Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Red Velvet Super Bowl Cupcakes, Part 2: The Best Red Velvet Cupcakes

I've made red velvet cupcakes from scratch twice before, and both times I was unsatisfied. When I made these Blue Velvet swirled with Colored White Cupcakes for a Michigan football Saturday, I used Cake Man Raven's recipe because it received first place during another blogger's extensive EIGHT-cake taste-off, and was wildly disappointed. I found the little cakes lacked cocoa flavor and tasted too strongly of oil, which was why I purposely neglected to accompany the post with the recipe. (Mind you, another blogger left a comment that the recipe didn't work well for cupcakes, but still — oil in a recipe should not affect the taste so negatively)

The first time I made red velvet cupcakes, years before I started this blog, I used Paula Deen's recipe, thinking it would be a guaranteed hit. Sadly, the only thing I really enjoyed about those cupcakes was the frosting, and even back then I had the good sense to alter it and make it my own — I've since perfected the recipe and can safely say this cream cheese frosting is the BEST frosting! ( my opinion)

After countless (4) hours of researching red velvet cupcakes, I decided I still wasn't totally enthralled with any of the "ultimate" or "famous" recipes I found online, with the exception of one. This one used butter as a fat, the same "make a paste with the cocoa and food coloring" technique that I liked when I made these phenomenal Red Velvet Brownies over the holidays, and claimed to be a near-perfect replica of the famous Magnolia's Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake, a.k.a. a top 5 cupcake in my book.

The only thing I found disconcerting about the "Magnolia's Bakery" recipe was the outrageous amount of food coloring — 6 tablespoons of food coloring for a recipe that yielded 36 cupcakes. That's an entire 1-ounce bottle of food coloring for every twelve cupcakes. Talk about your "more is more" outlook.

I have no real qualms using food coloring — I think it's a fun, easy decorating tool, without which I could never have created these Michigan Football Cookies or this 4-layer 4-color Ribbon Birthday Cake. However, each of the colors in those creations was accomplished with just a few drops of color, if that. A bottle of coloring for just 12 cupcakes just seemed too artificial.

For this reason, I started to look closely at red velvet recipes that used natural food coloring, specifically recipes that relied on beets to dye the cake a rich red. I bookmarked one such recipe months ago, but upon closer examination, wasn't entirely sold. Another blogger wrote at length about the chemistry of red velvet cupcakes before providing her own version of a naturally colored red velvet cake recipe. I studied her post in depth, crossed it with the other natural red velvet cake and the "Magnolia's Bakery" recipe and did what I love to do best: made up a recipe!

Because I wasn't sure how this new recipe would work out, and because I still wanted to try the pseudo-Magnolia's recipe, I decided to make both recipes, top each with my favorite cream cheese frosting, and compare them side-by-side. This idea gave birth to the Red Velvet Super Bowl Cupcake Competition.

I baked two batches of cupcakes early Sunday morning, frosted them, photographed them, and recruited tasters, starting with my aunt and uncle before I moved out of their house (again).


They liked both, slightly favoring the "Magnolia's Bakery" recipe.

I brought the cupcakes to a Super Bowl party at my new digs and then to work the next day, and found that people really liked both cupcake recipes for what they were independent from the other: one perfect, traditional-tasting Red Velvet Cupcake and one complex, interesting and tasty Beet Red Velvet Cupcake.

Even though several people named their personal favorite, there was no clear-cut winner. Lovers of Red Velvet loved the "Magnolia's Bakery" recipe, but several people said they preferred the beet cupcakes because they were so unique and interesting.

My thoughts on the two recipes: From now on, whenever I want to bake straight Red Velvet cake or cupcakes, I'm turning to this "Magnolia's Bakery" recipe! It yielded such light and fluffy, flavorful cupcakes that I'm willing to forgive the high quantity of food coloring. While it has been almost three years since my last Magnolia's Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake in the summer of 2009, (my name is Beth and I am a cupcake-holic) if my memory serves correctly, I think this recipe is pretty spot-on!

I would also totally (and probably will) make the Beet Red Velvet Cupcakes again in the future!

For you, I'm going to share BOTH winning recipes, starting with the quintessential Red Velvet Cake. I'll post the Beet recipe in my next post, not because I'm milking this concept for extra blog posts (added bonus!), but because I want to dig into the chemistry of Red Velvet a bit and don't want anyone to get bored and leave me before I've finished my interesting science lesson!

Never mind the fact that I absolutely hated high school chem...

"Magnolia's Bakery" Red Velvet Cupcakes (adapted from Apron of Grace to yield 12 cupcakes):
Makes 12 cupcakes
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (equal to one 1-ounce bottle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin tin (I used aluminum foil ones)
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream butter for 3 minutes
  • Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes
  • Add egg, and beat for 3 more minutes
  • In a small bowl, mix cocoa, food coloring, and vanilla together until smooth and paste-like and add to mixture
  • Add salt to buttermilk and alternate pouring buttermilk and flour into the mixture, beating on low until just incorporated (do not over beat)
  • In a small bowl or cup, mix vinegar and baking soda and add to batter, stirring quickly
  • Distribute batter evenly and bake for about 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean
  • Cool completely before frosting

The Best Cream Cheese Frosting Ever (Young Idealistic Baker original):
Makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes
  • 1 8-ounce brick of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cups) butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cream together butter and cream cheese for about 3 minutes until very light and fluffy
  • Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time
  • Add vanilla and beat until incorporated
Decorating TIP: Refrigerate your frosting (either in the mixing bowl or prepared in a piping bag) for 15-20 minutes before decorating to help it keep its shape

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