I don’t bake anymore. Because I am bad at it. Before I learned how to cook, I was good at baking. Now, and I cannot say for certain why, I mess things up when baking far more often than things come out correctly. Baking, you see, requires precision. You have to follow the recipe- as it is written. I think that’s where I get lost in the weeds. I love to cook because I can pretty much do what I want, I can improvise, omit, add things, whatever. Baking has no patience for hotshots in the kitchen. Baking is science, it demands that the baker do things correctly, perfectly, even. Especially now that I live with Linda, who is an excellent baker, I really never bake. But- a friend requested Red Velvet cupcakes for her graduation party, so- here I am. Luckily, this recipe is really good, and since I followed it word for word (except for 1 or 2 small changes…I compulsively can’t follow recipes) it turned out well.
The cake in Red Velvet cake is pretty straightforward, kind of like a lightly chocolated homemade yellow cake. But you put a whole bunch of red food coloring in it, so it comes out red. That’s it, really. Oh- and it has cream cheese frosting, which as everyone knows is the best frosting there is.
Red Velvet Cake, from Cakeman Raven Confectionery, via FoodNetwork.com:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine salt
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk (note- I never buy buttermilk. My mom always puts a teaspoon of white or apple cider vinegar per cup of milk to make buttermilk, so that’s what I do too, and it always turns out just fine. Just let it sit for awhile, turning the milk into buttermilk, before you use it- 30 minutes ideally.)
2 tbsp red food coloring
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together all the dry ingredients- the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cocoa powder. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients, the vegetable oil, eggs, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar until smooth and uniformly red. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet, until combined but don’t mix more than you have to. At this point, you can do a cake or cupcakes- fill the cupcakes normally, into cupcake papers, if you decide to do that, otherwise whatever kind of cake you decide to make, be sure to oil the pans. Two 9 inch rounds is traditional for this cake, I believe, just be sure to grease the pans. For cupcakes, I baked them about 23 minutes. For cake pans, I’d say more like 30. As always with baking, put your timer on for less time than whatever the recipe says, check it, and adjust as necessary. With dark cake, like this, it’s harder to judge doneness because there’s no visible browning, so you can touch one. If you poke it with your finger and it feels like cake, moist and a little springy, it’s done. If it feels sticky, put it in a few more minutes. You can also stick a toothpick in it, and if it comes out clean, it’s done.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup softened cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
3-4 cups powdered sugar
Mix together the room temperature butter, and the room temperature cream cheese. I cannot stress this enough- these NEED to be room temperature. You’ll end up with ugly, chunky frosting if you, like I have been many, many times, are too impatient to wait for the butter/cream cheese to come to room temperature. You can prod them along in the microwave, but I’ve messed that up too, melting some of the butter and trying to use it anyway, which also ruins the texture of the frosting. The best, most foolproof way is to let them come to room temperature naturally. If you MUST- the best way is to move it around in a bowl with a wooden spoon, that increases the surface area that comes into contact with the warmer air, so it’ll warm up faster. But the real easiest way is just to set it on the counter a few hours before you want to use it.
So, when those are combined nicely- splash in the vanilla and mix that in, then put in about a cup at a time of the powdered sugar until you have at least 3 cups in there, and the consistency is where you want it. When the cupcakes are cool- frost away.
Note- I thought about saying that I didn’t use cupcake papers because I wanted the beautiful red cake to be visible, but the truth is I thought I had some and I didn’t. Oh well. I just Pam-ed the crap out of the nonstick cupcake tin and gently pried them loose when they were ready to come out. And all but one survived.