People got a little too excited when I mentioned that I was going to make inappropriate cupcakes for my next baking project. I think they imagined something intended for a bachelor/bachelorette party and I just don’t have those kind of molds or sculpting skills. The cupcakes themselves are completely normal – it’s just the story behind them.
If girl stuff (you know, girl stuff) bothers you – or you’re one of my coworkers who ate them – then skip ahead to the recipe while I tell the story.
It occurred to me recently that, while I don’t know the exact date (I just remember it was the first day of school 8th grade) I’m coming up on the 20 year anniversary of my first period. Or in other words, the beginning of my fertility, which itself didn’t mean much to me as a 13 year-old but much more so as a 30-something. So I decided to mark the occasion (because what’s wrong with an excuse to celebrate?) with red velvet cupcakes – both perfectly appropriate and inappropriate at the same time.
In fact I think it has just the right level of appropriate inappropriateness when I told Andrew the story and he had to think for a second, and then it hit him.
I originally made these cupcakes for Christmas a couple years ago. I remember they were good, but cupcakes don’t mail well, especially when you add in frosting and perishability. The recipe, like every red velvet recipe, also uses an absurd amount of red dye. I cut it in half originally and then decided that the next time I made these I’d leave out the dye altogether and they could just be ‘velvet cupcakes’. However since this time the color was important I at least went for quality – the main reason I’ve heard people say they don’t like red velvet is the artificial dye taste.
This set of India Tree Natural Decorating Colors claims no corn syrup or synthetic dyes, and at $15 – that’s $5 a color! – was the single most expensive thing I bought at the grocery store.
I’ve already dyed the packaging… that’s how you know it’s loved.
I decided to make them, right then that night, pretty spontaneously so that grocery store trip I just mentioned didn’t take into account things like frosting. It turns out from a little research that cream cheese frosting typically used on red velvet cup/cakes isn’t actually traditional. The “real” red velvet cake frosting used (nearly) all ingredients I already had at home.
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 3 tbsp. flour
- 1 c. butter
- 1 c. vitamin D whole milk (too runny if you use other)
I say nearly all of the ingredients because the closest I had is 2% milk, so I tried to substitute by adding a 2 tablespoon frozen cube of cream to 2 tablespoons less of milk to increase the fat content.
- Cook flour and milk in double boiler until thick, stirring constantly.
They mean that, stir constantly. Otherwise you’ll come back to a thickened white goop and panic until you remember that the recipe you just stepped away from the stove to check said “until thick”.
It is done.
- Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until as fluffy as possible. Blend cooked mixture with creamed.
A bit of a problem… Even though the recipe warned that it would fall apart at room temperature, I wasn’t getting anything frosting consistency to start with. I added about half a cup of powdered sugar (maybe overkill – suggestions say to add a tablespoon at a time to thicken frosting) and the put it in the freezer to harden.
My plan was to make the frosting first, and then if it turned out, to make the cupcakes. While I was iffy on the frosting texture, it tasted good at least so I kept going.
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 fluid ounce red food coloring
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
I decided to cut the recipe in half this time so it wouldn’t be cupcake overload.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 12 cup muffin pans or line with 20 paper baking cups.
I pulled out my mini cupcake pan because it was on top and considered it… Andrew asked, didn’t I learn my lesson with that already? Yes, that it ends up too much work. but the next cupcake pan I found was only a 6-cup so I decided to make half normal and half mini sized.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk, red food coloring and vanilla.
I still cut back the amount of dye to a teaspoon, and added a couple drops of blue to deepen the color. Still, it was pretty…
- Stir in the baking soda and vinegar. Combine the flour, cocoa powder and salt; stir into the batter just until blended.
It seemed like a good idea to do step 2, the combining part, before step 1 because I’m pretty sure step 1 involves a chemical reaction that doesn’t want to wait five minutes while you look for the which cupboard you put the cocoa powder in this time.
I’m totally cheating in this picture. Not only did I not bother to use a real mixing bowl, that’s Ghirardelli in the background while I actually used up the end of my old Hershey’s powder.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing evenly.
“Evenly” gets a little difficult when dealing with different sized pans. In the end I think I came out with three or four sizes of cupcakes, depending on the amount of muffin-top.
Those still look on the brown side, although the red would probably show more if they were next to some actual chocolate cupcakes for comparison. However a little Photoshop work will give that real red look people expect:
Personally I’d rather have purple velvet cupcakes:
Now back to the frosting… cold it was too stiff to spread and warm it was too soft… and either way the frosting didn’t actually stick but slid around the top of the cupcakes as I tried to frost them.
Way too much frosting as always.
I have a new appreciation for people who make pretty, fancy cupcakes. While I still think taste is more important than looks (especially with frosting – if you have to make it into glue to keep its shape then it’s not going to be edible) I was kind of embarrassed to bring these into work, especially when they’d be one coworker’s first impression of my baking. I can make pretty cupcakes, I swear.
Oh, and it only got worse from there. I put them in my new brownie pan because it came with a cover, and in the fridge overnight. However in the morning I forgot about the cover, and put the pan on the passenger’s seat of my car – not a problem except for my backpack precariously propped up in front of them, which of course fell backwards while driving to work… at least twice. The backpack was covered in frosting, but I don’t think the cupcakes could look any worse than they started.
People ate with closed eyes and open minds I think. My frosting kept being complimented especially. I’d really like to find a way to package, preserve and sell frosting along with baked goods – I imagine little canning jars with petty ribbons and labels of artisan frostings. However I’ve found out the canning process itself won’t work on frosting because of the heat involved. It sadly looks like there’s a reason the only options are store bought Betty Crocker variety, full of preservatives, or making it homemade. If someone knows how to pull this off, I’d love to know, and would happily trade a cupcake or twelve for the secret.