March 16th, 2012
Red Velvet Cupcakes – moist, crimson-hued cupcakes with a bit of cocoa and a hint of cinnamon. Topped with luscious cream cheese frosting and decorated with red squiggles and chocolate sprinkles. Price available upon request.
paint the town red
For the longest time, I held off baking red velvet cupcakes because they were foreign to me. It wasn’t a popular flavor in the Philippines while I was growing up. I only learned about these cupcakes when I got a Hershey’s Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook and found the recipe there. The cake in the photo didn’t look red at all and that killed the cake’s mystique for me.
When the cupcake craze sprung again in recent years, people started raving about the red velvet flavor. I still didn’t get it. I dismissed it as some ordinary cupcake tinted with huge amounts of red coloring. I wasn’t impressed with a slice my sister gave me of a cake she bought from her favorite bakery in Brooklyn, NY. Because that was my first taste of the cake, I could not compare it to another and to my tastebuds, it was mediocre. To understand people’s fascination with it, I did a little digging. It turns out that there is more to the cake than just red food color.
Important components of the cake—a bit of cocoa, vinegar, oil, buttermilk—create a chemical reaction that results in the reddish hue of the cake. To intensify the crimson shade, bakers added red food color and the rest is history. There are reports of the dangers of artificial food dyes so some bakers use red beets as coloring but the redness in the cake is not as vivid as those that has the food color. Besides, extracting the juice from the beets is laborious so most bakers tend to use the bottled food color or gel.
I started baking this type of cupcake about three years ago when a client asked me to do a wedding cake. Her motif was aqua and red. I immediately thought of baking blue-tinted cupcakes. I came across a red velvet cake recipe from James McNair’s Cakes and used blue gel color instead. The resulting cupcake was delicious but the color turned out greenish blue. Not a pretty sight. I ditched that idea and just put the blue on the white chocolate glaze and cupcake topper made of marzipan. But that’s another story.
I didn’t bake any red velvet cupcakes again until last December. I used the gel color in the first batch but somehow I couldn’t get the right red shade. The cupcakes were a deep pink so I just used the bottled food color. I liked Mr. McNair’s recipe because it has a hint of cinnamon. This ingredient isn’t in the traditional recipe but cinnamon and cream cheese frosting to me is a heavenly pairing. The frosting I use is also not too sweet as there is a bit of lemon juice added to temper the sweetness of the confectioner’s sugar. This recipe also does not have vinegar and uses butter instead of oil.
When I served these during our New Year’s eve street party, our neighbors were quick to compliment me. They really loved the cupcakes and said they were the best. Aww!
*Red Velvet Cocoa Cake photo from Hershey’s Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook
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to eat or not to eat …
Okay, granted that food dyes are toxic, aren’t they in almost all of the processed foods that we consume daily anyway? They are in cereals, candy, gelatin mixes, sauces, fruit juices. If you know you have an intolerance to food dyes, then read food labels and avoid consuming such. But if you feel fine after savoring one piece or so of a red velvet cupcake, then by all means indulge. It’s not like you are going to finish a dozen everyday. But then that’s just me. It’s still your call.