Sunday, February 12, 2012

Red Velvet Super Bowl Cupcakes, Final Part: Just Beet It

Red Velvet Cake has always struck me as something of a science project, and creating the recipe for these Beet Red Velvet Cupcakes brought me right back to high school chem.

True, all baking requires a certain knowledge of chemistry when it comes to altering or creating recipes. One must think of the type of leavening agent used, the ratio or fats to sugar, the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients, how all of the ingredients will react with each other, and how the heat of the oven will affect the overall result.

Red Velvet Cake is a particularly high maintenance type of cake. An Internet search of Red Velvet Cake will pull up all kinds of "rules" regarding Red Velvet recipes. Some of the rules I've found include:
  • Must contain buttermilk and vinegar
  • Must contain a certain amount of cocoa, but not enough to turn the cake into a classic chocolate cake
  • Must be topped with old fashioned creamy white frosting (as opposed to the ever popular cream cheese frosting)
  • Must contain oil
  • Must be topped with pecans
Who wants to follow all of those rules?

Really, if you think about it, Red Velvet cake is just a cross between a chocolate and a vanilla cake, and the only rules for those cakes are "contains chocolate" and "does not contain chocolate." Everything else is up to the baker, whether he/she wants to use butter or oil, cake flour or all-purpose flour, milk or buttermilk, etc.

The two batches of cupcakes I made for this Super Bowl Cupcake-off were wildly different!

However Red Velvet cake does require some adherence to some rules. Buttermilk and vinegar, for instance, affect the acidity of the cake, which in turn affects the color and texture of the cake. For a red, fluffy cake, the pH level must be fairly high.

There are various stories and myths about the birth of Red Velvet Cake. Some say that it used to be called Red Devils Food cake and that the red color came from a chemical reaction between the cocoa powder and the high acidity of the other ingredients. Proponents of this story say that Red Velvet should never be made with Dutch-processed cocoa because it has been stripped of its alkaline, the chemical that used to cause the reaction.

These days, there is no question that the color comes from food coloring. Lots and lots of food coloring. Most recipes call for the artificial stuff, but a few ask for natural food coloring (colored with the red pigments naturally found in red fruits and vegetables), and a few call for those red fruits or vegetables themselves to color the cake.

Artificial coloring pretty much holds its color regardless of what else goes into the cake, but natural coloring is far more temperamental.

Beets get their color from betalain pigments, which are pH-sensitive. Therefore, when working with beets, special care must be taken to ensure the overall pH level is pretty acidic. For this reason, ingredients such as buttermilk (more acidic than milk), baking powder, vinegar, and lemon all play important roles in keeping the cake dark red.

When I created this recipe, I wanted to pull as much color as possible from the beets, without pulling in as much of their flavor. (I was in the "ew, beets are gross" group).

Every ingredient type and quantity was carefully thought out: beets for color, lemon for acidity, cocoa powder for flavor, greek yogurt for texture, etc.

The result was these Beet Red Velvet Cupcakes. They are very different from a traditional red velvet cupcake that is light, fluffy, and mildly cocoa-flavored. These cupcakes were rather dense, moist, and flavorful, but not in a traditional way. Still, these cupcakes held their own in a taste-test next to my "Magnolia's Bakery" Red Velvet Cupcakes, and about half of my tasters preferred these untraditional cakes to the classic.

I highly recommend trying them, as they are sure to impress and intrigue! Then let me know about it!

...If you try them and hate them, I'll also want to know why, so I can improve!

Beet Red Velvet Cupcakes (a Young Idealistic Baker original recipe):
Makes 12 cupcakes
  • 1/3 cup beets (2-3 small beets)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon natural cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup Greek or regular yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare beets by washing thoroughly and cutting off the stalk (don't cut off the little tails — I did this and wound up with a sticky mess)
  • Roast beets with 1/2 cup water in a small baking dish with the lid on at 350 degrees F for 45-60 minutes, or until a fork can easily break skin
  • Cool beets completely, peel and cut into chunks, and pulse in a food processor until completely smooth and pureed (can add some cooking water to make it smoother)
  • In a medium bowl, cream butter until smooth
  • Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes)
  • Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth
  • In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt
  • Combine yogurt and buttermilk and alternate adding this mixture and the dry mixture to the batter
  • Add vinegar and lemon to beet puree, and fold this into the batter
  • Evenly distribute among prepared cupcake pan and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean

The naturally red result can't be BEET!

Be sure to top these with this fantastic Cream Cheese Frosting

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