments. See, they do come in handy later.)
10. Pour batter into cupcake liners.
11. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
12. If so inclined, put in freezer for half an hour to cool. This gives them the slightly denser, fudgy texture that I happen to like.
13. Frost with icing of your choice. I liked the not-too-sweet vanilla cream cheese icing. I topped with nonpareils and slightly icky but pretty Boston Baked Bean candied peanuts.

Posted by Faith at 8 March 2006

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